Thursday, April 19, 2018

Star-kissed “Kate” at The 5th Avenue

Scene-stealer Robin Hurder in Kiss Me Kate (Tracy Martin)
Kiss Me Kate
5th Avenue Theatre
Through April 29, 2018

The story goes that a Broadway producer, thinking back on his memories of the great acting couple of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne and their feuding ways while performing Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, decided that the headstrong couple mimicked the headstrong couple in Shakespeare’s famous play. Couldn’t that make a fun and funny musical? He asked writing couple Bella and Samuel Spewack to come up with a script (the “book”) and they asked Cole Porter to compose and Kiss Me Kate was born.

If you look too closely at that script, there are moments that really don’t work, but the songs are glorious and the aspects of slap-stick farce are numerous and funny. So, just don’t look too hard! It’s more fun that way.

The current production at The 5th Avenue Theatre is a joyous and raucous affair, gleefully helmed by Alan Paul, who ekes out every funny moment he can, both from the book and the score, and the dazzling choreography of Michele Lynch and a nimble cast. Paul, working with music director Joel Fram, puts new spins on classic songs like I Hate Men (with saucy Cayman Ilika wielding a wicked banana!), clearly meaning to slow songs down for emphasis, mostly on the jokes.

MAP’s “Year of the Rooster” – strong production, very different subject

Shane Regan in a cock fight in Year of the Rooster (Dave Hastings)
Year of the Rooster
MAP Theatre
(at 18th & Union)
Through May 5, 2018

The thought of cock-fighting or dog fighting turns my stomach. Those activities are emblematic to me of how low human activities can get. I’ll admit, however, that I have zero knowledge about the people who might be involved in such “sports” and why they might get involved in them. So, it was with a bit of trepidation that I sat down to experience MAP Theatre’s current show, Year of the Rooster.

It’s said to be a “dark comedy” and some moments might be said to be funny… The cast list was certainly solid and the crew included the talented set designer Suzy Tucker, deftly rendering three very different locations in the very tiny room at 18th & Union to become a tarpaper house, a McDonald’s counter and a circle on the floor where said cock-fighting takes place.

The play is about a small town loser named Gil (Brandon Ryan). We don’t know how far he got in school, but we first see him doing a clearly customary job taking a drive-up order at McDonald’s and we learn he’s been there five years. We also find out he lives with his disabled mother (Mia Morris) and has been raising a young chicken with steroids and Chicken McNuggets so it will be fierce and angry.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

April Showers Bring Lots of Theater

Cayman Ilika and Ben Davis in Kiss Me Kate at the 5th Avenue Theatre (Mark Kitaoka)

April in Seattle is blooming with Shakespearean iterations of musical and non-musical sorts and if you like science-fiction or fantasy, this seems to be your month of theater. World premieres continue to spring up in what is apparently very fertile ground around here!

Kiss Me, Kate, 5th Avenue Theatre, 4/6-29/18 (opens 4/13)
As generators of the city-wide Seattle Celebrates Shakespeare festival, the 5th Avenue is presenting this multi-Tony Award®-winning Cole Porter musical. A play-within-a-play inspired by William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, this is a battle of the sexes. A charming leading man and his superstar ex-wife are starring in a production of the Bard’s famous play. Both on stage and off, they revel in combat and romance. Who comes out on top? Perhaps it’s time to “brush up your Shakespeare…”

The Producers, Seattle Musical Theatre, 4/6-29/18
Mel Brooks' classic cult comedy film became a musical. The plot is simple: a down-on-his-luck Broadway producer and his mild-mannered accountant come up with a scheme to produce the most notorious flop in history, thereby bilking their backers (all "little old ladies") out of millions of dollars. Only one thing goes awry: the show is a smash hit!

Friday, April 06, 2018

Alexandra Tavares is riveting in “Ironbound”

Alexandra Tavares in Ironbound (John Ulman)
Ironbound
Seattle Public Theater
Through April 15, 2018

A bravura performance by Alexandra Tavares anchors a short, intense one-location dramedy about a woman at a New Jersey bus stop. Ironbound, directed by Kelly Kitchens, traps Darja (Tavares) at the only location she can go anywhere from. Darja is usually without a car and this bus stop becomes the symbol of both her way out and her lack of ability to go anywhere.

Darja is a Polish woman who has lived in the States a long time. We meet her at age 42 where she is possibly breaking up with her third major male relationship (she says she’s twice divorced). Tommy (a despicable but weirdly heartbreaking Roy Stanton) has cheated on her throughout their entire seven year relationship, but it’s only now that she lets him know how long she’s tracked his behaviors. He, like the audience, is baffled by this mysterious woman.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Sprint Right Over to See “The Great Leap”

Linden Tailor in The Great Leap (AdamsVisCom)
The Great Leap
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through April 22, 2018

If we were to attempt to publicly analyze talented, nationally acknowledged playwright Lauren Yee, we might start by suggesting that she’s been working out aspects of her relationship with her father, also pretty publicly, for a few years. Their relationship was explored, recently, in King of the Yees, performed here at ACT Theatre, where Larry Yee and Lauren are both characters in the play.

In her latest, world premiere (at Seattle Repertory Theatre and at Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company) The Great Leap, she says she mining her father’s love for basketball and his history of youthful play to explore a story about a Chinese American high school basketball player who loves the game as fiercely as any basketball-loving high school kid can love basketball – which is pretty fiercely.

But Yee also has serious intent and large canvases in mind which weave into her “small” family-style stories. Here, she contextualizes her play into the great leaps of change that China went through in the 20th Century. Using basketball, which is played world over, and a fictional matchup in 1989 of University of San Francisco and Beijing University, Yee introduces this teenager with a burning desire to go on that trip and play that exhibition game.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Exciting New Play About Unknown Female Composer

The cast of the play within the play watching the vlog within the play of Smoke & Dust (Joe Iano)
Smoke & Dust
Macha Theatre Works
(at Theatre Off Jackson)
Through April 14, 2018

Joy McCullough-Carranza succeeds in pulling off a play writing hat-trick! Here, she presents a play about almost-lost-to-history composer Barbara Strozzi (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Strozzi), whose music we still have available, and who was a contemporary to McCullough-Carranza's other recent muse, Artemisia Gentileschi (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artemisia_Gentileschi). In fact, after McCullough-Carranza wrote her play, Blood Water Paint, she turned the play into a novel (https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/557182/blood-water-paint-by-joy-mccullough/9780735232112/)!

So how is it a hat trick (that's a term that came out of hockey to name a feat of one person getting three goals)? Smoke & Dust is "about" Barbara Strozzi, but told as a play-within-a-play performed by a modern cast about this intriguing young woman whose lot in life made her choose between a convent or courtesan-ship, since she could not marry rich. Those were about the only choices allowed then. Then, the modern cast is about a actor's little sister who turns to vlogging in order to figure out her own life.

These three strands braid together pretty seamlessly throughout. And the dialogue for all the pieces works so excellently that you can have no difficulties believing it all as it unfolds.

A solid cast including James Lyle, Caitlin Frances, Shelby Windom, Belle Pugh, Peter Cook and Michael Blackwood is headed by new-to-many Bianca Raso. Bianca's background is in opera and she is the perfect choice to perform as the young composer and the cast member with the little sister experiencing family troubles. Raso's voice is sublime. Don't miss her!



Friday, March 30, 2018

Theatre22 Presents “The Happiest Song Plays Last”

Michael D. Blum and Aida Leguizamon in The Happiest Song Plays Last (Dangerpants Photography)
The Happiest Song Plays Last
Theatre22
(at 12th Avenue Arts)
Through April 14, 2018

Quiara Alegria Hudes is one of our country’s powerful, female playwrights and her work is becoming more ubiquitous in production. Theatre22 brought us a gorgeous (and Gypsy-award winning) production of Water By the Spoonful in 2015 which was the second part of a trilogy. Now, they’ve mounted the third part, The Happiest Song Plays Last.

Cousins Yaz (Aida Leguizamon) and Elliot (Joshua Chessin-Yudin) are separated in two different worlds here. It’s an uneasy pairing of circumstances and in some ways that makes the play feel uneven. Elliot has gone to the country of Jordan to work on a war film, using his background as an Iraq War vet. He stumbles into a starring role as an action hero, having been hired initially to be the boot camp trainer for the actors, helping them feel the reality of their roles.

Yaz has moved back to her aunt’s North Philadelphia home to try to make their old neighborhood a better place, literally feeding the neighbors to develop community connection. Both Yaz and Elliot are lonely souls and a bit hardened against romantic relationships, but in this “episode,” love creeps into their lives in unexpected ways.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

“Ride the Cyclone” Might Be a Fun Ride – Or Might Not

The Amazing Karnak in Ride the Cyclone (Mark Kitaoka)
Ride the Cyclone
ACT Theatre and 5th Avenue Theatre
(at ACT Theatre)
Through May 20, 2018

Someone said that the co-productions chosen by ACT Theatre and the 5th Avenue Theatre in their annual outing of togetherness have always been a bit dark and/or quirky and I ran my memory back over Assassins, Grey Gardens, Vanities, Little Shop of Horrors, and First Date, and yup, I agree. Now we add Ride the Cyclone, perhaps the darkest and quirkiest of them all.

Ride the Cyclone checklist: Intriguing and entertaining set: Check. Super cool cast: Check. Check. Fun factor: Yep. Fun. Story: um…. Summary: Cotton candy – sweet, fun to eat, not very filling.

Director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell directs and choreographs the hell out of this piece. There is no doubt at all that it would not be the fun ride it is without all the whiz and the bang added here. The rhythm is steady and all-hands-on-deck, and the choreography is modern, fun, sometimes funny, and definitely attractive.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Family Drama “Big Rock” Makes Solid Connection

Moore, McLynn and Whitfield in Big Rock (Chris Bennion)
Big Rock
Onward Ho Productions
(at West of Lenin)
Through March 31, 2018

Several years ago, Onward Ho Productions mounted Sonya Schneider’s Royal Blood, which was a funny family dramedy with some dark overtones. Starring an irascible Todd Jefferson Moore, it addressed aging relationships and difficulties with adult children. Moore again stars in Schneider’s new world premiere production of Big Rock, now at West of Lenin. Again, his character is irascible and idiosyncratic, but different from the caustic character in the former play.

Again, Moore’s character, Harris Sands, grapples with an adult child, Signe. But this version unfolds more quietly and with more subtle backstories. Harris is a famous poet who feels that he has lost his ability to write and has hibernated into a small cabin on a spit of island off the Pacific Northwest. Signe (Meg McLynn) is an artist who works in “found” materials, and apparently makes “boxes” of some kind, but has also found a fair amount of success. However, she has long been estranged from her father.