Saturday, March 29, 2014

Royal Blood: The heart of the play is Love

Through April 4

Cast of "Royal Blood": Merat and Love front, Hsieh in tie, Nelson and Moore on upper step (photo by Chris Bennion)
Royal Blood is a new play by local Seattle playwright Sonya Schneider and she believes in it so deeply that she and her husband have self-produced it in grand style. Directed by capable director, Laurel Pilar Garcia, with a terrific and accomplished cast, they have also invested in a marvelous set by Jennifer Zeyl, beautifully rendered costumes by Anastasia Armes, exquisite sound and music design by Robertson Witmer and well-crafted lighting by Evan Anderson.

Overall, this is a highly successful production. It focuses on a pretty dysfunctional family and an unfolding of some secrets, but almost all the revelations are earned, and the relationships and choices are clear and ones we might identify with in our own families. The members of this family deeply want to feel 'special.'

As the play begins, a woman we will realize is somewhat mentally challenged digs a hole in the wonderfully detailed backyard set, in real sod, to bury her dog, Lady Di. Deb (Amy Love) looks up from her labors to find her sister, Dorothy (Mari Nelson), has come home from Europe and Deb thinks Dorothy has been brought home due to the dog's death. In fact, Dorothy has come to bury their brother Leo, but their father Cliff (Todd Jefferson Moore) has not yet told Deb of Leo's death.

It's easy to identify with Dorothy's desire to be independent of a challenged little sister, to have tried to leave and make a successful life on her own. It's a little less easy to accept that Dorothy might be on the verge of leaving behind her 16 year-old daughter, Cassiopeia (Nicole Merat), though her ex-husband is apparently a decent father. But then Dorothy learns that her father has cancer and the stakes become much higher.

We also learn that Leo committed suicide and that he had a lover, Adam (David Hsieh), though his homosexuality lies uneasily with Cliff. Cliff is an uncomfortable, though believable, character who is also racist and loves to sarcastically tease his family. Moore handles all of that thoroughly and well, not letting us like him as he struggles to deal with how to manage this new illness.

Nelson, an assured veteran of stages such as the Rep and ACT, holds everything together just like the older sister should, and makes it clear how burdened and uncertain she is, though never displaying her vulnerability to her family. Merat is terrific as the headstrong and difficult and brilliant young girl, ably portraying the know-it-all attitudes and emotional outbursts of that age. Hsieh is restrained and formal in a role that is the least well-rounded of the play.

But the heart of the play is Love in a beautiful portrayal of an older woman who has been sheltered and protected from life while longing to be 'normal.' The title comes from the family's supposed descent from the British Spencer Family, the one that Princess Di came from, and Deb lives out the fantasies of their dead mother, dressing in clothing that would be appropriate on Jackie Kennedy or movie stars. Her quirky obsession with movies provides a unifying through-line and some of the best laughs.

A mentally-challenged character still rarely shows up on stage, and this is a great character. Her fate, with her father sick, is definitely a problem anyone can relate to. The dialogue of the play is smart and virtually all the issues raised in the play are wrapped up by the end. In fact, there are almost too many issues and almost too much neat wrapping up! The second act could be strengthened by judicious pruning of a few problems and maybe even leaving one or two unsolved for now.

It's definitely a solid work and an absorbing evening of storytelling. Sometimes around here, you just have to do it yourself, if it's going to get done. Do yourself and Sonya a favor and go see her show. You'll be glad you did!

For more information, go to Brown Paper Tickets or or call 800-838-3006.