Thursday, May 01, 2014

Seattle’s amazing – ambiguous – history in intricate detail, now at Book-It Rep

Kevin McKeon, Jennifer Lee Taylor, Chris Ensweiler (photo Chris Bennion)
Truth Like the Sun
Through May 18

Jim Lynch’s meticulously detailed book, Truth Like the Sun, is no straightforward history lesson. It weaves back and forth in time with major mysteries to explore and perhaps unfold. Creating a fictitious “Mr. Seattle” who becomes the face of the 1962 World’s Fair, he explores and exposes the seamy underbelly of graft and corruption that others have mined similarly. He creates a tenacious and overly cynical journalist out to get the “real” story any way she can, in 2001, and has her dig hard into Mr. Seattle’s possible corruption.

Book-It Repertory Theatre has chosen, for the third time!, to adapt a Jim Lynch novel, and Truth Like the Sun is riveting, ambitious, ambiguous, and challenging, all at once. This is not the kind of play to allow you to sit and let it wash over you. Sometimes there are evenings like that, like last month’s excellent Seattle Shakespeare Company production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Oscar Wilde’s skewering trifle is fun but not terribly taxing to watch. This production calls upon you to sit up, fasten your seat belt, and PAY ATTENTION!

Kevin McKeon’s adaptation and Jane Jones’ direction creates a cacophony of voices from time to time, from the beginning bustle of World’s Fair Seattle hubbub forward. It’s a bit cinematic in style, and it does make it a bit hard for those who can’t decipher the speaker or the short sentences, at times. There is also a well-done theatrical technique to throw us back and forth in time (without using sign titling) that takes two or three iterations to get used to so we know the “when” we’re looking at.

We first meet Roger Morgan (the indefatigable Chris Enweiler) as the Fair is opening and struggling to make back the money promised the backers. It is clearly a huge undertaking that taxed Seattle’s city coffers and frontier-style resources to the limits. Morgan seems both the mover-shaker and possibly the shaker-taker type, possibly doing the city good while doing himself more good. He is at least involved with, if not on the take with, some of the graft seekers of the time.

Lynch, with deep Seattle roots, is able to detail both the undesirable aspects of Seattle and the “we’re better than any other city” attitudes that permeate our culture. Enter new resident, single mother, and journalist Helen Gulanos (tenacious and prickly Jennifer Lee Taylor) who tends to both alienate and gain admirers at the same time. With a landmark 40 year anniversary, in 2001, and the surprise of Morgan deciding to run, at age 70, for mayor, the Seattle P-I decides to see if an expose on his 40 year old exploits are in order.

With a deeply talented ensemble, including Cynthia Geary, Laura Hanson, Joe Ivy, Chad Kelderman, Kevin McKeon and Leslie Wisdom, the rest of the evening depicts how journalists can connect dots that they uncover by research in all kinds of ways, including maybe ones that never turn out to be true. If Morgan made unsavory deals 40 years ago, how come he is basically broke today? If he associated with corrupt builders, was he corrupt or just forced to associate because those were some of the power brokers of that era?

The ambiguity is fascinating. And refreshing. And true, like real life. The sun can shine light on things and expose them, but it can also burn holes, and it can arbitrarily throw some things into deep shade, in contrast. Truth Like the Sun gives us a lot of celestial light to beam about.

For more information, go to www.book-it.org or call 206-216-0833.