Friday, September 26, 2014

Don't miss The Play of the Year (so far): "The Invisible Hand" at ACT Theatre

Erwin Galan (back), Elijah Alexander, Connor Toms (seated) in The Invisible Hand (Chris Bennion)
The Invisible Hand
ACT Theatre
Through September 28, 2014


(printed in Seattle Gay News)

If terrorists ever decide to imitate "Art" instead of having "Art" imitate "Life" - and they see the play The Invisible Hand by Ayad Akhtar - well... the world is in big trouble! This intense, smart, gripping drama at ACT Theatre has a plot that includes describing how financial markets work, and it drives to a conclusion that makes the blood drain out of your face and dread fill your soul. 

The play begins some period of time into Nick Bright's (Connor Toms) captivity in a Pakistani cement block house. While we don't quite know how long he has been there, it has been long enough for him to teach a little English to the young guard, Dar (Erwin Galan) and help the guard make some money for his village selling potatoes. 

Suddenly, Bashir (Elijah Alexander) a lieutenant of the Imam (William Ontiveros) reminds Nick and Dar, both, that this is captivity, and fear and tension grip the stage. While actual violence is sparse, the threat of it remains a potent force throughout the remainder of the play. While journalist Daniel Pearl's beheading is referred to, the audience is quick to think of the recent beheadings in the news. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The dulcet tones of a barbershop quartet teach a lesson in tolerance in Taproot's "The Fabulous Lipitones"

Brad Walker, John Patrick Lowrie, Greg Stone and Jeff Berryman in The Fabulous Lipitones (Erik Stuhaug)

The Fabulous Lipitones
Through October 18, 2014

(printed in Seattle Gay News)

Oh, no! The tenor member of a barbershop quartet has died, just before the national finals! What do the other three do? Between arguing about disbanding (and other petty squabbles), they hear a great new singing voice on the phone and set about having an audition, right away. But the guy who shows up is “not like them.” He’s wearing a turban. Hilarity ensues.

This sweet production of The Fabulous Lipitones at Taproot Theatre is a new work by John Markus and Mark St. Germain (former writers on The Cosby Show), and is disarmingly light. It’s kind of a small town story, set in a farm town outside Columbus, Ohio, where people do small town kinds of things, like develop a passion for barbershop quartet music.

The revelation that the tenor they need in order to go to nationals is a Sikh almost sends Phil the gym owner (Jeff Berryman) into paroxysms of fear and racism. Wally the pharmacist (John Patrick Lowrie) and Howard (Greg Stone) are far more interested in going to nationals to worry too much about terrorism from Baba Mati Das – otherwise known as “Bob” (Brad Walker). Eventually, they browbeat, wear down and bargain with Phil to get him to move forward with Bob as their fourth singer.

There are lots of jokes, a few groaners, and some familiar stock kinds of characters (though with unique characteristics that help) and the production, helmed by Scott Nolte, feels like a dessert, all silly and amusing. Embedded in there, though, is a big topic of accepting those who are different than we are, learning about cultures that are not our own, and finding ways of overcoming obstacles to inclusion.

The four actors all perform the barbershop quartet arrangements with dispatch and professionalism. They sound great. They are all terrific singers.

The set by Mark Lund allows for transformation from a funeral parlor to the crowded basement of Howard’s small house. Costuming by Nanette Acosta is appropriately serviceable until fun and gaudy performance gear is added. Some Bollywood-style dance steps are provided by Gurvinder Pal Singh with additional choreography by Beth Orme.

This is exactly the type of production that would appeal to Taproot’s subscribers. There is a message, but it is clearly stated and swaddled in great humor. It’s kind of like eating ice cream and then finding out that they used soy milk or almond milk and healthy ingredients and you thought it tasted great anyway.

Also, Walker’s performance is tender and honorable to the Sikh traditions and values. He is funny (he has a terrific grin), but never makes fun of, or denigrates, his character’s upright sense of righteousness.

For more information, go to www.taproottheatre.org or call 206-781-9707. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Village Theatre’s "In the Heights" hits the heights for dancing and excitement

(from top left in circle)
Naomi Morgan, Iris Elton, Jennifer Paz and Tanesha Rass in In the Heights (Mark Kitaoka)

In the Heights
Issaquah: through October 26, 2014
Everett: October 31 – November 23, 2014

(printed in Seattle Gay News)

Did you know that In the Heights is a dance musical?! It is! It’s also a rap musical, and a hip hop musical, and a heartwarming story of the residents of Washington Heights, New York City, bonding through song, and an electrical blackout.

Did you know that the cast of Village Theatre’s production of In the Heights is insanely good? It is! Village has brought back some ex-Seattle residents along with a few guest visitors that ratchet up the talent on stage to unbelievable…heights. (Yup, I said it.)

This musical is so much fun. The music reflects the Latin influences of Washington Heights and even though people are struggling and low-income, they still have self-esteem and drive and dreams of making it. We meet corner-store proprietor Usnavi, who wants to leave the Heights and open a store in the Dominican Republic, home of his deceased parents. In the meantime, he takes care of his father’s store and his cousin, Sonny, and his adopted grandmother nearby.

The other story is about Nina, the smart girl who managed to get a scholarship to Stanford University, but has had to drop out after working two jobs and losing the scholarship due to dropping grades. Her family owns a car transportation service and a young worker, Benny, consoles her about having to disappoint her parents.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

15 plus companies help create city-wide Beckett Fest - Best known play "Waiting for Godot"

Darragh Kennan and Todd Jefferson Moore in Waiting for Godot (John Ulman)

Waiting for Godot
Seattle Shakespeare Company
(At ACT Theatre's Central Heating Lab)
Through September 21

From the brains of George Mount, artistic director of Seattle Shakespeare Company, and then A.J. Epstein proprietor of West of Lenin and a few other theater practitioners, sometime back in 2013 or 2014, there came a decision to have a citywide festival celebrating Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. Having thus decreed it, they bustled about making it so with fundraising and recruiting other companies to choose pieces of Beckett's writings and create productions. There are over 15 companies participating in the festival!

Beckett (1906-1989) was a practitioner of the "theater of the absurd" and prized minimalism. He grew to adulthood in Dublin and then taught in France and spent most of his life between the two countries. He often wrote in French and then made his own translations.

The festival has a website: www.seattlebeckettfest.org that includes a list of productions and companies and links to help you find them and buy tickets. There is also a Facebook page: www.facebook.com/seattlebeckettfest.

Life=Play and other events
A few events have already taken place. West of Lenin produced an evening of four short pieces, entitled Life=Play. Act Without Words, Part 1 starred Ray Tagavilla in a kind of humorous mime play where a man tumbles onto stage and the stage itself directs him to try to grab a vial of water hung from the ceiling, and mysteriously provides boxes for him to climb on to reach the vial. Ultimately, though, the vial is pulled too high to reach.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Dorfman’s “Death and the Maiden” demonstrates the personal devastation of many dictatorships

Fernando Luna (front), Frank Lawler and Tonya Andrews in Death and the Maiden (Michael Brunk)

There is another September 11th, one we have little affinity for, but one that cements that particular date in history to particularly important historic activities, 1973: the Chilean coup of democratically-elected President Salvadore Allende by General Pinochet. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was a U.S.-backed coup. Pinochet’s dictatorship included 17 years of tortures and human rights abuses.

Argentina has had a long series of dictators and coup attempts, often followed by disappearances and deaths of dissidents, students, journalists, and many other “normal” citizens, numbered in the tens of thousands. Ariel Dorfman, playwright and native-Argentinian, has written a play about the results of torture set in a South American country that is unnamed.

Death and the Maiden  is being produced by Latino Theatre Projects through September 28th. Tickets here (at the Ballard Underground).

Dorfman has said, “Twenty years ago, when Death and the Maiden, the play that tells this story, opened in London at the Royal Court Upstairs, the country where that woman, Paulina, awaited a constantly delayed justice, was my own Chile or the Argentina where I was born. Or South Africa. Or Hungary. Or China…. Today, as the same play is revived in London's West End, its main drama is echoed in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Iran, Nigeria, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Iraq, Thailand, Zimbabwe and now Libya.”

The message of this searing drama is that it happened, and happens, everywhere, and for those who go through the abductions and tortures, rapes and beatings, if they do not die, they have little to no recourse for justice or reconciliation. Dorfman’s play uses the small to write large.

Death and the Maiden  focuses on a mid-level political appointee to a new government (Gerardo Escobar – Frank Lawler) and his wife. Paulina (Tonya Andrews) has become a recluse, protected by Gerardo from too much agitation. Gerardo has been offered a prestigious appointment to a government taking over from a recent dictatorship. Trust in the government is close to non-existent, but Gerardo would be investigating crimes of the dictatorship with an eye toward justice and reconciliation.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Did she? Sound Theatre's production leaves it up to you.

Caitlin Frances and Peggy Gannon in Blood Relations (Ken Holmes)
Blood Relations
Sound Theatre Company
Through September 27, 2014

“Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.” That rhyme and variations has been around since shortly after the murders of the parents of a real Lizzie Borden in 1892. But Ms. Borden was acquitted in a trial. Shouldn’t that be the end of the story?

Apparently not, because there are whole scholarly books out on the subject and Harvard Law School has tried her again and again, only to have their juries acquit her, too. Plays have been written and recently a rock musical was presented by Village Theatre at their summer festival.

Another play, Blood Relations, is now on stage by SoundTheatre Company at the black box stage behind Cornish Playhouse. Written by Sharon Pollock, a Canadian playwright I had not heard of, this play is content to not quite answer the question, either.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Part 2 of "Angels of America" more lively than Part 1

Timothy McCuen Piggee and Adam Standley in Angels in America (Chris Bennion)


Angels in America
Intiman Theatre
through September 21, 2014

(as printed in Seattle Gay News)

Perestroika is a Russian word for 'restructuring.' In Part 2 of Angels in America, it is a harbinger of change to come. In large and small ways, the characters in the play and the society in which they live are restructuring. 

One of the ways politics in the 1980s and '90s were restructuring was due, at least in part, to the activism that AIDS forced on the LGBT population. Gay people had to become vocal or die. President Reagan had to be forced to acknowledge the epidemic and to put financial resources to work to combat it. While Angels is focused on the late 1980s, we sit in 2014 in a very different landscape, where same-sex marriage is very close to becoming the law of the entire United States. Laws are very much restructured. 

Angels in America is a seminal play in the documentation of the AIDS crisis in the mid '80s. It reminds us how terribly painful AIDS was at first, before the possibility of 'managing' the disease. It reminds us how stigmatizing AIDS was as America focused on homosexuality and not the disease. 

Although Part 2 is actually longer in length, it moves faster. But it would be hard to imagine making the marathon that Intiman is encouraging, seeing Part 1 in the afternoon and then Part 2 after a dinner break! That is six and a half hours of just performance, plus breaks. (Those actors are working hard!) 



Friday, September 12, 2014

5th Ave's " A Chorus Line" a singular sensation

The company of A Chorus Line (Mark Kitaoka)
A Chorus Line
The 5th Avenue Theatre
through September 28, 2014

A Chorus Line opened at the 5th Avenue Theatre last night with a powerhouse cast, a brilliant orchestra, and an overall terrific presentation. They have taken the time and effort to secure the "bible" of the Michael Bennett original choreography, as lovingly translated through original cast member Kerry Casserly. So, it all feels very "original."

If you've never seen the show, this is a great time to go see it on stage. You can feel the energy from the very beginning, with all the dance hopefuls massed on stage, going through their choreographic auditions and singing, "I Hope I Get It." If you have a young person who aspires to a Broadway career, this is a very instructive musical, even though it's supposed to be 1975. If you think much has changed in the audition process, you'd be very mistaken.

Each of the auditioners gets to tell a story, some of which become songs. The original musical was even developed with the help of real actors, a number of whom became originators of their roles on Broadway.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Rose Cano shines light on homeless with her play (her company eSe Teatro presents “Don Quixote and Sancho Panza: Homeless in Seattle” at ACT Theatre’s Central Heating Lab)

Rose Cano in a humorous moment pretending to be Don Quixote (courtesy Rose Cano)
Rose Cano has spent 19 years as a medical translator for patients at Harborview. She’s heard a lot of stories. Some of the stories from the emergency room and from homeless shelters formed the basis of the characters in the play Don Quixote and Sancho Panza: Homeless in Seattle she and her company eSe Teatro will present from September 10 to September 28 at ACT Theatre’s Central Heating Lab.

Rose, busy with (besides a full time job) running her theater company, directing, developing community, talks about the development of the play. She says it is her first multi-character play and “it’s my first fully produced full length play. I’ve done a few one person shows and written two bilingual musicals.

“2011 is when I got the idea. Working at Harborview in the emergency department, I saw a number of homeless Latinos on the weekends. We see highway accidents, violent crimes, jail inmates and indigent people. Based on some of the men – we see mostly men in the ER – some were gentlemen and some succumbed to the street. And I started to think about how they keep their dignity on the street.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

25000 is a big number in James Lapan's solo show

James Lapan in his solo show 25,000 Posts (John Ulman)
James Lapan can teach you how to properly dig a post hole if you want to put up your own “For Sale” sign at your house. He’s a very thorough teacher, and while he teaches you, he tells you all kinds of other interesting tidbits about himself and his life. He says, about his show 25,000 Posts, “It’s 39 monologues about life love and real estate.”

In May, 2014, he has a two week stand at West of Lenin performing this show and he is remounting it at the Penthouse Theatre on UW Campus from September 12-14 (tickets at brownpapertickets.com - Jim says it’s basically by donation and no one will be turned away for lack of funds!).

I asked Jim about his playwriting experience. He says, “I tend to write a play every eight to ten years. I (recently) contributed to The Betty Plays, a collection of four short plays for Betty Campbell to play. (Note: Betty Campbell is a long-time Seattle actor who is getting to an age where standing and acting is a problem and four playwrights contributed to a special work where she specifically could act sitting down!) Mine was adapted from a news story about an 83 year old woman who had to land a plane when her pilot husband had a cardiac incident.

“(The seeds of this play came out of writing for a) 14/48 production in 2012. The theme was “how did this happen” and I wrote a play called “Short Sales” with a cartoon-like storytelling about how someone could end up with a house in a short sale situation. It was less fictional than I expected my writing to be.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Keep On Tapping: Greg McCormick Allen in "A Chorus Line" – Show #23 at the 5th Avenue Theatre

Greg McCormick Allen in A Chorus Line (Tracy Martin)

How you arrive at where your life is at can be quite surprising journey. Greg McCormick Allen says, “From what I’ve been told, I was taking drum lessons when I was 2 ½.  I’m not sure why I was taking drum lessons, but apparently, I really liked making noise but not sitting still. One day I heard a noise and wandered down the hall and there was a tap class going on. I indicated (to my mother that) I would like that. I’ve pretty much been doing it ever since!”

Greg is appearing in A Chorus Line at the 5th Avenue Theatre and it’s his 23rd show in that theater. It’s a pretty impressive number, and is mounting quickly. Almost every 5th Ave show seems to have a role for Greg somewhere in it. At least lately! Not that the 5th Ave is the only place you’ll see Greg. He’s also prepping to perform as Bert in Village Theatre’s Mary Poppins. Most people think that role is perfect for Greg at the perfect time in his life!

But back to his journey. Greg says, “My mom was from Texas and my father from Oregon and they adopted me when I was a couple of weeks old in Tacoma. They are not at all artistic. I’m not sure why they wanted to put me in all these lessons.” Well, we’re glad they did!

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Intiman is all in with Angels in America

Adam Standley and Timothy McCuen Piggee in Angels (Chris Bennion)
(as printed in Seattle Gay News)

ANGELS IN AMERICA (Parts 1 and 2)
Intiman Theatre
Through September 21, 2014


Some people consider Angels In America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes by Tony Kushner one of the great plays of the 20th Century. Some consider it one of the great plays about Gay characters ever. 

This is a sprawling play, spanning six plus hours, generally done in two parts (Part 1, Millenium Approaches and Part 2, Perestroika), that delves deeply into philosophical ideas of the meaning of life, love and whether angels are real, and that encapsulates the 1980s in the time of AIDS and Gay rights clashing and clanging for attention. 

Part of its genius is that it's incredibly funny; at the very same moments it's terribly tragic. The kind of laugh-and-cry-at-the-same-time moments where the characters themselves are reacting or where the audience finds relief in the humor while recognizing the pain. 

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Farcical fun at Strawshop

Black Comedy (courtesy Strawberry Theatre Workshop)
Black Comedy
Strawberry Theatre Workshop
Through September 20, 2014

Black Comedy is an hour long one-joke play taken to extremes. Written by Peter Shaffer, known for some very serious plays (Equus, Amadeus) in 1965, its major conceit uses theater lighting to create a trick: when characters flip the house light switch to the “on” position, the stage is dark, and when there is no light in their stage house, lights are fully up on stage. You can say that the play hopes to illuminate what people do in the dark, if you’d like. Really though, it’s an opportunity for stage actors to pratfall their hearts out!

Strawberry Theatre Workshop is doing the play and it is pretty clear that the actors are having a grand old time. A very accomplished troupe is providing the laughs under the direction of Kelly Kitchens. This short play of a very long joke takes place in the living room of Brindsley Miller (Richard Nguyen Sloniker) who is going to meet his fiancee’s (Brenda Joyner) father (Michael Patten) in a moment. Brin is an artist and he’s also expecting the great – and rich – Georg Bamberger, who could turn him into a very in-vogue artist if he likes what he sees.

To gussy up the place, Brin has borrowed furniture from his neighbor (Rob Burgess) hoping the neighbor will stay away just long enough not to notice. Alas, the farce couldn’t continue without dashing those hopes. To make matters even worse, there is a power outage in the building and no one has any candles. A distraught neighbor (Emily Chisholm) comes in for safety, and the electrician (MJ Sieber) is mistaken for Bamberger. As if that wasn’t enough confusion, Brin has an ex-girlfriend (Allison Strickland) who shows up at the wrong time wanting to rekindle romance.