Saturday, June 24, 2017

What’s Drag Got to Do With It?

 
Timothy McCuen Piggee and Adam Standley in The Legend of Georgia McBride (Chris Bennion)
The Legend of Georgia McBride
ACT Theatre
Through July 2, 2017

Adam Standley continues to show his considerable talent for captivating a theater audience in his latest outing: The Legend of Georgia McBride at ACT Theatre by Matthew Lopez. The show is a rollicking good time (though maybe a bit “old fashioned” by now) as it focuses on a straight man becoming a drag queen (gasp! how shocking!).

Casey is at his wits’ end when his boss, Eddie, fires him from being an Elvis impersonator in order to let the boss’s cousin perform a drag show. And right when he bounced the rent check and finds out his wife, Jo, is pregnant! He’s asked to bartend, but then suddenly a drugged out drag queen fails her duty and who else is there to step in? Hurry, hurry, you must put on that dress and mean it!

There’s not a lot of mystery to the show. There’s just a lot of good time entertainment! The small cast is clearly having fun and the costumes and wigs put the entire show over the top!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

“Braggsville” is Well Worth the Visit

The main characters in Welcome to Braggsville (Alabastro Photography)
Welcome to Braggsville
Book-It Repertory Theatre
Through July 2, 2017

The book, Welcome to Braggsville, by T. Geronimo Johnson, is branded as a sharp, incisive, and funny satire. The play, as adapted by Josh Aaseng and Daemond Arrindell for Book-It Repertory Theatre, is not particularly funny, though it keeps appellations such as sharp and incisive, and it is definitely challenging. It is extremely current, especially given the newly tragic death in “liberal Seattle” of another black person at the hands of the police. As much as we want to believe in some kind of post-racial society, we keep being shown that we have a long way to go to become what we may wish.

The topic at hand is whether our white, liberal conceits are pierce-able by reality on the ground and whether we can allow ourselves to learn and grow after setting aside our self-congratulations. The community that is teased the hardest, in the novel and play, is Berkeley college students. It begins with a diverse group of freshmen going to a party where one is supposed to put a dot “where you’d like to be touched.”

When they all put the dot in the middle of their foreheads, other party-goers excoriate them as lacking the sensibility to realize they were mocking Indians (the dots that are used to denote married or single) and after they are sent packing, they declare themselves the “four little Indians – from different tribes.” The four are: small-town Georgia white boy, D'aron (Zack Summers), feminist, white woman, Candice (Sylvie Davidson), the “kung fu comedian” Asian-American, Louis (Justin Huertas), and the black inner-city Chicagoan, Charlie (Dimitri Woods).

Friday, June 16, 2017

NCTC's "Realistic Joneses" Well Done but Reality Bites

Peter Dylan O'Connor and Brenda Joyner in The Realistic Joneses (Danielle Franich)
The Realistic Joneses
New Century Theatre Company
Through July 1, 2017

There is a terrific four-hander cast doing some lovely acting work and it’s easy to appreciate them doing so. The big problem with New Century Theatre Company’s production of The Realistic Joneses is that they’re doing The Realistic Joneses by Will Eno.

Will Eno’s play, Thom Pain (based on nothing) was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 2005. It was produced at Seattle Repertory not long afterward in 2006 with stalwart actor Todd Jefferson Moore who has done many plays with great talent. However, my biggest memory of that experience was being yelled at by a solo actor for over an hour. I hated it. Not just didn’t like it…

That play is one of the number of times I have found a play to have won a Pulizter Prize or been a finalist and wondered just what the panel was smoking that caused them to make the choices they made.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

“Barbecue” is one hot show

Lamar Legend and Shaunyce Omar in Barbecue (Naomi Ishisaka)
Barbecue
Intiman Theatre
(at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute)
Through June 25, 2017

Nothing is quite what it seems in this Robert O’Hara play, Barbecue, mounted by Intiman Theatre and directed by talented Malika Oyetimein. Most anyone who writes about this play will have to sketch in oblique descriptions so we don’t give away too many plot twists – and saying that gives you too much information about plot twists!

O’Hara is deft with dialogue. He catches how people tease and express emotions with toss away lines. He plunges the audience into the middle of scenes and lets us catch up with what is going on. He also has a strong point of view. His plays – so far, Intiman and Oyetimein have done two including Bootycandy in 2015 – are part uproariously funny, and part disturbing, and always challenging the status quo.

Monday, June 05, 2017

“Lydia” Encapsulates the Border Between Reality and Poetry

Carolyn Marie Monroe and Sofia Raquel Sanchez in Lydia (John Ulman)
Lydia
Strawberry Theatre Workshop
Through June 24, 2017

Strawberry Theatre Workshop has chosen a more-than-worthy play to present: Lydia by Octavio Solis. It’s hard to write about because there is just so much that should not be said before anyone sees the play! Even the barest minimums reveal aspects that would be better discovered by an audience that has no idea what they’re going to see.

Having said that, while it’s an intense, challenging, sometimes difficult journey, it’s a stellar effort and is definitely one of the most important plays you will see this year! If you like a play that sticks to you for weeks like glue, you will love seeing this one! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it on stage.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

"Dreamgirls" is a Dream of a Production

The Dreams and Jimmy in Dreamgirls (Mark Kitaoka)


Dreamgirls
Village Theatre
Issaquah: through July 2, 2017
Everett: July 7 – 30, 2017

Best Musical Production of 2017 – so far for sure! Village Theatre has a bona fide hit on its hands with its final production of the season: Dreamgirls! The production is exciting, visually gorgeous, with a cast that is palpably having fun doing the show. It works on every level.

Steve Tomkins said it’s one of his “bucket list” musicals, one that he’s been wishing to do for a long time. Well, his choice to do it now speaks, also, to the growth of Village and its ability to field a sophisticated cast of mostly African-American talent who are mostly all located here, now, to accomplish this intense operetta (much of the dialogue in this musical is sung).

If you have never seen the 1983 stage musical or the 2006 movie, the plot takes inspiration from the real-life history of Motown founder Berry Gordy and the Supremes. A trio of naïve singers arrives in New York to make it big. A somewhat-shady “operator” takes them under his wing and defies expectation by finding a way to make R&B more palatable to “white” radio stations and helps them become stars. But only after pushing the larger, better singer to a supporting role to the one he thinks is prettier and with more star quality.

The musical demonstrates a lot of the seedy history of our country where white singers like Elvis and others heard a song and appropriated it into a hit by singing it themselves. The energy of change and civil rights in the 1960s and ‘70s did allow for breakout black stars to get the recognition they deserved.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

June Theater Openings are Busting Out in the Beginning of the Month

Ben Gonio as Sweeney Todd at ArtsWest (John McClellan)
Seven shows are opening in the beginning of June on our local stages! But the back half is pretty quiet. Maybe that will give you a chance to catch up with all the stuff you’d love to see but can’t fit into two weekends! While there’s a lot of great stuff many have been waiting for, you may want to make a special effort to catch ArtsWest’s Sweeney Todd, with an multi-ethnic cast you won’t often see.

Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, ArtsWest, 6/1/17-7/1/17
Stephen Sondheim's bloody masterpiece tells the tale of an unjustly exiled barber returning to 19th century London to seek vengeance against the lecherous judge who framed him and ravaged his young wife. The road to revenge leads Todd to Mrs. Lovett, a resourceful proprietress of a failing pie shop, where her integration of an ingredient into her meat pies has the people of London lining up. An exemplary cast of people of color adds to what will transpire.

Lydia, Strawberry Theatre Workshop, 6/1-24/17
Lydia centers on two young women who move across borders—one between nations, and one across metaphysical borders between unknown, unseen worlds. Although technically hired as a maid, Lydia's primary responsibility is caring for the family's near-vegetative teenage daughter named Ceci, who was left in a coma after a mysterious accident that occurred right before her quinceanera, or 15th birthday. Unlike the family that surrounds her, Lydia is able to translate Ceci's thoughts—an adolescent stew of childhood memories, criticism and carnality.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Seattle Men’s Chorus at the Symphony

A rehearsal photo from Broadway Rocks (courtesy Seattle Symphony Orchestra)
Broadway Rocks
With the Seattle Men’s Chorus
Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Benaroya Hall
May 19-21, 2017

Seattle Men’s Chorus had a wonderful opportunity this last week to join the Seattle Symphony Orchestra in concert. About fifty of the members augmented three absolutely top-notch Broadway talents in a “Broadway Rocks” concert. This is part of the Symphony’s “Seattle Pops” concert series.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Three Times the Charm - Money & Run Trilogy at The Schmee

Money, Take Run (Dave Hastings)
Money & Run –
Money, Take Run
Of Nuns and Ninjas
Save the Last Dance For Run
Theater Schmeater – in repertory
Through June 10, 2017

Wayne Rawley really got his opportunity to begin seeing plays he wrote at Theater Schmeater in 1999. He told me, in a brief conversation in a marathon night of seeing all three of his Money & Run shows in one evening, that he wrote the very first episode of Money & Run for a Schmee late night run. Late night shows were on fire back then and got huge audiences. Usually, they are funny and made more funny by drinking a few before and during the show.

So, he wrote this episode about a young man named Run and a young woman named Money who “meet cute” by sticking up a bar at the same time – not planned together! And then they go count the money and fall in love. He ended up writing eight more episodes.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Tragically Small Audience for Impeccable Solo Show - "Ode"

Nike Imoru (front) in Ode (Navid Baraty)
Ode: A Stage Song
West of Lenin
Through May 20, 2017

Nike Imoru has many hyphenates. She teaches and casts the TV show Z Nation and produces and directs and coaches and writes and acts. She has a PhD and has worked around the world. So, to get to know her in an autobiographical solo show is to find out a little more about how she came to be the many parts of who she is.

Her solo show, at West of Lenin, is called Ode: A Stage Song. She performs it with actor-dancer Simone Bruyere Fraser. Fraser is mostly silent, but in many ways becomes the emotional center of Imoru's narration.

Friday, May 12, 2017

1930s "Midsummer" Musical Is Most Fun When It's Shakespeare's Script

The "mechanicals" from A Midsummer Night's Dream (Chris Bennion)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Seattle Shakespeare Company
(at Cornish Playhouse)
Through May 21, 2017

Did you know that Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the most performed play in the world? It’s a comedy and it’s Shakespeare and apparently that’s the golden ticket. Seattle Shakespeare Company is mounting it again, as we can certainly bet that they will continue to do, every four or five years. There’s always a new way to try, and audiences love to come.

This year’s production is in the style of a 1930s movie musical. There’s singing and dancing, the Busby Berkeley kind – they even use lighted props!! (thanks to the ideas of choreographer Crystal Dawn Munkers who also plays Hippolyta). There are a few head scratchy types of decisions by director/Theseus George Mount, like the entire play being performed “back stage” of a theater. “It’s a play within a play, see.” That and some other ideas don’t help, but then mostly they don’t hurt that much either.

Mount and his actors have a very firm grasp of the comedic elements, which are a joy. MJ Sieber, last year’s Gypsy Rose Lee Award nominee for a similar comedic master turn in A Winter’s Tale, also a Seattle Shakes production, is wonderful as Bottom, the simple man turned into a donkey by magic. Most of the common folk in the play-within-a-play (now –within-a-play!) are great fun. Steven Davis, a soon-to-be graduate of Cornish, is quite hilarious as Starveling, the Moon.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Cherdonna Plays House Until She Doesn't - And It's Kinda Great

Cherdonna's Doll's House (Jeff Carpenter)
Cherdonna’s Doll’s House
Washington Ensemble Theatre
Through May 15, 2017

Cherdonna Shinatra is a unique presence on the Seattle arts scene. She is the creation of performer Jody Kuehner who was awarded one of The Stranger’s Genius Awards in 2015. She might be described as a clown dancer. Her lithe body is ready to contort into many a dance move as her performance entity enlarges and amplifies her feelings.

She has teamed up with Washington Ensemble Theatre and Ali Mohamed el-Gasseir to create a unique experience of the Henrik Ibsen play, A Doll’s House. There are so many aspects of this evening that are intriguing and beguiling, at least from the beginning on toward the end.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

May Stage Flowers a'Bloomin'

Rehearsal photo for Skin by Deaf Spotlight (Patty Liang)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Seattle Shakespeare Co., 5/3/17-5/21/17 (at Cornish Playhouse)
This version of the classic “who loves who” comedy is placed in the realm of 1930s movie musicals about show business. George Mount says, “They're called backstage musicals. They’re movies about people on Broadway putting on plays. So we're going to do a play, based on the movie genre.” A band of local tradespeople gets mixed into the madness when one member is transformed into a donkey. The fairy Puck, who initiated the foolery, sorts it all out in time for a grand wedding and a nutty comic skit.

Skin, Deaf Spotlight, 5/4-7/17, 5/12-13/17 (at 12th Avenue Arts)
Deaf Spotlight is pleased to this story, which follows four Deaf Queer women who are struggling to make sense of violence, sex, love and friendship amidst a changing landscape, Seattle’s Capitol Hill. This will be performed in ASL and subtitled English.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

“Love” is not all there is

Here Lies Love (Navid Baraty)
Here Lies Love
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through June 18, 2017

So many “why?” questions… The huge, immersive production of Here Lies Love at Seattle Repertory Theatre has the company investing tens of thousands of dollars (maybe hundreds?). Why? What makes this idea, this musical so worth the money? The company has invested months in the making of it, remaking their largest theatrical space into a “nightclub” atmosphere with a movable light-up stage. Why?

There are many ways to construct a nightclub. Why have they built something that limits their usual 800+ seats to less than 300? Why must the stage move? That must have cost an enormous amount more. It shrinks the allowable dance floor by a lot!

They must believe in what they’re doing. That also has to mean that doing so is worth all of it. The experience of attending Here Lies Love is different, somewhat, if you’re sitting in the balcony above or the sides of the nightclub or on the floor where you have to stand for most of the 90-plus minute show. If you’re standing, perhaps wanting to dance the night away, you might get to dance a bit, but for most of that time, you’re watching a fairly standard musical theater production with set songs – many of them power ballads, not terribly danceable to.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The stereotype of the delicate Asian flower - "Nadeshiko"

Mi Kang and Maile Wong in Nadeshiko (John Cornicello)
Nadeshiko
Sound Theatre Company
Through May 16, 2017

An ambitious, vigorously mounted production from Sound Theatre Company seeks to weave together Japanese societal-cultural after-effects of World War II with a family’s modern descendants. Adventurous local writer Keiko Green uses some unconventional theatrical devices in Nadeshiko, along with traditional storytelling.

The main character in the play is a 20-something young woman, Risa (Maile Wong), who is struggling with formulating her path in life, and affording it. Taking a cue from her cousin, Sue (Mi Kang), our first introduction to her is as a hired sex object to a “White Haired Man” (Greg Lyle-Newton). When she accidentally runs away with money after not completing the task, she comes back a bit later to offer an apology (but no money because she says she needs it).

Monday, April 17, 2017

Excellent Production (by The Horse in Motion) Can’t Overcome Script Flaws

Wellesley Girl (Colby Wood)
Wellesley Girl
The Horse in Motion
(at 18th & Union)
Through April 29, 2017

The Horse in Motion is probably a small theater company you have never or rarely heard of. It was started as a collective of UW theater grads a few years back and has produced ensemble-created shows in particular. Their mission is to “expand the traditional conception of theatre.” If you attended their staging of Attempts on Her Life at the University Heights Center, that was a promising debut.

Sometimes, though, ya just have to do a “regular” kind of theatrical production. Their choice, now on stage, is a brand new play (2016) by Brendan Pelsue, who has a very solid East Coast playwrighting background. He was brought out by the company to work on tweaks to his new play, Wellesley Girl.

I’m going to flip my usual pattern of writing “about the show” and then “about the production” for this review, and I’m going to use first-person much more than usual. Sometimes, I see productions that are well done, but the play is perhaps not as good as the production. That’s the case here. This production is excellent!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Discover the “Unseen” at Taproot

Most of the cast of Evidence of Things Unseen (Erik Stuhaug)
Evidence of Things Unseen
Taproot Theatre
Through April 29, 2017

These days, a lot of attention is beginning to be paid to people with “unseen disabilities” and maybe, to some extent, that might be any one of us. We have tendencies to look at people and judge what we see, for better or ill. Have you ever seen someone use a disabled auto tag for parking and then seem to walk quickly and easily away from the vehicle? But perhaps you saw them take the only 100 comfortable (maybe pain-free) steps of their day. We don’t know. We can’t tell.

We all carry baggage and stories around with us, most of which are unseen. The world premiere play at Taproot Theatre, Evidence of Things Unseen by local playwright Katie Forgette, cracks open the secrets of a small family for us to discover.

Sisters Abigail (Christine Marie Brown) and Jane (Jenny Vaughn Hall) have been dealing with the death of their mother in very different ways. Abigail has been pushed away from her religious background and Jane has been pushed toward it. Their relationship has become rocky from those shifts. Since this issue is one of the key issues of the play, it seems that it becomes part of the unseen “things” that we would never know by looking at these sisters.

Monday, April 03, 2017

"A Proper Place" - Pleasing musical if you don't mind the problematic themes

The cast of A Proper Place (Mark Kitaoka)
A Proper Place
Village Theatre
Issaquah: Through April 23, 2017, Everett: April 28-May 21, 2017

If you don’t think about the substance of the brand new musical, A Proper Place, making its world premiere at Village Theatre, you can enjoy the peppy songs and (as usual) impeccable cast and have a pretty good time.

The story is based on J.M. Barrie’s 1902 play, The Admirable Crichton. Barrie wrote the much more famous Peter Pan books and plays. An upper crust British family goes on a cruise in their pleasure boat with a skeleton servant crew. They’re blown off course and land on an island with little hope of rescue.

None of the wealthy family knows a thing about survival, so they depend on their butler and a scullery maid/turned resourceful ladies’ maid to manage shelter and food and everything else. How the butler and maid know how to survive is an open question, but again, if you don’t look at it very hard, it’s just a stereotype and can be fun.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Sleek production might not be enough

Dry Powder (Jenny Graham)
Dry Powder
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through April 15, 2017

A handsomely mounted and handsomely directed (by Marya Sea Kaminski) and acted production at Seattle Repertory ought to mean that the brisk 95 minute play, Dry Powder, is a no-brainer to put on the calendar. Indeed, it’s even somewhat funny, though it’s about high-flying executives of a company that invests in businesses to make a profit – and only a profit, which may mean taking a company over and gutting its operations and staff and remaking it overseas.

The dialogue is fast-paced, full of economic jargon, enough so that the program gives you language to understand before you watch the play. You learn, if you didn’t know, that “dry powder” is the amount of unspent capital the company has left to invest in another business.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Theater in April - Time for World Premieres?

Nadeshiko (John Cornicello)
If it’s April, it must be World Premiere Month? Well, in Seattle it is! There is a ton of original work debuting this month, along with more musicals in unusual places. Spring open your calendar and get your tickets!

The Fog Machine Play, Copious Love Prods., 4/1-22/17 (at Slate Theater)
Local theater guy Brendan Mack purchased a fog machine for a production in 2013 but never actually used it. Then he decided to write a series of short plays about a fog machine. While The Fog Machine Play explores the various uses of theatrical fog, it also explores what it is like to produce fringe theatre in this day and age. This show will truly be “unforgettable.”

Here Lies Love, Seattle Repertory Theatre, 4/7/17-5/28/17
Seattle Rep transforms into a wild dance party, where techno beats spin and tell the story of the People's Power Revolution in the Philippines. Follow the meteoric rise and dramatic fall of the controversial First Lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos.

Friday, March 24, 2017

"26 Miles" a rewarding journey of personal discovery

Klara Cerris and Alma Villegas in 26 Miles (Michael Brunk)
26 Miles
Latino Theatre Projects
(at West of Lenin)
Through April 8, 2017

In 2015, Theatre22 produced a play by Quiara Alegria Hudes, Water By the Spoonful, which garnered 10 Gypsy Rose Lee nominations and three wins. It had also won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize. Director-nominee Julie Beckman directed a super production of that play and has returned to Hudes at a different company for her 26 Miles, produced by Latino Theatre Projects.

So, this production was much anticipated, and does not disappoint. Hudes’ style here is different from Water By the Spoonful, but still smart, thoughtful, and very true to life. This play is very personal to Hudes. It reflects her own life growing up in Philadelphia. It is set in 1986 with a 15 year-old girl protagonist. That’s one of the small differences that “fictionalizes” the play, since Hudes was born in 1977, not 1971.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

ACT Theatre's "Tribes" explores deaf culture

Joshua Castille and Lindsay W. Evans in Tribes (photo by Chris Bennion)
Tribes
ACT Theatre
Through March 26, 2017

Deaf culture gets a hearing (oh, oof) in ACT Theatre’s newest play, Tribes, by Nina Raine. The production is a solid one, with all six actors taking strong positions as well-constructed characters with vivid points of view.

Directed in the round by John Langs, a busy but effective homey set by Shawn Ketchum Johnson greets the audience as the home of Christopher and Beth (Frank Corrado and Anne Allgood) who still live with their three adult children, Daniel, Ruth, and Billy (Adam Standley, Kjerstine Rose Anderson, and Joshua Castille).

Monday, March 13, 2017

Solo show focuses on Black and American experiences

(photo by Dave Hastings)
Yankee Pickney
Written and performed by Jehan Osanyin
Theater Schmeater
Through April 1, 2017

A “yankee pickney” is translated, in this solo show by Jehan Osanyin, as “Americanized child.” Osanyin occasionally translates Jamaican patois to help the audience understand. Yankee Pickney is performing at Theater Schmeater, and it is a brisk 70 minute heart-opening walk through Osanyin’s life.

Solo biographical productions are hard to write about because when you see it, you should gain the information as you watch and not have someone tell you all the “spoilers” in a review. Osanyin’s story is unique and interesting. You are entirely encouraged to attend and hear her story.

Osanyin understands theatrical presentation and how to play with it. She begins by offering tea to her audience and takes time to help everyone become comfortable. Once she starts the story, she palpably creates “her home” on stage – with her goldendoodle at her side – and explores “kinds” of blackness.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Showtunes tackles The Unsinkable Molly Brown - this weekend

(photo by Chris Bennion)
March 11 (8:00pm) and March 12 (2:00pm), Showtunes Theatre Company is taking on The Unsinkable Molly Brown for their next musical presentation. If you aren't familiar with their style, you are missing out on the fun.

The company mostly mounts musicals that will not likely be produced on a local stage, either because it might have great music but not a really great story, or it just has too large a cast for a company to afford. This is a great opportunity to see this classic musical in a concert style.

The actors carry their scripts and they use minimal props and costumes, though they present the entire script and musical numbers. It's an intriguing way to experience musicals that are part of our rich musical theater canon, but rarely receive a full production.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Brandon Ivie, Village’s New Musical Whisperer

Cubamor (Sam Freeman)

To an extent, this is a “Where is he now?” interview! In 2009, Brandon Ivie was kind of a kid wonder in theatrical circles when he was first profiled in SGN.

He started his own theater company, Contemporary Classics, as a senior in high school, focusing on new musicals. Once graduated from UW, he landed a job as assistant to David Armstrong, Executive Producer/Artistic Director at The 5th Avenue Theatre. He calls that "the best first job out of college ever."

Ivie has already worked on a number Broadway shows – some of which premiered at 5th Ave, like Shrek, Memphis and Catch Me If You Can, and helped launch the Broadway production of ex-Village Theatre associate Brian Yorkey's next to normal, which won a Tony Award. He worked on multiple productions of A Christmas Story across the country. He helmed an Off-Broadway production of Jasper in Deadland and reprised it at 5th Ave.

He’s been working for several years with friend and protegee Justin Huertas on Huertas’ Lizard Boy, which premiered at Seattle Repertory and has had several backing presentations in New York City to try to get it produced Off-Broadway.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

A whole life in half the time - Bright Half Life

Tracy Michelle Hughes and Rhonda J. Soikowski in Bright Half Life (MJ Sieber)

Bright Half Life
New Century Theatre Company and The Hansberry Project
Through March 11, 2017

How does one get at the interior of a romantic relationship on stage? In the case of Bright Half Life, now presented by New Century Theatre Company and The Hansberry Project, playwright Tanya Barfield chose to throw ordinary women in ordinary moments together into a mixed-up time machine of a stew. Directed by HATLO, actors Tracy Michelle Hughes and Rhonda J. Soikowski portray a lesbian relationship that bounces (sometimes literally) from future to past to present to past in a seemingly random fashion.

The audience can’t just sit and let this play wash over them for a moment. You must come ready to engage.  In scenes that might last two sentences before a change of time and place, you can witness the first meeting of this couple, their awkward supervisor-employee attraction, their acceptance of their connection, and all the way through having children and growing older.

Friday, February 24, 2017

"Well" - meta-theatrically funny and a hard play to get right

Sarah Rudinoff and Barbara Dirickson in Well (Alan Alabastro)
Well
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through March 5, 2017

Playwright Lisa Kron wants to explore illness and recovery. Some people recover from illnesses and others can’t. Kron wants to know if a reason can be found for who does which, and maybe why. In this kooky meta-theatrical play, Well, that breaks the fourth and fifth and sixth walls, Kron – who appears in the play as herself (but actually played by talented Seattle actor Sarah Rudinoff) – Kron explains all this to the audience at the beginning of the show.

Kron tells of her mother’s history of being sick with a mysterious disease that her mother attributes to “allergies.” And yet, even though mom has been debilitated, she’s been able to move them to a struggling integrated neighborhood and been active enough as a civic leader to help the neighborhood heal. Kron wants to link the healing of the neighborhood to the lack of healing of her mother.

“But,” Kron says, “this play is absolutely not about my mother!” Kron says she’s just using her personal life to examine the larger question.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

“Three Americans” – An excellent snapshot of modern life

Cynthia Jones in Three Americans (Tiffany Diamond)

Three Americans
West of Lenin
Through March 4, 2017

A trio of monologues have been mounted by the folks at West of Lenin specifically to address, in some fashion, the new administration. Director Anita Montgomery and producer AJ Epstein asked three playwrights if they had material to contribute to the effort. The evening they have produced is a stunning example of range and response in a very “now” fashion.

Three Americans: Voices of Hope includes pieces by Yussef El Guindi, Regina Taylor and Mashuq Mushtaq Deen.  The Birds Flew In is an El Guindi monologue from an immigrant mother of a soldier. Taylor writes about an African American woman describing how important voting has been in her life in Déjà vu. Deen, in Draw the Circle, gives us a portrait of a woman in love with a trans man and the challenges she’s faced with him.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Stay outa the rain with March 2017 Theater Openings

Scott Shoemaker as Ms. Pak-Man (Doug McLaughlin)
Seattle Fringe Festival has changed its annual timing to March and has a robust line-up that may cause you to binge on short shows like candy! Other offerings include glimpses into inner city friendships, the struggle of a deaf boy in a hearing world, musical delights, and local writing. Get out your calendars. It’s time to schedule March plays!

Milk Like Sugar, ArtsWest, 3/2-25/17
On Annie's sixteenth birthday, her friends have decided to help her celebrate with a brand new tattoo. While there, one offhandedly reveals she’s pregnant. This humorous yet probing script peers into teens, friendships, inner city unhappiness, and choices that can last a lifetime.

Ms. Pak-Man: On My Last Heart!, Scott Shoemaker, 3/2-4/17 and 3/9-11/17 (at Rebar)
This original production is the third installment of the successful Ms. Pak-Man series. Watch this world-renowned video game superstar of the 1980s pop power pills while she shares scandalous songs and stories about her life and loves—glitches and all. She sings! She dances! She drinks! She might black out! There’s a chance she won’t remember the show, but you will!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Valentine's plus Poetry = Lovers' Play

Alyssa Kay and Katherine Jett in When Love Speaks (John Ulman)
When Love Speaks
Thalia’s Umbrella
(at Taproot Theatre)
Through February 25, 2017

"Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?" Well? Should I? Don’t I get an answer? If you have ever read any poetry and felt like maybe someone should be there answering “Yes” or “No,” then you are thinking like David Wright. Wright was reading a lot of poetry and decided that some of it, particularly the love poetry, sounded like it should be conversations and scenes. So, he put dozens of poets together in piles of potential dialogue, with a large portion of Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Ben Jonson, and made a lovers’ play.

First presented in 1992 by Seattle Shakespeare Company, When Love Speaks is being remounted in a pleasant and amusing fashion by Thalia’s Umbrella at Taproot Theatre’s small new space. Four talented actors and a cute Dionysian helper become visitors to an island resort – the kind where love might be born, but lust is also sometimes disguised as love.

Christine Marie Brown and Terry Edward Moore start out by appearing as the most in-love couple ever, only to have Moore suddenly become quite the temporary lover. Katherine Jett, the most shy and abashed and funny, is perhaps hopelessly in love with Alyssa Kay, who doesn’t mind, but seems to be looking for someone a little assertive.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Wacky and ominous, "Scary Mary's" vigorous production is well worth visiting

Corinne Magin as Scary Mary (Joe Iano)
Scary Mary and the Nightmares Nine
Annex Theatre
Through March 4, 2017

A vigorous, inventive and visually stimulating show has just opened at Annex Theatre. Director Eddie DeHais and their team of enthusiastic actors and technicians are pulling out all the stops they can for Scary Mary and the Nightmares Nine, a new play by Amy Escobar.

A relatively large cast of eleven never seems to overpower the small stage, in part due to expert positioning by DeHais. The nightmares referred to are created by an ensemble of five (Kai Curtis, Emily Pike, Kelly Johnson, Sarah Winsor and Raymond Williams) who wield a variety of puppets created by expert puppeteers Ben Burris and Zane Exactly. They are a series of scares that might haunt any of us, and are representative of those felt by people struggling with depression.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

It’s not the Marx Brothers, but "Room Service" is still a fun farce

The cast of Room Service (Erik Stuhaug)
Room Service
Taproot Theatre
Through March 4, 2017

If you know who the Marx Brothers were, you might also know the movie they made called Room Service. It was based on a 1937 Broadway play and then they put their own improvisational, wacky spin on it.

Room Service is a farce. Taproot director Karen Lund is one of the best directors in town for farces in particular. She has a very clear sense of comic timing. Farce is not easy to get right. The main joy in farces is the quick movements of people coming in and going out of doors! That’s right, missing each other by parts of seconds! That is the height of silliness in farces. 

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The Seagull Project's "The Cherry Orchard" reflects turmoil in society

The cast of The Cherry Orchard (Chris Bennion)
The Cherry Orchard
The Seagull Project
(at ACT Theatre)
Through February 19, 2017

Chekhov’s best-known play, The Cherry Orchard, mixes up all the levels of Russian society inside the failing estate of the Gayevs. Servants consort with their bosses in previously unheard-of cheekiness. Businessmen like Lopakhin are more wealthy than the aristocracy, yet have risen from progenitors who were serfs. Aristocracy can’t raise money, yet haven’t figured out their way of life is unsustainable. Life in Russia is in economic turmoil that results in creating a new society that few can reckon with!

The production of this play by The Seagull Project is more suited to these times, with an administration that seems in love with Russia, and has created the beginnings of what could be unknown turmoil, than anyone might have predicted when they began planning the production! There are many pleasing aspects to the play, with some wonderful actors working at the top of their game. There is also a directing choice that tilts the production over in its insistence.

Madame Ranevskaya (Julie Briskman) is returning to her indebted estate after living in Paris. She returns penniless, having no skill of understanding or keeping track of money. Her brother, Gayev (Peter Crook), is having no luck saving the estate, either, and both of them are waiting for a rich aunt to send money, though she doesn’t like them very much.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Powerful women play historical kings at Seattle Shakespeare Co.

Some of the cast of Bring Down the House (John Ulman)
Bring Down the House
Seattle Shakespeare Company
Through March 12, 2017

A great gathering of women is happening in the Armory Theatre where Seattle Shakespeare Company has joined with upstart crow collective to present a massive two-part Shakespearian epic! Why is it a gathering of women? Because all the actors in this play are women, most playing male roles!

Bring Down the House is actually an adaptation of Shakespeare’s trilogy about Henry VI (Henry VI, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). It’s created in two parts which you can choose to see either separately or both in one day. Throne of Treachery opened last week and Crusade of Chaos opens Friday, February 3. Director Rosa Joshi and upstart member Kate Wisniewski (who plays Queen Margaret) pared down these three long plays into a fairly nimble two-parter which speeds along at a break-neck pace.

While the plays are “historical,” they are not necessarily always accurate, and clearly depend on theatricalities and tensions. Given that, it is still a good way to learn about the period of The War of the Roses (1455-87), a period of turmoil over who deserved the English crown.