Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Magical "ASL Midsummer Night’s Dream" is a Massive and Beautiful Effort

ASL Midsummer Night's Dream (Ken Holmes)
ASL Midsummer Night’s Dream
Sound Theatre Company
(at 12th Avenue Arts)
Through May 12, 2018

Our city owes Sound Theatre Company a huge THANK YOU for taking on and mastering this special effort to translate Shakespeare into ASL and make an inclusive ASL+spoken event! If you know anyone from 6 to 96 who is hearing impaired or deaf and has had a hard time seeing only-spoken theatrical events, you MUST tell them to come to this show! It is completely magical in every sense.

Co-directed by theatrical master Howie Seago, who worked through the translation of ancient English poetry to ASL with co-director Teresa Thuman, the production has equal numbers of hearing and deaf actors and every word is both signed and spoken. Deaf audience members are prioritized for the best-sighted seats and the sound design (by Michael Owcharuk) deliberately uses very loud bass hum to allow deaf audience members to feel it, as well.

What is clear from the ASL beginning, not every moment of the play is for you, majority hearing audience member. Aspects of the play are meant for those who sign, especially the beginning, which is a sort of choreo/ASL moment of story-telling. It sets the tone and the stage for what is to come.

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!