Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Amusing and Dark “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

Brandon Simmons in The Picture of Dorian Gray (John Ulman)

The Picture of Dorian Gray
Book-It Repertory Theatre
Through July 1, 2018

If you know a little about the story of Dorian Gray, maybe you’ve heard of the novel about a man who doesn’t age and a portrait of him that does. Oscar Wilde, better known as a playwright in Britian in the late 1800s, wrote the novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, in a serial fashion which caught literary fancy and also was decried for destroying morality.

Book-It Repertory Theatre has taken a stab at turning Wilde’s novel into a play, which is an amusing switch for Wilde’s history. This adaptation by Judd Parkin is less “Book-It” in style, which uses a lot of narrative as dialogue, possibly because Wilde wrote so theatrically with a lot of conversation. Certainly, the adaptation flows extremely well.

It’s also much more amusing than I expected from what I knew to be a dark story: A young Dorian Gray (Chip Sherman) is painted by a besotted (gay) painter, Basil Hallward (Jon Lutyens). Influenced by notorious Lord Henry Wotton (Brandon J. Simmons), Gray is drawn to “free spirit” ideals. Lord Henry leads Gray to honor youth and beauty and when Gray sees his beauteous young painting, Gray wishes that somehow he could remain ever young and the painting could age in his stead.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Some Brilliant Choices for “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” – an average musical

Joshua Castille and E.J. Cardona in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Tracy Martin)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
5th Avenue Theatre
Though June 24, 2018

In a small revolution, without a ton of fanfare (aside from their usual advertising), the 5th Avenue Theatre has busted down doors of exclusion for thousands of deaf and hard-of-hearing folks by casting a deaf actor as the lead in their current musical, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and providing him an opportunity to both sign and be sung for. The 5th Avenue joins a recent production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Sound Theatre Company that was entirely reconfigured to include signing and speaking throughout.

That aspect of this musical production is simply brilliant! Joshua M. Castille, a versatile and accomplished actor, who happens to be deaf, is cast here as Quasimodo, the twisted-from-birth boy who is hidden away in the towers at Notre Dame to be “protected” from the heartless plebians of the city. E.J. Cardona sings for Castille and follows him around (mostly as a gargoyle companion) and manages to be melded to him beautifully and to also sing soaringly and emotionally.

This production is likely just about the best production you might be able to see of this musical. The cast is solid, the technical aspects are beautifully done, and the addition of 30 members of the Pacific Lutheran University Choral Union fills out the singing with suitable church harmonies.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

“How I Learned to Drive” – One Big Trigger (See it anyway)

Amy Danneker and Frank Boyd in How I Learned to Drive (John Ulman)
How I Learned to Drive
Strawberry Theatre Workshop
Through July 7, 2018

I can, by no means, claim any kind of encyclopedic knowledge of modern plays, but I cannot bring to mind any play that is focused on incest besides How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel. There are plays, like August: Osage County, that contain it as a sort of sub-plot (among many), but this play has no other sub-plot, only context. It’s a remarkable play, partly because while it deals with a deeply odious subject matter, it allows an audience to experience it without maudlin lingering in the miasma. There is a sort of “breathing room” for audiences.

Partly that is because Vogel tells the story in a back-and-forth manner through time. Her point is not to wallow in the darkness of human nature, it’s more to instruct those who may not know the “how it happens” aspect – the grooming.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

“Wild Horses” tells a 13 year-old’s tale

Wild Horses
Intiman Theatre
At 12th Avenue Arts
Through June 24, 2018

Dedra D. Woods in Wild Horses (Naomi Ishisaka)
Allison Gregory has created a play that turns the idea of a short story, told around a campfire, into a visceral experience and a solo performance. She crafts a memoir told from the point of view of a woman who has survived some difficult moments in life, yet who can remember a seminal summer at the age of thirteen and implies that summer formed much of who she later became.

Dedra D. Woods takes on that role and Sheila Daniels makes sure that Woods’ transitions into the various people intersecting with her teenage self are portrayed with clean, clearly individuated characters.

The woman at the bar has no name. She begins telling the story of her thirteenth summer by relating that there was a radio contest to “name” A Horse With No Name, a song by the band named America. It was released in 1972, so that links it to a very specific time. In fact, if the woman is supposed to be telling the tale in 2018, that would have to make her 59ish and Ms. Woods is not nearly 59. However, the atmosphere in this bar is a little unmoored in time, so maybe it’s being told a few years ago, too. The indistinct nature of theatre time…while being very distinct.