Monday, April 28, 2014

Classic Albee takes stage for first time at Seattle Rep

(l to r) Amy Hill, Aaron Blakely, Pamela Reed and R. Hamilton Wright in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Photo: Alabastro Photography
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
Through May 18

The explosive, immersive, three hour drama, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, by Edward Albee is on stage now at Seattle Rep. If you thought August: Osage County was caustic, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet, sister. This play will blister your paint and warp your wood. The games played by George and Martha make Russian roulette look silly.

This is an American classic that practically became classic the minute Albee stopped writing it in 1962. It won the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play. You may know it best from the 1966 movie starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, George Segal and Sandy Dennis. Here, the four dynamic talents are R. Hamilton Wright, Pamela Reed, Aaron Blakely and Amy Hill.

This production is lovingly mounted by director Braden Abraham, with delightful set by Matthew Smucker with massive help from the Seattle Rep scene techs. During the two intermissions, you might take time to look at the academic flotsam and jetsam collected on multiple floor to ceiling bookshelves, as if jammed in there over years. Lighting by L.B. Morse and sound by Matt Starritt perfectly accompany the evening.

eSe Teatro hard at work promoting and educating Latino actors

Charise Castro Smith

On April 13th, on a relatively balmy afternoon at ACT Theatre, eSe Teatro artistic director Rose Cano managed a new effort to introduce Latino actors to the Seattle theaters for consideration in near-future productions.

For the first ever NW Regional Latino Auditions, approximately 45 mostly local actors, but also from as far away as Chicago and Los Angeles, strutted their stuff before a powerhouse list of regional companies: Seattle Repertory, Book-It Repertory, ACT Theatre (host company), Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Miracle (Milagro) Theatre Group, Latino Theatre Projects, Washington Ensemble Theatre and a few more. Washington Ensemble is mounting Charise Castro Smith’s play, The Hunchback of Seville, opening June 5th.

Each actor was given the standard three minutes to perform and many presented two short pieces. The mix of pieces ranged from very contemporary to classic Shakespearian and Spanish plays. Many of the performers chose to perform pieces that mixed Spanish and English to show their ability to perform in both languages. A number of performers were young men and women who are studying at Cornish or UW.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Acting up a (financial) storm in "Bethany"

Emily Chisholm in Bethany (photo Chris Bennion)
by Laura Marks
ACT Theatre
through May 4

The new play, Bethany, at ACT Theatre moves so quickly and with such power that by the end, you may well feel a bit punched in the gut. Playwright Laura Marks likely does not expect you to like the characters in this play, but you can identify with them.

Director John Langs takes a spare script and amplifies moments with quiet scene play that illuminates the inner life of these characters, caught in 2009 in the devastation of the Great Recession. The play might be realistic and it might not. It teeters on the edge of the fantastical or allegorical with a (typically beautifully wrought) modern kitchen set design by Carey Wong, sometimes-haunting lighting by Andrew Smith and kickass sound design by Brendan Patrick Hogan.

(Side note: BPH's sound designs are things of beauty. It's not that the sound design is so well done that it does not fit the production, but that they fit the production so aptly and amplify it so deliciously that I just have to bust out and say so every once in a while!)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

See "Shackleton" first, before NYC gets ahold of it

Valerie Vigoda and Wade McCollum (photo by Jeff Carpenter)
Ernest Shackleton Loves Me
Through May 3

A hallucinating new mother/musician conjures explorer Ernest Shackleton via Skype to help her weather the winter storms of her failed relationship and her disappearing job in Balagan’s newest show. Ernest Shackleton Loves Me (in a co-production with both Seattle Repertory Theatre and ACT Theatre) is a tour de force performance from both of its two stars!

ESLM is well worth a visit. It’s a dense sound-and-light, rocking, lyrical extravaganza, with a bit of hootenanny thrown in.

Valerie Vigoda is both the lyric writer (book by Joe DiPietro and music by Brendan Milburn) and the hallucinating musician who creates the music right in front of us through the use of automated keyboards, sound looping, playback, an electric violin, and even an old reel-to-reel tape recorder! Vigoda is a wonder as we watch her swiftly and deliberately latch on her violin and flip switches and sing! She has a gorgeous voice, too.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Quick! That time of year for Live Girls

 Kasey Harrison, Matt Aguayo, Allison Yolo (photo by Steven Sterne)
Quickies 15
Live Girls! Theater
(at Theatre Off Jackson)
through May 10

Live Girls! Theater is presenting its 15th Annual iteration of Quickies, the short play program written only by women. It is always a well-produced evening, with choreographed and planned set changes that are integrated into the entire evening rather than apologetically or unapologetically and unartfully done in half light.

This year the offerings themselves are not as strong as some years, though a couple of them are very strong and well done. There are seven plays, four in the first act and three in the second. Also, you might win a prize after intermission for paying close attention to the first four plays! The theme this year was science and magic.

"Annie" is who again? The Horse in Motion debuts strongly and strangely

Kaillee Coleman, Elaine Huber and Chris Lee Hill (on the table). Photo credit Allyce Andrew
Attempts on Her Life
by Martin Crimp
The Horse in Motion
(at University Heights Center)
through April 27

The debut production from The Horse in Motion, a theater company mostly of UW grads, is definitely for recent UW grads. This is not to say it's not for others, but the edgy, character-less, roaming, episodic nature of this script by Martin Crimp is totally suited to the college crowd and those who like intellectual and even circular argument.

Attempts on Her Life, in script form, apparently does not even instruct who should speak what lines, or where the scenes take place, or time, or much else. It's the perfect vehicle for capturing the imaginations of this crew of theater-loving performers. So, they infuse the production with a variety of video images, locations, and moments, and spread them out throughout the University Heights center (it used to be a school).

Thursday, April 17, 2014

With ‘low tech stage magic,’ "Chaos Theory" brings the apocalypse to Annex Theatre

Chaos Theory opens Friday at the Annex
 (DangerPants Photography) Keiko Green and Jana Hutchison
Maybe Courtney Meaker writes plays about the end of the world because she grew up in small-town Tennessee and had to hang out with a lot of people who didn’t hate homosexual people, they just hated homosexuality. Courtney says that she majored in creative writing and theater, but had never written a play before coming to Seattle.
Her work Chaos Theory begins a one-month run Friday at 11th and Pike’s Annex Theatre(April 18-May 17, 8pm)
“Writing a play felt a lot more rewarding because you could experience it in a lot of different ways, where you never know if someone is going to read a short story,” Meaker said. “It was a more fun thing to write than a short story.”
Chaos Theory is Courtney’s second full length play. Last year, Macha Monkey produced Buckshot.
Courtney says, “Chaos Theory is about Franny. She has just been left by her partner and her friends are trying to coach her through a break up. By the end of this time cycle (first scene), her friends decide the only option left is to give her a book about chaos theory and parallel dimensions to pull her out of the dumps.
“From there, the story unravels as an exploration of how we define our world. It messes a lot with genre and storytelling and different conventions. There might be a laugh track or things might fall from the sky. The core is very basic that everyone goes through feeling like you’ve been abandoned.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Penetrating look at beauty and its pervasive effects on our culture

 Lisa Marie Nakamura, Ruth Yeo-Peterman, Kathy Hsieh and Sara Javkhlan in "Impenetrable Women" (photo by Rick Wong)
SiS Productions
(West of Lenin)
through May 3

SiS Productions is presenting Impenetrable, a play by Mia McCullough, and it's a timely and important exploration of the impact of beauty in our culture. McCullough took a newspaper report about a real billboard erected in the suburbs of Chicago, depicting a bikini-clad woman with arrows pointing to areas she could improve with surgery, and fictionalized it into a challenging and provocative story.

As directed by Charles Waxberg, the play starts off with an even more challenging hurdle: many of the beginning speeches are presented directly to the audience. This has an interesting effect of first pushing the audience backward toward creating a bit of a defensive wall, and perhaps making it harder to identify with the characters. However, eventually in the 90 minute presentation, the story is made clear and many of the inner emotions and personal reflections have been opened to us.

The cast is strong, including Kathy Hsieh as a suburban mom who feels like her beauty has been compromised and is struggling to understand how to both empower and protect her bookish, loner daughter (Sara Javkhlan, a young and talented girl who we hope to see more of), Lisa Marie Nakamura as a manager/barista at a Starbucks who puts out an exterior of toughness and sarcasm masking some pain at being maligned as "fat," and Ruth Yeo-Peterman as the young woman who is the subject of the picture and has been so damaged by being seen as "pretty," that she dons a burqua in order to cover herself up.

Also, two men help the story along: Shane Regan in a nicely understated and offhand performance as the love-struck photographer who feels "out of her league" and behaves somewhat badly toward the model in response, and Erwin Galan as a French-speaking Arab spa-owner, who both attracts pity and ire for his lack of understanding for the effects of posting this divisive billboard as an advertising device for his spa.

Friday, April 11, 2014

"Young Frankenstein" at Seattle Musical Theatre is fun

Young Frankenstein
Seattle Musical Theatre
through April 13

Seattle Musical Theatre's production of Young Frankenstein is a pleasing one, with a solid cast of young singer/performers and a very well done set for a very complicated trick-stage show.

This stage version of the Mel Brooks movie is as romp-filled as the movie, with the same sensibilities. Since it is a riff on the pseudo-scientific making of a human, there has to be a complicated dungeon laboratory with gizmos that work and special effects. Also stuff like paintings that come to life and library doors that rotate when a candle is lifted. The credits go to Samuel Pettit for set design and Zak Scott (technical director) and Caleb Dietzel (sound and lights) for making it come to life.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Tails of Wasps stings So Good!

(Paul Morgan Stetler and Sylvie Davidson. Photo by Chris Bennion)
Tails of Wasps
New Century Theatre Company
(at ACT Theatre/Central Heating Lab)
Through April 27

A taut, world premiere morsel of explosion just opened via New Century Theatre Company in ACT’s Buster’s Event Room. Tails of Wasps is a new play by their “resident playwright,” Stephanie Timm. It is the next “must see” moment in a month of key moments, here in Seattle! It is exquisite and exquisitely painful. It truly is as good as good theater can get.

Timm has been known for some pretty far out playing, including On the Nature of Dust, where a teenage girl devolves from human into tinier and tinier animal species, and mining fairytales and myths for Sweet Nothing and part of ACT’s production of Ramayana. This is nothing like any of those. It is a direct, real-human to real-human mining of power and relationship and self-justification and self-delusion.

SSR's Kiss of the Spider Woman is perfect for Ryan McCabe

Ryan McCabe (seated), Justin Carrell (lying) (photo courtesy Billie Wildrick)

Kiss of the Spider Woman
SecondStory Repertory
Through April 13

SecondStory Rep has taken on a huge challenge in its production of Kiss of the Spider Woman. The musical with book by Terrence McNally and music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb is a dark, edgy undertaking, though it has some beautiful music and a morally uplifting message.

The musical is the story of two cell mates in a Latin American prison: Valentin (Justin Carrell), a Marxist revolutionary, and Molina (Ryan McCabe), a gay window dresser. At first, Valentin draws a line down the middle of their small cell in antipathy to the talkative and effusive Molina. Molina escapes their dark world into a fantasy world of the movies and a screen star he loves named Aurora.

But first, a “praise warning!” I am about to extol the virtues of Mr. Ryan McCabe.

Ryan McCabe’s time is now! His performance in Spider Woman is perfection and would be perfect no matter whose production he starred in, whether SecondStory or Village or 5th Avenue. He has toiled in the trenches of Seattle’s musical theater companies and proven his value over and again. He is the perfect age and in perfect voice for this role. So, kudos to SecondStory for choosing this musical and allowing him his starring vehicle.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Can women support each other? Is it too much to ask?

Cast members: Shane Regan, , Sara Javkhlan, Ruth Yeo-Peterman, Lisa Marie Nakamura, Kathy Hsieh and Erwin Galan.

Women make up 51% of our country, yet make 77% of the income most men get in almost every profession. There was a feminist movement that gained great ground in the 1960s and ‘70s and now, everywhere you turn, we have given that ground away again in so many ways. “Girl” was a word that we were taught should go back to being applied ONLY to females under age 18, and now “girl” is used by 50 and 60 year olds: I’m a girly-girl. I’m a theater girl. She’s one of the girls that teaches in that school.

No, we are women. The word “girl” diminishes us and dismisses us. Yet, we are working so hard to stay submerged and diminished.

Makeup is a multi-billion dollar industry made to make women feel like they must fix “flaws” in order to present themselves well. And now, instead of rejecting the constant messages we can’t be just fine with flaws or that flaws individuate us in important and interesting ways, instead men are now being “allowed” to wear makeup, cover up facial flaws with base, add a little eyeliner to give them more interesting eyes.

SiS Productions is opening their next play this week. Impenetrable, by Mia McCullough, is a play that was inspired by an actual event in a Chicago suburb in 2007. A huge billboard of an amazing looking, bikini-clad woman appeared. A plastic surgeon put up the billboard and added  arrows pointing to areas of her body where this woman could have plastic surgery to fix her “flaws.” The people in that suburb protested until the billboard was taken down.

Mia McCullough was inspired to write a fictional story dealing with how women are perceived and the expectation that even that physical perfection is not enough. I talked to Artistic Director Kathy Hsieh about the upcoming production.

Kathy says, “What’s interesting about the play is that it explores four different women, one who is 10, one in her 20s, one in her 30s and one in her 40s and uses the billboard as a starting point. It’s a revealing look at how those kinds of images affect women’s perceptions of themselves. The men I’ve talked to who have heard rehearsals have commented that they find the script fascinating because it gives them insight to women they might not have thought about before.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Playwright Goodisman talks "Checkoff in the Sun"

Playwright Leonard D. Goodisman

(via Capitol Hill Seattle)

The subtitle of Leonard D. Goodisman’s new play, Checkoff in the Sun, staged at Eclectic Theater, is “a comedy about dying.” There’s a very obvious pun in the title and the flavor of the famous playwright Chekhov permeating the play. Goodisman says, “The pun just sort of popped out when (my character) Victoria asks, ‘Why did you come here, just to check me off a list?’”

Goodisman’s subject is Victoria, a woman who is in the end stages of dealing with cancer, yet still in control of her decisions and desires. Victoria calls together her family and best friends to a villa in the Southwestern desert. It’s a Palm Springs or Tucson type property that her real estate friend hasn’t sold yet. Though they really shouldn’t be in the property, they accept her wish and travel to this destination to say goodbye and resolve what they can of loose ends, things unsaid, broken moments unmended.

Yet, there is a lot of humor woven into the play. Goodisman, who says he is a fan of Chekhov, reminds that Chekhov thought of himself as a humorist. He says that the leading figure of Russian theater, Stanislavski, chose to direct The Cherry Orchard as a tragedy, and “Chekhov stood for that and it’s been done as a tragedy ever since. I see the comedy in all his plays.”