Friday, May 30, 2014

SOAP Fest 2014 includes a Yussef El Guindi One-Act. (He’s ‘Local’ Unless Rent Gets Too High)

SOAP Fest Playwrights Yussef El Guindi, Juliet Waller Pruzan, K. Brian Neel and Brian Healey (photo Ann-Margaret Johnson/Sassafras Photos)

Yussef El Guindi and cat (photo Amal Toleimat)

First there was Sandbox Artist Collective where a bunch of theater “professionals” (does that mean they make money that way?) got together to create work and support each other. Then they expanded into a radio show Sandbox Radio and after that, they decided to create a play festival, Sandbox One Act Play Festival which this year has performances  (tickets) June 4-8 at West of Lenin. Who knows? Is Sandbox Coffee (?) next?

SOAP Fest includes four new plays by four local playwrights: Yussef El Guindi, Brendan Healey, K. Brian Neel and Juliet Waller Pruzan. I spoke with Yussef El Guindi about his participation in the Collective and life in general as a playwright in Seattle.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

"Once" is a truly theatrical event!

Once cast (photo Joan Marcus)
(as posted on Seattle Gay Scene)
There’s a reason the musical Once feels like theatrical kin to the acclaimed Black Watch from the National Theatre of Scotland – John Tiffany. He employs a minimalist style of theatrical staging, or maybe more appropriately termed “essential.” The esthetic may be a wholehearted embrace of legendary director Peter Brooks’ boiling down of theatrical moments to their elemental state, as witnessed recently by Seattle Rep’s production of Brooks’ The Suit.
Sometimes, when theater is created by people who know what they have to bring out, it becomes magical in the way that theater can be magic. Once is a reflection of that magic.
Seattle Repertory Theatre and STG Presents have joined to present the touring production of Once at The Paramount Theatre, here through June 8. Surely the production would have felt so much more personal on a smaller Seattle Rep stage, yet even in the cavernous Paramount, this “small” musical catches at people’s hearts and becomes bigger than any might think.
Once, the musical, is based on a lilting movie of the same name, written and directed by John Carney. The movie contains much of the music that ended up in the musical, so the musical had a big head start.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Playing Around the Sound: Quick WrapUps of ‘The Grimaldis’ and ‘Don Juan in Chicago’

If you like vaudeville, aerialists, magic, original songs, ballet and some included noshing, you only have two more chances to see The Grimaldis: A Musical Ghost Story at Hale’s Palladium. Go here for tickets for Sunday night 7:00pm Saturday 7:00pm tickets are only to be had at the door, now. Though they are standing room only.

This is essentially a scripted musical with original music by John Woods. But initially, you’re told, as you walk in, that this is a preview for an auction taking place the next day of Grimaldi Family Estate items. The Grimaldi family is a multi-generational show business family with paraphernalia to match. Written by Dane Ballard and directed by Kerry Christianson, it’s a unique, affordable, snack theater event. (Bites are served during intermission.)

The Schmee Rises! New space, new lease on life!

The Schmee: Some months ago (photo Dave Hastings)

Revered theater, Theater Schmeater, lived in a basement under Brocklind’s Costumes from 1992 until last year. Brocklind was a benevolent upstairs neighbor and was closed at night and on weekends, so that partnership worked for many years, despite support columns in the middle of stage space, lack of ceiling height, concrete sound-bounce, and lack of adequate heating and cooling.

The Schmee made it as cozy as possible, adding a unique lobby area, a bar, and smart technical people who overcame much of the challenge of staging in that space. It was similar to other Capitol Hill locations that grew around available empty spaces, many underground. But that all changed when Brocklind’s closed and the building was sold.

Roger Huston, managing director since August 2012, continues the narrative, “The new owners, Hunters Capital, entered into an agreement for a restaurant to occupy the first floor. It would not be practical to install sound insulation under the already-low basement ceiling (in a 100 year old, uninsulated building) and would no longer be practical to use the basement for theater.”

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Village pulls out all the stops on "Funny Girl"

Sarah Rose Davis as Fanny Brice (photo Mark Kitaoka)

Funny Girl
Village Theatre
Issaquah: through July 6
Everett: July 11-August 3

The final show of Village Theatre’s season is Funny Girl, the classic musical turned movie by Jule Stein, Bob Merrill and Isobel Lenhart. Village pulls out all the stops on the technical elements, flying in stage drops and pushing and pulling set pieces just about every 30 seconds! It’s a dizzying technical feat. Some of those stage pictures (like the “wedding” song tableau) are absolutely gorgeous. (Set designer is Bill Forrester.)

It’s a “big” show with a large ensemble cast filling the stage, enchanting bits of choreography by Kristin Holland, and a lot of brass in the orchestra (music directed by Tim Symons and Bruce Monroe). Outstanding smaller roles include a star turn for John David Scott and his terrific tapping, along with his charmingly poignant friendship with Fanny that endures while he clearly is in love with her. Also, great fun is had with Fanny’s mom, Bobbi Kotula, and busybody neighbor Mrs. Strakosh, Jayne Muirhead.

But the focus of the evening, indeed the person who is barely off-stage for even a moment, is Sarah Rose Davis as Fanny. Davis has everything she needs to bring this role to life: a terrific voice, ability to lapse adorably into funny-awkward comedic moments, and the knowledge of how to put a song over the transom and deliver. This show taxes all her abilities to their limit and she rises to the occasion beautifully.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Exhilarating Taproot play is completely up-to-date despite being written in 1908!

Helen Harvester in Diana of Dobson’s. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.
I always expect plays at Taproot Theatre to be well-done in most every respect. Technical support (sets, costumes, lights, sound) is always appropriate, actors are all solidly talented, and the experience is invariably pleasing, at minimum.

Every once in a while, they blow even that high expectation out of the water and their current production of Diana of Dobson’s is one such occasion! The play is a gem of a script by Cicely Hamilton. It focuses on a shop girl whose humdrum and restricted working conditions are similar to any minimum-wage earner or factory worker in our current economy. She unexpectedly receives an inheritance and, despite pleas from her fellow workers to be careful and save her money, decides to blow it all in one glorious month of pleasure that she can remember forever.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Whim W'Him comes to Cap Hill with #unprotected

Whim W'Him (Bamberg Fine Art)

The innovative dance company Whim W’Him is performing its first full-length evening of works on Capitol Hill with eight performances times at the Erickson Theatre. Created by ballet dancer Olivier Wevers five years ago, Whim W'Him has typically performed at what is now the Cornish Playhouse. For the first time, they will move outside of Seattle Center to the 150-seat Erickson, May 15 - 23. They’ll place the first row of seats directly on stage for what sounds like a most “immersive” experience.

Katie Bombico, executive director, says, “One of our goals for this year is to expand our audience in the Seattle area and we chose to go to Capitol Hill first because the demographics really mesh well: young, diverse in age, diverse in sexual orientation. Bringing our work to Capitol Hill will enable more folks to see the art we create. We’ve collaborated with other organizations and businesses on the Hill. We hope to continue to expand and partner with Velocity. That’s a great place in the community to have access to dance.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

New Bridges Stage Company debuts with “Terre Haute”

Aaron Levin (seated) directs Norman Newkirk (photo by Greg Lowney)

Aaron Levin directs Norman Newkirk and Robert Bergin (photo by Greg Lowney)
Yup, it’s a(nother) new theater company! I could confidently say that every month, I think. But Bridges Stage Company is one you should, likely, pay attention to because director/producer/master teacher Aaron Levin has deep connections to our theatrical community and the administrative chops to get what he wants!

First, Aaron Levin has been teaching actors around town for millions of years and is considered a master teacher. He says, “Not only am I starting a new company and directing the play, I’m teaching two classes a week and finishing a book I’m writing. I just finished Chapter 21. “Passing it On” deals with acting. I’ve taught for 34 years. I’ve heard it a lot that what comes out of my mouth is not what they’ve heard from anyone else. Everything I say in class, I finally put on paper.” That sounds like a potential instant theater classic.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Playing Around the Sound: Quick WrapUps of Satori Group, ArtsWest, STAGEright, and SecondStory Rep

"Returning to Albert Joseph"
Here are short impressions from attending a diverse selections of currently running plays in the area.

Until May 25, Satori Group is performing Returning to Albert Joseph which is scripted by Spike Friedman, a company member, but worked on by the collective. Friedman, in a press packet, says tentatively, that the play is about "loss." But he's afraid that by labeling it, it will make people feel like they won't want to see it. That seems strange for a company member of a group that believes so thoroughly in theatrical expression.

Directed by Caitlin Sullivan and Alex Matthews with a cast of two, LoraBeth Barr and Quinn Franzen, the play could indeed be said to be about loss. It's a very word-focused presentation about a dystopian society where it seems that people have lost the very connection to humanity: human connection. Even being friends with someone seems to threaten the very fabric of that unseen society. Who we are introduced to are outcasts who are on the run, and who have to justify themselves at every moment.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Gun control takes center stage at Town Hall with Strawberry Theatre Workshop

Gun violence in Washington state causes more preventable deaths than car accidents or smoking. That fact sets the stage for Control, a upcoming Town Hall Seattle performance about gun control put on by the Capitol Hill-centric theater company Strawberry Theatre Workshop.
Town Hall was established in 1999 as a community gathering place to explore crucial local and national issues of the day. Occasionally, the 8th and Seneca building becomes a theatrical venue — a unique confluence of art and social dialogue that will be on display May 9th-18th for Control’s six performances.
Strawshop, which moves permanently into Capitol Hill’s 12th Avenue Arts project this fall, will present the “living newspaper” play featuring dozens of sources complied by artistic director Greg Carter.
MJ Sieber, a veteran Seattle actor performing in the show, said Control mixes scripted story telling with improv.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Theater Profile: Seattle Jewish Theater Company

Carolyn Cox, Sara Schweid and Alice Bridgforth
in "From Door to Door" (Joan Golston)

Art Feinglass relocated to Seattle from New York about four years ago. With a thriving theater company in New York, Mostly Murder, he continues to be bi-coastal, as they say. Mostly Murder is a travelling theater company that stages corporate events, fundraisers, and team building events. Art says, “We present murder mysteries that audiences have to solve and get prizes for solving. The company’s been going for 22 years and now I run it from Seattle. I write the scripts and do the casting from Seattle and then people do it in New York.

“Four years ago I moved to Seattle to be near my grandkids and founded Seattle Jewish Theater Company. I run it pretty much the way I run the mystery company. We go from location to location. We bring the cast and whole play to different venues around the Seattle area.”

SJTC has been to synagogues throughout the Greater Seattle area and will shortly be going as far south as Tacoma and as far north as Woodinville. Their latest presentation was a lovely, three person play called From Door to Door by James Sherman. The title is a pun on a Hebrew phrase, “l'dor v'dor” or from generation to generation. The characters are a grandmother, mother and daughter over a 64 year span.

Actors Alice Bridgforth, Carolyn (Puddin) Cox and Sara Schweid gave touching performances that detailed growing differences over the years of women’s places in the home and religious life of the Jewish community. The play takes place in Chicago and suburbs, where Sherman is from. The strong dialogue deftly sketches the cultural mores of each generation and the bond of the family.

Monday, May 05, 2014

SCT goes to the dogs with Art Dog!

Arthur (Auston James) shows off the fine art in Art Dog (Chris Bennion)

Dog thieves (Kate Jaeger and Allen Galli) steal Mona Woofa (Chris Bennion)

Sometimes, adults wonder if shows labeled “children’s theater” are ones that are going to bore them while enriching children’s experience, and how they are going to make it through ferrying their children to the event. For almost every production Seattle Children’s Theatre ever puts on stage, that is never the case and there is always much for adults to enjoy and even savor that will just sail over the kids’ heads.

Such is the case of the adorable production, Art Dog, on stage until May 18th. It is a world premiere musical, although it has the feel of a cartoon more than a musical. It’s a cartoon about fine art, dog-style. It’s based on Thacher Hurd’s book, adapted by John Olive with music by Sue Ennis.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

The Erickson is a Community Asset - Why is it empty of theater?

For unknown reasons, I can't reply to comments. A lot of people are talking about this topic but will not publicly comment. I think there are problems. I think the SC administration has some reasons, though it's hard to determine exactly who is making decisions so that a direct conversation or negotiation can take place. It is my hope that by beginning a more public conversation, people can get involved and change can become possible.

The Ethnic Cultural Center is UW's facility, but I have seen plays and readings there, so I know it is possible to rent (though not for how much). I perceive that the Erickson is in a different situation, and in an area where people are begging for locations to mount their productions.
Space to perform in Seattle is at a premium already and seems to be getting worse. While there is are two new spaces being built (one for Theater Schmeater that is an example of what I see as the future avenue we must find a way to advocate for with new development, and the 12th Avenue Arts building), each of those spaces will not actually enlarge the pool of available spaces for rentals in any meaningful way. (I am not going to lay out my rationale for that statement here.)

Rentals, theater spaces where people can rent space for performance purposes, are few and full, and vary in their ability to house the requirements of productions. Some of them are uncomfortable to sit in as audience members, and most of them are simply too small for any but productions with four or five people and a single set, maximum.

Friday, May 02, 2014

"Lollyville" creators celebrate 15 years of writing partnership

Juliet Waller Pruzan and Bret Fetzer (photo Eli Pruzan)
A long, long time ago, Juliet Waller Pruzan was a dancer and choreographer and had a cool idea she wanted to make into a dance/theater piece. She had a vision about people’s secrets flying out of them and getting caught in the branches of a particular tree. She knew that Bret Fetzer wrote original fairytales and performed them. She had seen him perform at On the Boards 12 Minutes Max and decided maybe he would be the guy who could help her create a performance.

There was magic in that request, apparently, because not only did they create a ten minute piece and successfully apply to On the Boards Northwest New Works festival (and entitle it The Gossip Tree), but they went on to create multiple more plays.

Their latest creation actually is a revision of their first ten minute play, now entitled Lollyville and produced by Macha Monkey, a ”fearless, funny, female” theater company on stage May 2-24 (8pm) at RichardHugo House.Through the years, they have revisited that initial concept and revised and revised and now have a new concept.

Both Bret and Juliet have a history with the building the theater is in. Juliet says, “I really love the theater and have a long history of performing there when it was New City and danced there in the ‘90s.”

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Seattle’s amazing – ambiguous – history in intricate detail, now at Book-It Rep

Kevin McKeon, Jennifer Lee Taylor, Chris Ensweiler (photo Chris Bennion)
Truth Like the Sun
Through May 18

Jim Lynch’s meticulously detailed book, Truth Like the Sun, is no straightforward history lesson. It weaves back and forth in time with major mysteries to explore and perhaps unfold. Creating a fictitious “Mr. Seattle” who becomes the face of the 1962 World’s Fair, he explores and exposes the seamy underbelly of graft and corruption that others have mined similarly. He creates a tenacious and overly cynical journalist out to get the “real” story any way she can, in 2001, and has her dig hard into Mr. Seattle’s possible corruption.

Book-It Repertory Theatre has chosen, for the third time!, to adapt a Jim Lynch novel, and Truth Like the Sun is riveting, ambitious, ambiguous, and challenging, all at once. This is not the kind of play to allow you to sit and let it wash over you. Sometimes there are evenings like that, like last month’s excellent Seattle Shakespeare Company production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Oscar Wilde’s skewering trifle is fun but not terribly taxing to watch. This production calls upon you to sit up, fasten your seat belt, and PAY ATTENTION!

Kevin McKeon’s adaptation and Jane Jones’ direction creates a cacophony of voices from time to time, from the beginning bustle of World’s Fair Seattle hubbub forward. It’s a bit cinematic in style, and it does make it a bit hard for those who can’t decipher the speaker or the short sentences, at times. There is also a well-done theatrical technique to throw us back and forth in time (without using sign titling) that takes two or three iterations to get used to so we know the “when” we’re looking at.