Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Best Theater of 2014

Evelyn DeHais in Chaos Theory at Annex Theatre (Dangerpants Photography)

(as published in the December 26th issue of Seattle Gay News)

Here we are, again, at year’s end and I’m about to recap some of the highlights of the Theater Year. The year was more eclectic, I think, than some, and includes exciting developments, particularly in local writing. Of course, it is just not in me to call out only five or ten productions…

But before I plunge in too deeply, I want to acknowledge the tremendous writing of Robert Schenkkan and effort that is Seattle Repertory Theatre’s All the Way and The Great Society in performance. You can still see these performances through January 4th, though tickets are getting scarce. Since it is almost an import, it’s hard to claim it as completely “our own,” but it is important work and a chance to see work that has already received national acclaim. Jack Willis needs to be acknowledged as the hardest working actor on stage this year!

This might be called The Year of Local Playwriting! More world premiere plays were performed and, in my opinion, at a higher level of sophistication and polish than I think I’ve ever seen.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Off-beat and Off-the-beaten-path Christmas shows

Cast members of Judy's Scary Little Christmas (Michael Brunk)

There is still time (barely) to see a couple of Christmas-themed shows that end tonight or tomorrow: 

Tiny Tim is Dead is a very different kind of play about homeless street people on Christmas eve. It's being put on by Play Factory (recently known as Playwrights' Theatre) and is being performed at Hugo House. A strong cast, including several actors new to Seattle stages from elsewhere, reflect the mental illness, drug abuse, and poor veterans that are often to be found on the streets. The script by Barbara Lebow is uneven, but partly reflects the difficult and uneven lives she is portraying on stage. The message is strong: every night people are freezing outside could be Christmas Eve for them...and they need us.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Noir Christmas comedy makes light work of puns and parody at Seattle Public Theater

John Ulman and Amber Wolfe in Christmastown (Paul Bestock)

Christmastown: A Holiday Noir
Seattle Public Theater
Through December 24, 2014

Santa is missing! And Nick Holiday is the guy who has to find him. That’s the plot of the brand new Christmas play at Seattle Public Theater. Christmastown: A Holiday Noir is crafted by Wayne Rawley, talented local playwright, to be a cross between the standard noir mystery and a holiday parody.

Directed by Kelly Kitchens with her tongue firmly planted in her cheek, a cast of four limber actors take on mystery, danger, and candy canes. John Ulman portrays Nick Holiday, a washed up private eye. He keeps his eyes shrouded in shadow under the brim of the obligatory detective hat, and smokes multiple candy canes as he works. He is tasked with finding out if some photos of Big Red and a woman kissing under some mistletoe are real or not. The information could change some lives! (Dun dun DUN ß ominous sound effect)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Reflections on “All the Way” and “The Great Society”

Jack Willis in All the Way and The Great Society Photo: Chris Bennion

The duet of plays at Seattle Repertory Theatre, All the Way and The Great Society (both still playing in repertory through January 4, 2015) are powerful and dense and meticulous works by Robert Schenkkan featuring Lyndon Baines Johnson’s presidency. Their scope is an arduous undertaking and the revelation to a modern audience (now 50 years removed from that history) works to reacquaint us with the mercurial, passionate, gruff, power-hungry, sometimes vicious visionary that was LBJ.

As a vehicle to bring a historical figure to life, it’s masterful. Clearly, any actor who inhabits the role will henceforth consider it a career-making move, and Jack Willis roars and whispers and rails about with the greatest finesse, showing his tremendous abilities on stage. It’s a pleasure to watch him work. Like Bryan Cranston, awards for his work should be forthcoming.

The plays delve deeply into Johnson’s personality and his canny grasp of political gamesmanship. However, in some ways, both plays undercut the drama, which is puzzling for stage work. All the Way was particularly underwhelming in the sound department, where underscoring of sound or music could have helped color the emotions of situations more effectively.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Second visit from "A Christmas Story" - more fun and more funny! (and more Local)

The talented kids of A Christmas Story (Mark Kitaoka)

A Christmas Story
The 5th Avenue Theatre
Through December 30, 2014

A Christmas Story was fun for all when it debuted at The 5th Avenue Theatre in 2010, and then moved East to end up on Broadway. It apparently got a few tweaks along the way and the current “set” version (the way it probably will stay forever, now) is reprised at The 5th with an all local cast and a home-grown director. And it’s even more fun for all than before.

For those who don’t know, it’s a reverie about a Christmas long ago and a nine year old boy’s desire for a particular bb gun which all the adults in his life tell him will cause him to shoot his eye out. He schemes and plots with all his might and even tries to ask Scary Santa and thinks he’s failed. But this is a Christmas story.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Hammiest Show in Town strikes again!

Peggy Platt, Michael Oaks, and Lisa Koch in the Womb (Chris Bennion)

ACT Theatre
Through December 21

Every year at this time, those who know funny know to get their asses to wherever Ham for the Holidays will be performed. They know they will grin from beginning to end and laugh almost constantly. They know that they will leave feeling joy at the smart, talented crew and the amazingly punny and astute writing. They know their jaws will hurt.

Every year is different, though there are some reliable old friends to visit, such as the tiny Sequim Gay Men’s Chorus directed by Kenneth Dolman, and probably a “play” written by Mama Euomi Spudd to perform with her daughter Wynotta, who almost surprisingly never quite quits the act.

This year, at the comfortable environs of ACT Theatre, Fear the Bacon not only doesn’t disappoint, it even raises the bar a notch further in funny. You’ll visit The Waiting Womb, your local gynecology juice bar and spa! Where Dr. Dan plays the piano before your appointment and Nurse Julie sings about mammograms and vaginas. This year, you’ll play a game show (there is invariably a game show) called “What the Heck’s a Puget?” and watch Euomi’s take on the prequel to the Passion Play: Saturday Night Jesus!