Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Three shows well worth checking out ("Mwindo" at Seattle Children’s, "The Secretaries" at Theater Schmeater, "4000 Miles" at ArtsWest)

Tracy Michelle Hughes fronts the cast of Mwindo (photo by Chris Bennion)

Yup, there is a LOT of theater happening right now. 2015 opened up a floodgate after the first of the year and your head might be spinning from trying to figure out what to see. At least, I’m hoping your head is spinning because that means you are a lover of theater, like me.

I, too, have been trying to get to as many shows as I can and indubitably failing to get to everything. But I can encourage you to go to three shows that will vary entirely, one production from another, and represent a huge range of subject matter and style.

Mwindo is a world premiere play from the keyboards of Cheryl West. She understands how to write for older children and is using an African fable/myth to demonstrate some complex ideas about revenge or forgiveness.

With a wonderful multi-ethnic cast (Wlliam Hall, Tracy Michelle Hughes, Yesenia Iglesias, Reginald Andre Jackson, Felicia Loud, Geoffery Paul Simmons, Tyler Trerise and Kevin Warren), the story unfolds about a greedy chief (Hall) who is expecting a seventh daughter to bring him even greater wealth through her dowry. Magically, a baby boy is born who immediately walks and talks (Trerise) and must be kept hidden away from the chief’s servants who are tasked to kill him!

Once the boy grows up, he vows to take revenge on his father and become chief in his stead. With the help of a hedgehog (Jackson) and a spider cricket (Loud), Mwindo must decide if he can learn to live with an open heart, instead of anger and revenge.

The set (Carey Wong) and puppetry (Annett Mateo) are magical. African dance is choreographed by Sonia Dawkins and sets a very authentic tone. Best for children about 8 and over, this is a fast-paced story that will keep you rapt.

A totally different tone is taken with The Secretaries which was written by a quintet of women playwrights and is a very adult and bloody spoof of a secretarial pool. Four secretaries (Megan Ahiers, Ashley Banker, Ashley Flannegan and Monica Wulzen) and a supervisor (Lisa Viertel) work at a lumber mill.

From the opening sounds of sawing and high pitched laughter that sounds like The Shining, it’s clear that something less than savory is going on there. There are apparently a very large number of “accidents” at this mill, and the women sport lumberman’s jackets with a weird pride.

Directed with verve by Julia Griffith, each of these women is totally committed to her character, and skirts the edge of over-acting right up to and rarely over the edge. The play probably could have been trimmed a bit into a long one-act instead of the two acts you’ll see, but most of it is very funny and smartly done.

Amy Herzog’s play 4000 Miles is basically a gentle family piece that is a joy due to the lovely cast. The 4000 miles referenced are the bicycle journey that Leo (Adam Standley) takes from Seattle to New York City to the rent-controlled apartment of his aged grandmother, Vera (Susan Corzatte). Vera is a feisty and independent woman who loves her grandson but is very discreet. Leo had suffered the loss of his best friend during the journey and his family is concerned about him.

While not a ton happens in the play, the interplay with Corzatte and Standley is wonderful, and easy to understand and enjoy. Leo also has a failing relationship with Becca (Adria LaMorticella) who is going to school in New York, and a one-night encounter with Amanda (Sara Porkalob), a highly emotional woman of Chinese descent who has a problem with Leo’s family’s connection with communism.

It’s a reminder that a play can be meaningful without big, showy subject matter, and this play is a kind of reverie on family relationships. Sensitively directed by Mathew Wright, it’s a 100 minute relaxed viewing of a young man in transition, though he’s not sure what he’s transitioning toward.

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