Saturday, September 30, 2017

October Openings Are Full of Brand-New Plays

Demene Hall in Y York's new play Sycorax (Tom Chargin)
If you’ve been bemoaning the lack of brand-spanking-new plays to see, October is YOUR MONTH. We have world premieres in spades about all sorts of topics. If that doesn’t float your boat, there are reinterpretations of classics, and more.

Pride and Prejudice, Seattle Repertory Theatre, 10/1-29/17 (opens 10/4)
Playwright Kate Hamill adapts this classic love story with a decidedly progressive take on the trials and travails of Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and the delightful Bennet clan. But empire waists and lavish Regency-era attire still abound in this familiar yet surprisingly modern west coast premiere adaptation.

Sycorax, Snowflake Avalanche, 10/6-14/17 (at 18&Union) (world premiere)
Demene E. Hall stars in this, Y York’s newest play, inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A profound meditation on persecution, vengeance and forgiveness. Betrayed by a mother, a lover, her son’s lover, society, and the vicious lies that Prospero has foisted on the world, Sycorax makes an excellent case to the gods for revenge.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Forward Flux - Always (At Least) Interesting

The cast of las mariposas y los muertos (Joe Moore)
las mariposas y los muertos (world premiere)
By Benjamin Benne
Forward Flux Productions
Through October 7, 2017

Two sisters and a best friend, frustrated with the music on the indie-rock scene, decide to form a band. In this one-act, playwright Benjamin Benne shoves a boatload of subject matter and some original rock songs by Angie Citiali Vance into a short space.

First there is the rise and dysfunction of the trio, Elena (Sophie Franco), little sister Celestina (Jordi Montes), and Molly (Grace Carmack). They spar over what to name the band, deciding on Las Mariposas (The Butterflies) because butterflies live beautiful but short lives. They spar over whether to include Spanish in their lyrics. Elena writes most of their music until Celestina wants to write one song that suddenly becomes popular.

Elena, written as a whiny, bitchy, unself-aware ass, gets more and more bent out of shape about the one popular song, which uses Latinx iconography to ironic effect. Then it becomes Molly’s problem. Molly, after all, wanted the name, and the Spanish lyrics, and helped write the popular song, and….. Molly is WHITE! It doesn’t help that Molly speaks better Spanish than either sister and can communicate with their grandmother (Anabel Hovig) in her language.

The play does not seem to make Elena a joke, though. We’re supposed to take her seriously.

An area Benne does make a joke, to great effect, is how the band is evaluated by press, all of whom are random white men.

The songs seem inseparable from the play. They are a rock band, after all, so they should at least play and sing once, though it could be recorded, perhaps. But the songs take up a bit too much time given how much territory the play wants to cover.

The family drama is important and doesn’t get nearly enough time. There is a dead mother and tremendous angst about that that is not exploited. Also, Hovig speaks almost entirely in Spanish and it is not translated for the audience. It almost feels like a bulk of the theme of the play is said in Spanish. Those who spoke Spanish in the audience (I understand a tiny, tiny amount) laughed a lot and I was jealous.

Hovig makes a compelling grandmother stereotype with aspects of magical realism. Franco does a good job as lead singer, but can’t overcome the nastiness of her character. Carmack does a great job as a best friend and white apologist, in an unfortunate position. Montes is a good actor and played the drums well. But there is no way she’s a younger sister in this trio.

Lance Valdez and Kiki Abba in No More Sad Things (J Reese)
No More Sad Things (world premiere)
By Hansol Jung
Forward Flux Productions
Through October 7, 2017

No plays come to mind when thinking about Native Hawaiians. So, No More Sad Things is already unusual in featuring a young Hawaiian speaking in the patois of the islands. Lance Valdez does a great job of embodying Kahekili, the surfing, carefree young Hawaiian. He is not always easy to understand, but always engaging.

Kahekili meets a 32-year-old tourist American, Jessiee (Kiki Abba), after they both have dreams of import pointing toward each other. Jessiee has so much difficulty in her life that she decides she must escape the Midwest and goes to Maui. She’s determined to try to keep the Sad Things out of her head and ends up on a quiet beach with only Kahekili, the sand, and the surf, and things take their course.

Only after spending several days together does Jessiee finally asks how old Kahekili is. She’s shocked to find out he’s only 15. So are we. Valdez doesn’t look anything like 15, of course, though 15 year olds do look more grown than we think, often.

Friday, September 22, 2017


Aaron Lamb and Katherine Strohmaier in The Last Five Years (Scot Whitney)
The Last Five Years
AK-L5 Productions
Through October 2, 2017

Lots of people have performed the musical The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown for many reasons: it's a two-hander (only uses two actors); often people who think it would be good to do are musical theater couples already; it doesn't need a lot of set; it doesn't need a lot of musicians; it can pretty much be done anywhere. Also, it has a cool kind of way to tell the story of a five year relationship: one person tells it "forward" and the other person tells it "backward."

ACT Theatre Presents Award-Winning Playwright Lauren Yee’s “King of the Yees”

King of the Yees (Chris Bennion)
King of the Yees
ACT Theatre
Through October 1, 2017

Lauren Yee, the inventive playwright of Ching Chong Chinamen, has just been named the recipient of the 2017 Kesselring Prize for playwriting from the National Arts Club. She will receive a $25,000 award and the opportunity to reside for two weeks in the historic clubhouse of the National Arts Club in order to develop her work.

She’s also got her play, King of the Yees, running at ACT Theatre, with a lovely cast including Khanh Doan, Stan Egi, Ray Tagavilla, Annelih GH Hamilton, and Joseph Ngo. She has brought her work to Washington State on numerous occasions, most often to do workshops and attend retreats for writing like Hedgebrook. She feels like a local writer.

King of the Yees is an inventive and pseudo-autobiographical play. We begin by meeting “Lauren” and her “father” (Hamilton and Tagavilla) and then immediately find out that they are playing in a play Lauren has written, when Lauren (Doan) shows up with her father (Egi) to rehearsal. The play separates into back-and-forth scenes with the actors taking a break and Lauren becoming wrapped up in a quest to find her father when he goes missing.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

WET Programs A Good One With “Teh Internet”

Some of the large cast of Teh Internet Is Serious Business (Jeff Carpenter)
Teh Internet Is Serious Business
Washington Ensemble Theatre
Through October 2, 2017

The press release blurb for Washington Ensemble Theatre’s mounting of Teh Internet Is Serious Business by Tim Price says, “Forward slash forward slash, angle bracket, quotation, command, dialogue, angle bracket, semicolon: it’s 2004, the year hacktivist group Anonymous emerged as a can’t-be-tamed digital authority with unexpected influence. This mercurial and irreverent tale follows the network’s pointed take down of the Church of Scientology and ponders the revolution of online global power. Called “liberating” and “enlightening” by The Guardian, Washington Ensemble Theatre will mount Tim Price’s smart and captivating play. Can you feel the lulz?”

I’m not sure what the description prepares you for, but embedded in the description is the fact that the play is “about” a real piece of actual Internet history. The way that playwright Price goes about telling that compelling history is incisive and interesting and, as produced by director Wayne Rawley and the team at WET, it’s a very entertaining story.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Spoofing Musicals and Shakespeare, "Something Rotten" Smells Like a Good Time

Cast of the Something Rotten! National Tour (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)
Something Rotten
5th Avenue Theatre
Through October 1, 2017

If you love musicals, one of the fun parts of seeing the national tour of Something Rotten is the opportunity to listen hard for all the different musicals spoofed or mentioned or sung for one or two bars of music. In this YouTube video,, they'll show you which ones are mentioned in the song, A Musical. Musicals such as Fascinating Rhythm, Gypsy, Seussical, The Music Man, South Pacific, Les Miserables, RENT, A Chorus Line, Chicago, EVITA, Putting It Together, Annie, Guys and Dolls, Sweet Charity, Hello Dolly, Cats, Sweeney Todd, and Busby Berkeley-style dance moves.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

1964’s “Blues for Mister Charlie” Packs a Gut-punch

Cast of Blues for Mister Charlie (Bruce Tom)
Blues for Mister Charlie
The Williams Project
(at Franklin High School)
Through September 17, 2017

No matter that a piece of theater demands that the participants say the “n” word because it has to be said, it’s still a painful experience to me. How much more so might it be to people who have lived with the history of being labeled with such!

And say it they must for a historic play by James Baldwin, crafted as a memorial to the murder of young 14-year-old Emmett Till and Baldwin’s friend, Medgar Evers. Written in 1964, it reflects the language of the time, where people in small southern towns still peppered their speech with it and segregation was virtually the law of the land.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

September Blossoms With Theater Openings

The cast of The Who and The What at ArtsWest (courtesy ArtsWest)
If it’s back-to-school, that’s the signal for Back to Theater. 26 productions are listed here and there are likely others. Get out your calendars – you have some work to do!

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Lamplight Productions, 9/1-17/17 (at Bathhouse Theatre)
Christopher Durang plays with Chekhov’s themes and comments on age, entitlement, and social media with ridiculous comedy. Siblings Vanya and Sonia live in the family home in Bucks County, PA spending their days doing nothing but lamenting. Masha, the third sibling (who is funding their life with her movie star career), returns home with a beautiful and very young boyfriend and life as Vanya and Sonia know it is threatened.

The Tempest, Fern Shakespeare Company, 9/1-16/17 (at Slate Theater)
Marooned on a deserted island with a child for twelve years, Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, finds that those that conspired against him have shipwrecked and washed up on the same shore. Shakespeare asks difficult questions. What will happen when Prospero’s past and present life collides? What does it mean to be human?  Do we ever truly have control over the events of our lives and those we love? Or is the adage true, that if you truly love something you must let it go?

The Who & The What, ArtsWest and Pratidhwani, 9/7/17-10/1/17
Brilliant Pakistani-American writer Zarina is focused on finishing her novel about women and Islam when she meets Eli, a young convert to Islam, who bridges the gulf between her modern life and her traditional heritage. But when her conservative father and sister discover her controversial manuscript, they are all forced to confront the beliefs that define them. From Ayad Akhtar, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of Disgraced.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Solid "August: Osage County" Reflects Harlequin Productions' Stature

Ellen McLain and Ann Flannigan in August: Osage County (courtesy Harlequin Productions)
Many folks in the Greater Seattle area don't get out to any theater location they think of as "boonies." That might include Renton, Bellevue, Redmond, Edmonds, Tacoma, the West Sound, Federal Way, Burien, Kent, and certainly Olympia.

I'll encourage you to consider venturing farther afield than Capitol Hill and Downtown Seattle because there are a lot of solid theater producers out there, including SecondStory Repertory (Redmond), Phoenix Theatre and Driftwood Theatre (Edmonds), Renton Civic, Burien Actors Theatre, Centerstage (Federal Way), Theatre Battery (Kent), Tacoma Musical Playhouse, and Harlequin Productions (Olympia).

It's not easy to consider driving 66 miles (from Seattle to Olympia), but those who do generally find productions that are equal to our midrange Seattle theaters like ArtsWest, Seattle Public, and Taproot.