Thursday, April 11, 2024

Hear “English” in a New Way at ArtsWest

Almost full cast of English at Artswest (John McLellan)
ArtsWest and Seda Iranian Theatre Ensemble
Through April 28, 2024
In a classroom in Karaj, Iran, in the year 2008, four students are learning English in hopes of passing the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), a test that might open the door to them for many opportunities, including visas to the United States. This quickly moving, non-stop play, directed by Naghmeh Samini, unfolds their stories and their challenges and even their emotional responses to learning the language itself.
Omid (Emon Elboudwarej) turns out to already have an American visa, and partly grew up in the U.S. speaking Americanized English. He is close to being able to gain a green card. When the classmates find out, they are both jealous and outraged, feeling like he shouldn’t even be in class with them if he can speak so well. But he has his reasons.
Goli (Newsha Farahani) loves learning languages. At 18, she’s not sure how she’ll put English to use, but is sure it will come in handy. Roya (Janet Hayatshahi) has a born-in-America granddaughter and her son is pushing her to speak only English to his child. She feels like she has no choice, but wishes she could let her granddaughter hear the poetry and history of her son’s native tongue.

Saturday, April 06, 2024

Spring Blossoms in Seattle Area Theater

Duygu Erdogan Monson and Akul Sood in ReAct Theatre's Animals Out of Paper (David Hsieh)
Highly anticipated regional premiere productions come to stages along with other innovative offerings. Take a look and get out yer calenders!
English, ArtsWest and Seda Iranian Theatre Ensemble, 4/4-28/24
Two words set in motion award-winning playwright Sanaz Toossi’s intricate play: “English Only.” This is the mantra that rules one classroom in Iran, where four adult students are preparing for the TOEFL — the Test of English as a Foreign Language. Chasing fluency through a maze of word games, listening exercises, and show-and-tell sessions, they hope that one day, English will help their futures. But it might be splitting them each in half.
Gunmetal Blues, Key City Public Theatre, 4/4-28/24
Is this musical a hard-boiled detective tale disguised as a lounge act- or the other way around? Direct from the Red Eye Lounge, Buddy Toupee tickles the ivories in a double-dealing world of rain-slicked streets and demolished dreams.
Death By Design, The Phoenix Theatre, 4/5-28/24
In a weekend in an English country manor in 1932, Death by Design is a hilarious, delightful and mysterious mash-up of two of the greatest English writers of all time. Edward Bennett, a playwright, and his wife, Sorel Bennett, an actress, flee London and head to Cookham after a disastrous opening night.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Smart, Modern "Trick" Plays Out Shakespeare’s "All’s Well That Ends Well"

Rachel Guyer-Mafune, Libby Barnard
and Sophia Franzella in The Bed Trick (Giao Nguyen)
The Bed Trick
Seattle Shakespeare Company
Seattle Center Armory Theatre
Through April 7, 2024
Starting from Shakespeare’s troublesome trickery in All’s Well That Ends Well, where two women switch places in the dark to bed a man who doesn’t realize it, playwright Keiko Green fashions a modern dive into what we think of the “trick” now.
Sure, folks in Shakespeare’s time might have looked at it very differently. Women had little agency or choices about who they married or how their lives would go. But when a company puts on Shakespeare’s plays now, shouldn’t they take a minute to evaluate what our society values are at this moment?
Green has performed on many Seattle area stages and began playwriting here, debuting several works before heading south for an MFA. It’s a privilege to be able to see a playwright’s work over time, and in this case, Green just keeps getting better! The Bed Trick dives deeply into the concept of tricking someone without consent, and also interrogates Shakespeare while blending in some beautiful passages.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Murder in the Mansion – “Something’s Afoot” Cast Is To Die For

Anne Allgood and Sarah Rudinoff in "Something's Afoot" (Mark Kitaoka)
Something’s Afoot
5th Avenue Theatre
Through March 24, 2024
Some of our town’s most iconically funny musical theater performers join together in the 5th Avenue Theatre’s production of Something’s Afoot. Anne Allgood, who I think can do anything on stage, is a past-master of the totally-serious-hysterical-delivery needed in something as campy and silly as this production.
If you are an Agatha Christie reader, you already know what happens in her book, And Then There Were None. It’s one of her most famous murder mysteries and so you may only have read this one – or heard of it. The title hints at what this evening of silliness will become.
It’s a weekend in the country (sorry, Sondheim). Guests start arriving at a mansion reached by a small land bridge, virtually all of them expecting only themselves and the mansion owner. Yet, more keep coming until there are ten guests. To their immediate surprise, the mansion owner is found shot before anyone has had the opportunity to greet him, and a storm cuts them all off from the mainland and strands them there.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

March Stages Roar To Life

Allen Fitzpatrick in Something's Afoot at the 5th Avenue Theatre (John Curry)
Seattle theater continues to roar back to life, producing as many shows this month as was usual pre-Covid! Seattle theatergoers need to continue to step up and step out to see these great shows! World premieres and early Sondheim musicals, prize-winning scripts, a horrific medical story with a happy ending – take a look and get out yer calendars and get them booked!

Sanctuary City, Seattle Rep, 3/1-31/24 (opens 3/6)
In the winter of 2001, in Newark, NJ, two teens, undocumented DREAMers-pre-DACA. meet up on the fire escape. They grapple with life's challenges, from family to their futures. She promises to him that when she becomes naturalized, she will marry him so he can receive his papers. As time passes and their relationship shifts, both must confront what they are willing to sacrifice to live freely and belong. This searing and captivating new play by Pulitzer Prize-winning Martyna Majok asks what we're willing to risk for those we love.
Something’s Afoot, 5th Avenue Theatre, 3/1-24/24 (opens 3/8)
A musical to poke fun at Agatha Christie murder mysteries; ten people are stranded in an isolated country estate during a raging thunderstorm. One by one, they are picked off by cleverly fiendish devices. As bodies pile up, the survivors frantically race to solve the mystery! Join in the tomfoolery of this farcical, raucous, and outrageous play, that will appeal to lovers of shows like Arrested Development, The Office, and Schitt’s Creek.
Ada and the Engine, Edmonds Driftwood Players, 3/1-17/24
Ada Lovelace wrote the first computer program! In 1830! Playwright Lauren Gunderson envisions a fiery, brilliant woman who sees the boundless creative potential in the “analytic engines” of her friend and soul mate Charles Babbage, inventor of the first mechanical computer. Ada envisions a whole new world where art and information converge—a world she might not live to see. A music-laced story of love, friendship, and the edgiest dreams of the future.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Don’t Forget Tickets to “Memoirs of a Forgotten Man!”

Patrick Harvey, Jon Lutyens, Sunam Ellis in Memoirs of a Forgotten Man (Annabel Clark)

Memoirs Of A Forgotten Man
Thalia’s Umbrella
At 12th Avenue Arts
Through March 9, 2024
A fascinating and brilliantly written production, Memoirs of a Forgotten Man, is now onstage at 12th Avenue Arts, by Thalia’s Umbrella. It feels like a decades-past Russian-written critique of their government, but was written by an American, D. W. Gregory, and only in 2018.
We meet Dr. Berezina (Sunam Ellis) who is trying to get her doctorate thesis approved for publication and has been called in to meet Comrade Kreplev (Jon Lutyens), but it’s on a Sunday morning – a very odd time to be meeting about this effort. Immediately, we are on edge because she is on edge. A feeling of menace and discomfort infuse every moment. What is she doing there? What is he doing there?
Kreplev practically dismisses all of her scientific effort. He demands to know information that is not present in her writings. Her focus is regarding memory and how it works. She has written about a subject of hers whom she both studied and counseled 20 years earlier. But the man has disappeared. Kreplev is most interested in him and where he has disappeared to. She is completely baffled by this.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Time Travel Matters in Seattle Public Theater's "Once More, Just For You"

Once More, Just For You (Joe Iano)
Once More, Just For You
SeattlePublic Theater and
Macha Theatre Works
Through February 25, 2024
A world premiere from Seattle’s preeminent sci-fi fantasy playwright, Maggie Lee, is now on stage at Seattle Public Theater (co-produced with Macha Theatre Works). The premise of Once More, Just For You is that a woman (scientist) has a time machine in her basement and is intent to do something very specific with it. What she wants and why are the two questions that fill the mystery of the play.
Scientist Rae (Ina Chang) has a mission to go back in time and change one very tiny, very unimportant - to the whole universe - event. She doesn’t want to change world history because that’s a step too far. She doesn’t believe that changing this one tiny event will affect much of anything else, though of course she’d never know if it did later.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

"Blood Countess" Horrifies (In A Good Way)

Brandon Ryan as Fitzco and Zenaida Rose Smith as Elizabeth Bathory (Truman Buffett)

Blood Countess
MAP Theatre (at 18th and Union)
Through February 24, 2024
Ten years ago (ok, 9 ½), Annex Theatre produced a world premiere by local “goth” playwright Kelleen Conway Blanchard called Blood Countess. The subject is a poetic and evocative telling of a real-life noblewoman, Elizabeth Bathory, whose life spawned many folktales after her life and death in the 1500s, including that she maimed, tortured, and killed hundreds of young women. There were claims of vampirism!
Blanchard has a very unique writing voice and often blends macabre humor and sexuality into her work. Laughter is inextricably mixed with dark subjects. Here, Blanchard had a wide-open field to imagine the life of Bathory. And imagine she does. The play begins with Bathory’s childhood, then marriage to a fellow sadist, up to her final captivity and end.

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Experienced Talent Brimming in "The Book of Will" at Taproot Theatre

Nolan Palmer and Melanie Godsey in The Book of Will (John Ulman)
The Book of Will
Taproot Theatre
Through February 24, 2024
This production of prolific playwright Lauren Gunderson is rambunctiously performed by a mostly-veteran ensemble of wonderful actors. It’s such a joy to see/hear them chew into the script, especially Nolan Palmer, as he skillfully overacts, as Richard Burbage, Shakespeare’s soliloquys while wanting to murder the young, ridiculous thespians who mangle and change Shakespeare’s words – because Shakespeare’s plays have not yet been codified in print.
The play surmises that after Shakespeare’s death, no one has thought to collect all of his plays and make sure they are properly saved for future audiences. In 1619, a few years after Shakespeare’s death, dumbed-down versions of his plays are proliferating, with actors guessing at what the script would be! Determined to fix this are the fabled actor Richard Burbage (Nolan Palmer), who played dozens of the great roles, John Heminges (Eric Jensen),the business manager of Shakespeare’s acting company, The King’s Men, Henry Condell (Reginald André Jackson), an actor and co-owner of the Globe. They are aided by wives and daughter (Llysa Holland, Nikki Visel, and Melanie Godsey).
Palmer doubles as William Jaggard, a swindler in the publishing game who has often been accused of plagiarism, and somehow has spawned a son, Isaac (Christopher Clark), who swears he will help bring authenticity and trust to publishing the Folio. The rest of the wonderful ensemble include Ben Johnson (Nik Doner), the other great playwright of the era, and Ralph Crane (Andrew Litzky), a meticulous scribe of the “acting” scripts of Shakespeare who wrote down and kept many crucial scripts for himself (thankfully), and William Eames, who plays several small but important roles.

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Special Opportunity to Hear Musical “Sunset Boulevard”

Billie Wildrick and Matthew Kacergis in Sunset Boulevard (Chris Bennion)
Sunset Boulevard
Showtunes Theatre Company
(at Cornish Playhouse)
Through February 11, 2024
Below, you’ll see that I was intrigued enough about the musical that I did some Wikipedia-ing about both the movie, Sunset Boulevard, and the musical’s history. But I first want to encourage you to hurry and get tickets for the last two performances of this concert before you lose this unique opportunity!
Showtunes Theatre Company, if you have not had the immense pleasure of attending their concerts, yet, allows us to see top-level local musical theater performers tackle musicals that may well never have “full” productions in Seattle. They perform “concerts” where there is no set, not much significant costuming or lights, and the performers generally use scripts-in-hand, so the audience has to bring a lot of imagination along.
However, in recent years, the concerts have gotten more and more complex, with choreography, a few key costumes, and fewer music stands between the audience and performers. This concert is more technically sophisticated than most concerts I’ve seen! There are absolutely gorgeous costumes for Norma’s glamourous lifestyle (by Chelsea Cook), and some crucial projections (by Jake Burleigh) that provide the old-timey feel of vintage motion pictures.
Then there is a 20-person on-stage orchestra led by artistic director Nathan Young! That means that the musician-ship, the lush sound of the score, couldn’t be better at a large theater with a full production! The atmosphere and quality of the production is top-notch!
The ensemble of performers is superb! Glorious Billie Wildrick plays Norma Desmond and trembles with silent-screen-star emotions. She nails every big number, expressing (sometimes crazy) feelings with conviction and passion.
 Matthew Kacergis, as Joe Gillis, has great vocal range and power and whose down-at-heart screenwriter is by turns driven and defeated. Jeff Church, as Max the taciturn butler, has a beautiful bass voice. Karin Terry, as Betty Schaefer, the 22 year old (!) literary assistant determined to write a movie, enchants. The rest of the cast is full of huge talents, as well.

Monday, February 05, 2024

A New “Quixote” Enlivens Both The Classic and Border Issues

Sancho Panza and Don Quixote (Nate Watters)
Quixote Nuevo
Seattle Rep
Through February 11, 2024
Octavio Solis’ play, Quixote Nuevo, is a treat for both Spanish and English speakers when you can pick out the interplay of puns and alliteration and literary references. In Quixote Nuevo, he mirrors the well-known tale of Don Quixote, who loved Dulcinea and tried to fight the powers-that-be.
He chooses a professor, Jose Quijano (played with elegance and verve by Herbert Siguenza), of the author Cervantes, who wrote Don Quixote. The professor is accelerating in his decline toward dementia and his family feels he’d be safer in an assisted living facility. Jose becomes a “new” Quixote, escapes his concerned family and townsfolk, and begins a search for Dulcinea. But escaping also presents great danger, as his inability to see where reality ends and fantasy starts could cause him to forget to eat or drink out in the bleak desert on the border of Texas.
The tone of the play is often joyful, yet mixed with pain. Large puppets are used to menace and to entrance. Tejano music is used masterfully to demonstrate parts of the story and underscore moments of emotional outbursts.

Saturday, February 03, 2024

February Theater – Great Choices

The Lady Demands Satisfaction at Phoenix Theatre (Eric Lewis)

This short month has already shot out the gate and is galloping along! Quick, start booking your shows before they’re gone!
Born With Teeth, ArtsWest, 2/1-25/24
With an aging authoritarian British ruler, a violent police state, and a restless, polarized people seething with paranoia, it’s a dangerous time for poets. Two of them — the great Christopher Marlowe and the up-and-comer William Shakespeare — meet in the back room of a pub to collaborate on a history play cycle, navigate the perils of art under a totalitarian regime, and flirt like young men with everything to lose. One of them may well be the death of the other in this biting comedy about ambition, ego, and history.
Living IncogNegro, Key City Public Theatre, 2/1-11/24
Talented solo performer Gin Hammond writes about her personal journey. When your cultural identity is one thing, but your physical identity is another, how do you navigate self-expression? Both a humorous love-letter, and an academic discourse, dedicated to those who find themselves in the middle of a cultural battle they never asked for.
Once More, Just for You, Seattle Public Theater, 2/2-25/24 (world premiere)
Local playwright Maggie Lee pens a new sci-fi based play. The only foolproof way to truly fix past mistakes is time travel, right? Rae has a time machine and she's gonna try. But just because you already know which path NOT to take doesn’t always guarantee things will end up where you planned. A curious, heartfelt new play about finding connection, unspoken sacrifice, and the infinite metaphysical paradox of loving and letting go.
A Case for the Existence of God, ACT Theatre, 2/2-18/24
“Whale” writer Samuel D. Hunter won the 2022 New York Drama Critics’ award for this play. Inside a small loan brokerage in Idaho, two men struggle to make a place for their family in the American dream, navigating the tensions of parenthood, financial security, desire, and empathy. Intrigue, revelation, and surprises link the lives of two fathers intertwine reflecting on what it means to be human.
The Lady Demands Satisfaction, The Phoenix Theatre, 2/2-25/24
When a young maiden who has never touched a sword learns she must defend her inheritance in a duel, she struggles with a milksop suitor, a servant girl posing as a Prussian fencing master, the actual Prussian fencing master who believes he is there to marry her, a stodgy lord, and her domineering aunt – the finest blade anywhere - to save her house and lands.
Sunset Boulevard, Showtunes Theatre Company, 2/3-11/24 (at Cornish Playhouse)
We get a local view of the whole musical – going to Broadway in 2024 – chronicling Norma Desmond, a faded star of the silent screen era, living in the past in her decaying mansion on that fabled, famous Los Angeles street. Billy Wildrick, local musical powerhouse star, takes stage as Norma. When young screenwriter Joe Gillis accidentally crosses her path, she sees in him an opportunity to make her return to the big screen, with romance and tragedy to follow. Joining the large cast of favorite musical theater actors will be a 25 person, on-stage orchestra. (Trust me, this is special!)

Saturday, January 27, 2024

25 Years of ZinZanni Fun with Kevin Kent

Kevin Kent at Teatro Zinzanni (Photo by Nate Watters)

In recent years, TeatroZinZanni has “put up its tent” in various temporary locations, and for the last several months, they have been resident in the new Hotel Lotte (Low-tay) in downtown Seattle. The building includes the soaring sanctuary inside what used to be the 1908-built United First Methodist Church. ZinZanni figured out a way to insert the bottom part of the tent inside the sanctuary, and then erect metal structures above to be able to “fly” the aerial performers safely. But you can still see the beautiful dome above that.
So, if you’ve been to ZinZanni before, the surroundings will be familiar. The deep burgundy of the curtains, the wooden floor, the mirrors, the booths around the perimeter and the doors through which performers enter and food is served.
Kevin Kent was a cast member of the original Teatro ZinZanni show in Seattle in 1998 and the subsequent debut show in San Francisco in 2000, and has been with Teatro ever since. A physical and improvisational humorist, Kevin has honed his comedic audience interactions to a fine point. During the performance, he morphs into a female character that might baffle audience members. (During my visit, my companion did not realize until after the show that Kevin was both the male and female interactor.)
I had a great time interviewing Kevin about his life and working with ZinZanni. A New Mexico native, he and his husband Joe are living in the homestead his parents built in the mountains.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Jan + Half Feb Theater Openings, Check Out the World Premieres!


Montage of Comedy of Errors photos (Giao Nguyen)

Theater is bringing great energy to the new year! I’m partial to world premieres because of the sense of adventure, seeing a show that only has a tempting blurb, and rolling dice hoping that it will be a great experience. Even if it ends up not being your favorite show, you’re still supporting the forward motion of the theater community. Engage your inner adventurer and get outcher calendars!

The Comedy of Errors, Seattle Shakespeare Company, 1/10-28/24
This small ensemble version cleaves right to the heart of this comedy of separated twins. What are the chances there’s a guy walking around town with your face? What are the chances there’s another guy walking around town with your servant’s face? Antipholus and Dromio encounter some trouble when their doppelgangers seem to be on the loose in Ephesus, not realizing that their identical twins with identical names were separated from them in a shipwreck as babies. Performed by a troupe of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) collaborators.
God of Carnage, SecondStory Repertory, 1/12-28/24
A playground altercation between eleven-year-old boys brings together two sets of Brooklyn parents at a home for a meeting to resolve the matter. At first, diplomatic niceties are observed, but as the meeting progresses, and the rum flows, tensions emerge and the gloves come off, leaving the couples with more than just their liberal principles in tatters.
Strong Waters, Global Works 1/13/24-2/3/24 (at 12th Ave Arts) (world premiere)
“Permission to come aboard?” A retired actor and his recently divorced son share a tranquil life in a floating home community - until an unexpected guest arrives, destined to make waves. The past is awakened, and the present enlivened, as three people discover where their hidden hurts, and their hope for healing, collide.