Saturday, February 13, 2016

"Success" with a bullet!

A great example of the vivid color combos in How to Succeed (Tracy Martin)
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
The 5th Avenue Theatre
Through February 21, 2016

This 5th Avenue production is a Skittles (or older candy: Chiclets) colored musical that tastes as sweet, tart, and happy as it looks! How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a popular musical for high schools and summer camps because it’s so G-rated. Here, the retro feel is on full display, and every moment of fun is amped to a 10!

The story is of a young man reading a book on succeeding in business (fun fact: former Seattle mayor – and musical theater lover – Norm Rice is the narrator of the book sections), and he follows the book to the letter. The book is amazingly prescient and covers every possible situation on your rise to the top. But also, Pierrepont Finch (who adds a J. to the beginning to sound posh-er) is a whiz at thinking on his feet.

Meaty two-hander, "Annapurna," next up for Theatre22

John Q. Smith and Teri Lazzara (Ahren Buhmann)
Theatre9/12 (at 12th Avenue Arts)

The next offering by Theatre22, Annapurna by Sharr White, seems like an actor’s paradise. It’s a two-hander, as they say, two actors who get to throw themselves into meaty, emotional material. It’s about a long-extinct marriage where the ex-wife comes back to nurse her dying ex-husband and rehash their relationship.

Most won’t get the title reference. Annapurna is a mountain in the Himalayas; the play is set in mountains of Colorado; so the mountains are the struggles of the relationship. Very poetic. White wrote the play in 2013-14, and it was done Off-Broadway in 2014. So, it’s very new. White has other plays that have been well received, and you might think of him as “up and coming.”

I spoke to director Julie Beckman about this play. Beckman is an award-winning director (she won the Gypsy Rose Lee Award in 2014 for directing A Small Fire at Sound Theatre Company and was nominated for directing Water By the Spoonful for Theatre22 in 2015). Here’s a taste of how she goes about directing a play.

Friday, February 12, 2016

"Buzzer" doesn't quite work

Andrew Lee Creech and Spencer Hamp in Buzzer (Michelle Bates)
AJ Epstein Productions at ACT Theatre
Through February 21, 2016

A lot could be said about gentrification. There are all kinds of sides to look at: the people who live in a blighted area because they must (no income options, red-lining, etc.); the people who move there early to take advantage of lower costs in anticipation of the boom; the people who move there after most or all the dangerous elements have been displaced. Plays have examined this, somewhat, like Clybourn Park.

Since so often gentrification has happened to areas that start with poor black residents and become majority white, there are powerful stories to be told in play format. Tracey Scott Wilson has written one that defies easy categorization as commentary on gentrification, Buzzer, now onstage at ACT Theatre, co-produced with AJ Epstein Productions. She includes an uncommon trio, and in this production, the trio on stage feel uneasily linked. So, should the play be seen as commentary on gentrification?

Thursday, February 04, 2016

"Silent Sky" twinkles brightly!

Hana Lass and Candace Vance in Silent Sky (John Ulman)
Silent Sky
Taproot Theatre
Through February 27, 2016

Talented and prolific playwright, Lauren Gunderson, loves science and scientists. She also loves to reveal the accomplishments of real women whom most of us have never heard about. Gunderson has been produced before in Seattle. Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight, and Exit, Pursued By a Bear, and The Taming were all produced at ArtsWest. Now, her play, Silent Sky, is at Taproot Theatre with a terrific cast.

Gunderson’s fascination with scientific women is a boon to us all. She not only informs us that they exist, she brings them to life, with hopes, fears, lust, ambition, brilliance, and the willingness to break the societal bonds that tried to keep them from their accomplishments. So, we meet Henrietta Leavitt.

Leavitt was an astronomer who fought all her life to achieve what she did, and volunteered for years at Harvard College Observatory just to be close to their telescope and to work in her field. She lived a fairly short life, dying at 53, as many did at the time, from cancer. But by that point, she had discovered so much about stars that her discoveries allowed other scientists, including Edward Hubble, to determine that the Milky Way was one of billions of galaxies, rather than the only one.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

A marvelous cast in Schmeater’s "In Arabia"

Jacquelyn Miedema and Ayo Tushinde in In Arabia We'd All Be Kings (D Hastings)
In Arabia We’d All Be Kings
Theater Schmeater
Through February 13, 2016

Theater Schmeater is performing an early Stephen Adly Guirgis play, In Arabia We’d All Be Kings. Guirgis is now an exciting and accomplished playwright and we have two ongoing productions in Seattle to choose from (The Motherfucker with the Hat is at Washington Ensemble Theatre).

This play is more “episodic” and jerky, with scenes that tell a story when strung together, but with a lot of holes and plotlines left out. Still it has compelling characters, some really funny moments, even within a rather gritty, down-and-out subject area. Several characters swirl around a run-down bar (circa 1990s) that is gentrifying and displacing its old clientele for more profit and an upscale crowd. Guirgis seems to want to ask, “What happens to those people who used to populate the lower-class bar?”

Director Julia Griffin has collected a group of talented actor to create this gritty atmosphere and even tiny roles are a joy to watch. Drew Hobson is probably what might be called the lead, Lenny, a big, threatening, recently-paroled low-life who wants life to be the same as he left it six years earlier. That includes his girlfriend, Daisy (Elena Flory-Barnes), who doesn’t want to tell him she’s more with bar owner Jake (Brandon Felker) than with Lenny. Hobson gives the best performance I’ve seen from him, and embodies the character fully.

February Theater Openings!

Ecce Faustus cast members (Annie Paladino)
This month brings company-devised works on classics, a couple of world premieres, farce and other comic material. There should be something sweet to see for just about everyone.

Buzzer, ACT Theatre co-production with AJ Epstein Presents, 2/2-21/16
Jackson went to all the right schools, has the perfect job, an amazing girlfriend, and they've just moved into a high-end, newly remodeled apartment building in his old neighborhood. Except Jackson's old hood is being completely overhauled into a place that's barely recognizable and going home again has its drawbacks.

Do It for Umma, Annex Theatre, 2/2-17/16 (Tue/Wed)
A surreal comic detective story. The ghost of Hannah's recently deceased mother returns to haunt the Korean convenience store she once ran with an iron fist, shaming, cajoling, and needling her daughter into avenging her extremely suspicious death. New play by (local) Seayoung Yim.