Sunday, May 22, 2022

Sephardic Jewish Community in Seattle Gets a Theatrical Treatment


The Seattle case of Arrivals - Art Feinglass standing center (Brendan O'Connor)

It’s likely that most non-Jews don’t know a thing about the difference between “Ashkenazi” and “Sephardic” or even what they label. But those labels enfold vast differences. The Ashkenazi Jews are what the world mostly knows about Judaism. The majority of those Jews came from countries around Russia and inside the U.S.S.R. and Europe. These are the people who brought Yiddish (a blend of Hebrew and German) and cooking with chicken fat (schmaltz) and the thick, funny, New York-Yiddish accents that people associate with Jews in movies.
The Sepharadim (a plural of Sepharad) came from Spain and Portugal and after the “diaspora” (you know, the Inquisition that no one expected – sorry, Monty Python), Morocco, and Northern Africa, and Mediterranean countries like Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Syria and Iran/Iraq (Persia). They spoke Ladino (a blend of Hebrew and Old Spanish).
The diet differences of the two sets of Jews are also very different. Ashkenazis eat a lot of wheat, for instance, and the holiday of Passover focuses on matzah, an unleavened (wheat) bread. Sepharadim eat a lot of rice dishes and have a very “Mediterranean” diet – lots of olive oil. While the Jewish religion stayed relatively intact in either group, the us/them growth of prejudice between them made “community” non-existent even in the face of the same racism that all Jews faced.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

No Sweat for ACT Theatre - Best Show in Town

A moment from Sweat (Truman Buffett)
ACT Theatre
Through May 22, 2022
It contains the sweat of people’s brows and their efforts standing for a dozen hours a day or more on a factory line. And the sweat of the swelter of the factory workers in warehouse-level heat without air conditioning. Also the sweat of walking a union strike line and the sweat about paying bills on low salaries or on walk-out stipends.
It includes the sweat of a worker being promoted to management and what they fear about giving orders to previously same-level friends and workers. There is the sweat, as well, of a drug-addicted soul shaking for the next fix, or their sweat as they beg friends and family for another drink or smoke. There’s also the sweat of rage that can cause blind reactions that change lives in seconds, with tragic results.
All of this sweat is in Lynn Nottage’s excellent script, Sweat, now on stage at ACT Theatre. It also has the worthy sweat of the excellent ensemble of actors ready breathe life into the words on a page, transforming into the way it’s meant to be absorbed – on stage.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

May Flowers Are Blooming on Seattle Stages


Rehearsal for The Watsons at Seattle Children's Theatre (Eliane Rodriguez)

World premiere musicals (we all love those don’t we?), important stories from diverse writers and populations, several world premiere stage plays, and more, are what May Days are bringing to Seattle. Our stages are brimming with gotta-see works that should entice you to grab your mask and sit next to strangers! Get outcher calenders and get to work! Here’s what’s opening this month:
The Watsons Go To Birmingham – 1963, Seattle Children’s Theatre, 5/3-22/22
This powerful play, adapted for stage by local and nationally-acclaimed playwright Cheryl L. West, follows 10-year-old Kenny Watson and his family on a road trip from Flint, Michigan to Birmingham, Alabama. As the family travels though unfamiliar territory in the Deep South during the Jim Crow era, they encounter racism unlike anything they have experienced before. After a local church is attacked, an event that marks Civil Rights history, the Watson family comes together and proves that perseverance and resiliency can be found in the most unimaginable places. Recommended for ages 8 and over.
Alma, ArtsWest, 5/5-22/22
Playwright Benjamin Benne honed some of his early writing talent right here in the PNW. Having gone on to amazing adventures, ArtsWest is providing an opportunity to experience his most sophisticated work yet. We meet working mom, Alma. She singlehandedly raised her daughter, Angel, on tough love, home-cooked comida and lots of prayers. Just before the all-important SAT test, Alma discovers her daughter isn’t at home studying. La chancla (an ass-whooping) awaits Angel at home—but so does a creeping realization that more’s at stake than just a test score. A sacrifice from Alma’s past weighs heavy; now, Alma fears that her worst nightmare may soon be their reality.

Monday, May 02, 2022

Benjamin Benne’s Journey to Become a Major American Playwright


Playwright Benjamin Benne (Chris Larson)

May 5 – 22, 2022
Benjamin Benne’s play, Alma, opens May 5th at ArtsWest. It’s the third play Seattle audiences have been able to see, with his early work performed at Annex Theatre, Terra Incognita, and a one-act done by Forward Flux, las mariposas y los muertos.
Since leaving Seattle, he’s had some amazing opportunities and experiences, but it was clear back in 2016/17 that he had the talent and the drive necessary to propel himself into success and the writing chops that would open those doors to him. I had the lovely opportunity to chat with him this week just before Opening Night at ArtsWest. My most intense interest was to catch up on his most recent exploits and also to understand his journey.
Much of his early playwriting has centered on strong women, influenced by his mother, a previously undocumented immigrant from Guatemala. His themes are often an intersection of domestic relationships and poetic reveries.
His journey into playwriting started as an undergrad at California State University, Fullerton. “I was a theater major starting in acting as many do, and then went to theater education and then faculty members told me I was excelling in directing, so I changed my major to directing.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Super Tech Support Enhances Sound Theatre's "Gaslight"

Sound Theatre Company
Through May 14, 2022 (at 12th Avenue Arts)
Inspector Rough (Hisam Goueli, standing) and Bella (Kathy Hsieh, seated) observe an offstage moment. Rough has a mustache and wears a grey-green tweed suit with black bowtie. Behind him are a mix of picture frames, some without an image - and two brightly gas-lit sconces. Bella, clutching a handkerchief, has long black hair in an elegant bun, and wears a shiny turquoise Victorian grown. (photo by Nikeesha Gooding)

From the Victorian thriller novel to a play to a movie, Gaslight (originally titled Angel Street) is now on stage by Sound Theatre Company. If you didn’t know where the slang term for lying-and-making-you-think-you’re-crazy comes from, it stems from this classic tale.
Kathy Hsieh carries the main role of Mrs. Bella Manningham, who is treated as a child-woman by her husband (Johnny Patchamatla) as he causes her to believe that she is going mad like her mother did at an early age before dying young. In fact, the audience isn’t quite sure (unless you’ve seen the film) that she’s not mentally ill.

Friday, April 08, 2022

Feel-Good Spitfire Grill with Standout Cast

Sarah Garcia in The Spitfire Grill (Robert Wade)
The Spitfire Grill
through April 30, 2022 

The Spitfire Grill is a feel-good musical. It’s a little schmaltzy with heart-tuggy, yearning songs (think Judy Garland singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow only not quite that classical a song) but ultimately it’s also accessible and fun and ends on a note that you can walk out of the theater feeling satisfied at the journey.
It’s a natural for Taproot. They’ve done it before, in 2003, when it was newer. But it hasn’t lost its sweetness or appeal in ensuing years. A young woman, Percy (Sarah Garcia) who has nowhere to connect to after five years in prison has circled a tiny article about Gilead, Wisconsin, and gets on a bus to a place she hopes will be all that she dreamed. She’s guided to the Spitfire, where there’s a room to stay and a job helping out.
Of course, the curmudgeonly proprietor, Hannah (Pam Nolte) warms to Percy over time. Of course the townies (Effy played by Marlette Buchanan, Caleb played by Brian Pucheu, and the Sheriff played by Fune Tautala) are suspicious, but get used to Percy. Caleb’s wife Shelby (Kelly Karcher) comes to help at the Grill – against Caleb’s wishes – when Hannah trips and breaks her leg.
When Percy finds out Hannah’s been trying to sell the Grill for years, she comes up with a raffle where people can send $100 and an essay about why they should “win” the Grill. Somehow, her advertisement finds a viral audience and they’re flooded with raffle entries. The town itself even gets some recognition and tourists begin to come. Suddenly, this downtrodden little town is feeling spiffy. And there’s a small subplot mystery about Hannah’s son (played by Chip Wood).
It's a lovely cast. The newcomer, Sarah Garcia, to our fair city makes quite a terrific impression. There’s something so naturally appealing in her as an actress (that can’t be taught) that draws your attention. Since she’s on stage almost the whole time, she “makes” the play. And when she and Karcher sing, their voices blend beautifully.
So… go and have a good time, especially if you really need a break from the horrid world events and want to participate in the collective fantasy at Taproot.

Friday, April 01, 2022

April Theater Seems Pretty Happy - Lots of comedies

Down The Rabbit Hole at Cafe Nordo (courtesy Cafe Nordo)
Theater companies seem pretty happy, this month, as many launch comedies or comedic productions. There are also a couple of world premiere works. Have you started attending again? Hope so! Everyone is still masked and checked for vaccinations, so it feels pretty safe.

Down The Rabbit Hole, Café Nordo, 4/1/22-5/28/22
Part theatre and live music, part art installation, and part dinner with drinks - guests of Down The Rabbit Hole will find themselves at a Wonderland cabaret! Watch Alice stumble into a world full of mad characters with a modern twist – here audiences play judge and jury in the court of the Queen of Hearts. During this original and immersive art experience, audiences will be entertained, they will wander, and they will enjoy whimsical food and drink, perfectly themed with the evening of entertainment. This cabaret experience has a karaoke twist! On Friday and Saturday night, guests who wish to step up to the White Rabbit’s microphone are encouraged to give their song requests to the furry footed MC – curtain call could feature YOUR rendition of a Rabbit Hole themed tune!
Ghosts, Seattle Rep, 4/1/22-5/1/22 (tour)
In a new translation ofHenrik Ibsens controversial drama, Mrs.Alvingwelcomes home her beloved son Oswald after many years away. Rebuilding her life after the death of her unfaithful husband, she struggles to keep her husband’s debauchery hidden to protect his reputation for the sake of her son. But when Oswald begins a new romance, secrets of all kinds emerge, and Mrs. Alving must decide what course to take to truly be free.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Seattle Men's Chorus Live and In Color!

Alexandria J. Henderson and Robin Henderson guest-starred with Seattle Men's Chorus

Motown and More
Seattle Men’s Chorus
March 2022
Seattle Men’s and Women’s Chorus(es) are back in person and sounding as great as ever! (I exhort you, if you’ve never gone to any of their performances and you’re part of the LGBTQ+ “family,” you owe it to yourself to get introduced to them and why they exist! They need your support!)
Like all arts organizations, the last two years have been an incredible challenge of reorganizing and rethinking how to fulfill missions and entertain people and keep going even with fewer donations and no ticket sales. This performance, if you saw it, was an exuberant re-establishing of in-person glorious song with a few laughs, a bit of choreography, and the inimitable duo of Robin Henderson and her daughter Alexandria J. Henderson as the guest stars.
It was a tight and sprightly two hours of carefully curated songs from the “Motown Era” primarily in the 1960s and ‘70s. Alexandria Henderson, as a DJ for WSMC radio, helped introduce many of the selections with a bit of history thrown in. The songs were all well-known, at least for the older crowd, and emotional heart-tuggers.
They ranged from The Marvelettes and Martha and the Vandellas, through Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gay, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and more. The evening ended on a powerhouse rendition by Robin and Alexandria of Think by Aretha Franklin, where each singer let it all sing out and the crowd danced on their feet with happiness.
The men, lead by director Paul Caldwell, seemed excited and happy to be back in front of a live audience and the audience seemed as appreciative as could be.
As life creeps back to a “normal,” the Seattle Choruses are going to back to live gala fundraisers. Their next one, sure to be a special evening of gathering with friends and associates of the Choruses in person, will be at Fremont Studios on Saturday, April 30. If you’d like to have a great deal of fun – the theme of the evening is In the Center Ring – a circus theme, and maybe find some awesome treasure in the silent or live auctions, tickets on sale here!
This will not be a sit-down dinner. It’s a cocktail party with a buffet and signature cocktails – The Highflyer and The Contortionist – along with a hosted bar.
The next concert will be Voices Rising by the Women’s Chorus, featuring Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who created some of the music that changed the world. It will be at Town Hall Seattle on May 14th and you can choose either 2pm or 7pm concerts.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Reading Is Fundamental in The Book Club Play

Maya Burton, Lauren Paris, Arlando Smith in The Book Club Play (courtesy Village Theatre)
The Book Club Play
Village Theatre
Issaquah: Through April 3, 2022
Everett: April 8 – May 1, 2022
Book clubs probably comes in all shapes, sizes, and tastes. But the stereotype is that snooty people get together to read heavy classics of hundreds of pages. Karen Zacarias, a nationally known and produced playwright, chooses to skewer just such an elitist book club to explore the idea of classic versus popular culture.
The Book Club Play, now at Village Theatre, pinpricks a lot of very current cultural tropes and pitfalls, as many of her plays do. She likes to play with racial and class stereotyping with an eye to bring it up in a way that allows us to laugh a little while we explore our internal responses. Here, she brings us Ana’s book club (Marquicia Dominguez) and shows us what happens when it’s suddenly forced to change.