Archive for August, 2013

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Brazilian theatre director, writer, politician, and founder of “Theatre of the Oppressed,” Augusto Boal once wrote: “Theatre can be done anywhere, even in the theatre.”

It can even be done in the mid-sized space located in the basement of the Seattle Center Armory known as the Center Theatre, where the good folks of Sound Theatre Company are now inviting audiences to come join in the festivities of their spectacular new production, “The Wild Party,”  written by Andrew Lippa and directed by Corey D. McDaniel.

And a wild party it is, indeed!!! So much so that it almost seems to be on the brink of breaking through the confines of the theatre and spilling out into the streets as it transports audiences back to the Golden Age of Jazz and into the 1928 New York City apartment of the party’s hosts, “Queenie” and “Burrs,” played respectively by Tori Spero and Troy Wageman.

The party favors include bottles and bottles of bootleg wine and whisky, stylishly clad flapper girls and chic dandies swigging booze, snorting cocaine, engaging in orgies, and basically just living the swinging life that is echoed in the free-spirited and libertine music that serves as the soundtrack to their lives.

With choreography by Jessica Low and musical direction by Carl Petrillo, the party pulsates with dance numbers and euphonic rhythms in which the story of a love quadrangle between Queenie, Burrs, Kate (played by Allison Stanley), and Mr. Black (played by Jesse Smith) is told in a quasi-Brechtian and operatic style.

Wageman, in his role as Burrs, is nothing short of brilliant! His strong and powerful physical presence is complimented equally by his strong and powerful voice. He gives an impassioned yet nuanced  performance as the thuggish, abusive vaudevillian clown in love with Queenie.

Spero, as well, does a fantastic job in her role.  She is voluptuous, sensuous, and completely riveting as the sex goddess who tears through men like pieces of paper and rips them to shreds; though she has finally met her match with Burrs.

Stanley and Smith also give commanding performances as Kate and Mr. Black. The mismatched couple quickly realize that it’s a no-go between them and they set their eyes on other prizes, with Kate unsuccessfully pursuing Burrs, and the mysterious Mr. Black stealing Queenie’s heart by surprise. Both have strong voices and excellent delivery.

The rest of the invitees serve primarily as the party’s entertainment; they are a cabaret of characters that include incestuous gay brothers, lesbians on the prowl, happily in-love couples, and many, many others.  Though there are too many of them to mention by name, they should all be very proud of the great work they did.

And finally, I must give recognition to the band, who do a wonderful job of bringing this musical to life.  They include Carl Petrillo on keyboards, Olivia Hamilton on bass, Kyle Doran on drums, and Jeff Evans (also on bass for the August 10th performance).

In short, Sound Theatre Company has another hit on their hands with “The Wild Party,” and I am so happy to see this theatre company become a force with which to be reckoned in the Seattle theatre scene.  Congratulations cast and crew!

“The Wild Party” is now showing August 8-25 at Center Theatre in the Seattle Center Armory, 305 Harrison Street.  For more info, visit:  http://www.SoundTheatreCompany.org.

Welcome to my new theatre review site, “Seattle Stage Revue”.  As the title indicates, I will be reviewing the latest shows performed in the Seattle area. I used to write for “Seattle Edge Magazine” and “Drama In the Hood,” but now I am going it alone. I look forward to sharing my thoughts on Seattle’s theatre scene with you!

GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES

Posted: August 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

The show opens en medias res with 8 year old Kayleen (played by Amanda Zarr) sitting alone in the school clinic, suffering from another bout of vomiting and stomach issues.

Soon thereafter, 8 year old Doug (played by Richard Nguyen Sloniker) enters with the first of many physical injuries that he will sustain throughout the course of the 30 year relationship that will ultimately ensue between these two school kids who are not-quite lovers, but are more than just friends.

She is an emotionally wounded and anxiety-ridden self-cutter; he, an accident prone thrill seeker. Together, they weave in and out of each other’s lives throughout the tumultuous years that comprise the overall dramatic structure of this play by Pulitzer Prize finalist, Rajiv Joseph, who is also the author of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.

Sensitively directed, by Desdemona Chang, this Azeotrope production, now playing at the Washington Ensemble Theatre, offers up some fine performances by both Zarr and Sloniker, who believably portray these two characters from the ages of 8 to 38.

Keeping true to the clinical feel of the play, whose action unravels primarily in school clinics, emergency rooms, mental wards, and hospital rooms, scenic designer, Deanna L. Zibello, uses hospital curtains to take the audience from one location in time to the other. Costume changes are done primarily  in full view. It is a simple, yet effective and appropriate way to stage this play, which has lots of grit and substance, but which is incomplete as is.

The characters are just not developed enough by the playwright. There are allusions as to why the two protagonists are so screwed up (ie. childhood abandonment, distanced and uninvolved parents, etc.), but not enough info on their background is given. Consequently, “Kayleen,” in particular, ends up seeming like an annoying, immature angsty teeenager throughout the entire show. And to be clear, this is NOT the fault of the actress, who does a great job, but rather a weakness on behalf of the playwright.

The other problem with the script is that it is only half finished. It stops when the characters reach the not so ripe old age of 38. But the way it is written, one would think that life ends at 38, especially in the way that Doug is written. By the end of the show, he is blind in one eye, wheelchair bound, and apparently knocking on death’s door. It’s kind of silly.

This is not to say that there aren’t some salient elements in this play; there ARE, and plenty of them, but with a running time of 80 minutes, it is obvious that the play is only half finished and is in need of revision, especially the ending, which merely dissipates into ambiguity.

But is this a show worth seeing? Indeed it is! And how unfortunate there were only 7 people in the audience on Saturday night, including myself.  Again, the acting is great; the direction and design are great; and even the playwriting is good, just not fully developed.tn-500_gpi1_lo

WE WON’T PAY! WE WON’T PAY!

Posted: August 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

Dario Fo’s 1974 political satire about a group of women who decide to raid a local grocery store in protest of the high prices and low wages that are plaguing their working class neighborhood remains as biting and pertinent today as it did when it was first written nearly forty years ago.

Fo enjoys playing with a variety of theatrical conventions and traditions in order to expose the social and economic inequalities of the contemporary world; these techniques include elements of fast-paced, slapstick-èsque physical comedy reminiscent of the Italian Commedia, simple plots and self-conscious staging methods à la the Absurdist movement, as well as a highly stylized, quasi-expressionistic performance mode that ruptures the fourth wall and breaks free from the prison of realism that dominates the majority of Anglo-American theatre.

It is truly a wonderfully composed piece of dramaturgy that is well-balanced, texturally rich and dynamic. And the director, Jane Nichols, has done an excellent job of remaining faithful to the overall spirit of the text. Her production of this Italian farce is both lively and colorful, as it incorporates a flashy, kaleidoscopic color palette in terms of  costumes and scenery, and includes some mind-bogglingly quick costume changes.

Stealing the show is Adam Standley, who plays “State Trooper et al”. Mr. Standley’s mastery of physical comedy is nothing short of amazing. He is hilarious in his various roles representing the not-so-swift Italian police force. His portrayal is a mixture of a French-like Inspector Clouseau with a Catalonian accent and decked out in Italian police garb. He gives the strongest performance in the show by far, and it would not be surprising to see him nominated for a few Best Actor awards in local theatre award ceremonies.

The rest of the cast, however, which includes Burton Curtis as “Giovanni”, Tracy Michelle Hughes as “Antonia”, Kylee Roussellot as “Margherita”, G. Valmont Thomas as “Luiggi” and Skylar Tatro as “Jr. State Trooper”, was just not on the same par as Standley. This is not to say that they did not do an OK job in their respective roles, but they just did not have the same flair and panache as he, which is unfortunate. And had they been at that same level, this production could have been a knockout because the rest of the elements are there in both the whimsical costume designs by Deb Trout, and in the brightly-colored, cartoon-like set design by Jennifer Zeyl. But as it is, the show is somewhat hindered by the majority of the weaker performers.

All in all, “We Won’t Pay” is an entertaining and thought-provoking production, however. It deals with very relevant and serious themes, but does so in a very fun and agreeable way. It is not like your typical American comedy, however, and so some may not appreciate its theatrical style, but I, for one, did.

“We Won’t Pay” is now playing at the Intiman as part of their summer festival. For tickets, see: www.intiman.org

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THE HORRIBLE LAMB

Posted: August 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

Sauer Bauer Productions has a new “blasphemous musical about the miracle of entitlement” now playing at West of Lenin in Fremont.

In a nutshell, the play follows an ambitious couple who hasn’t risen to the heights that they would like to in life, and so they set out to follow the lead of “Hal O’Luyah,” an old friend of the couple who has made a lucrative living for himself as a televangelist.

Unfortunately, the fast-moving script is clumsily written with improbable and illogical plot twists, under-developed characters and clichéd, campy humor.  The subject matter, which is primarily concerned with poking fun at outlandish televangelists (à la Jim & Tammy Faye Baker) is out-dated, uninteresting, and trite. In other words, there is nothing new or interesting about these characters or the kind of comedy that the playwright attempts to explore; “been there, done that, got the t-shirt.”

On a more positive note, the use of projections in the show is to be commended. They are often used to express a running subtext, which is a particularly effective production technique that more theatre’s should explore. The visual quality of the images was excellent and they enhanced this, otherwise, lackluster show.

Admittedly, others may appreciate “The Horrible Lamb” more than I did. Ultimately, I just found the humor to be clichéd. There was nothing new to see here for me.

“The Horrible Lamb” runs on Fridays and Saturdays through June 29th at West of Lenin in Fremont. Show times are 8pm.

Teresa Thuman and the crew at  Sound Theatre Company just keep on cranking out solid productions of well-written and well-chosen plays that not only delight but also challenge audiences. And the company’s latest show, Tom Stoppard’s two one-act plays, “Dogg’s Hamlet” and “Cahoot’s Macbeth” is no exception to the rule.

In “Dogg’s Hamlet,” a play in which English schoolboys speak the language of “Dogg” as they prepare their production of “Hamlet,” Stoppard explores some of the most innovative ideas to emerge from Linguistic Studies throughout the 20th century. In particular, drawing on Saussurean linguistics, the play dramatizes the arbitrary nature of language and the interdependence of words, context and meaning. Although the characters speak in this made-up language of “Dogg” that consists of many English words whose meanings have changed, audience have no problems following what’s going on because the language is rooted in action and gesture.

The second play, “Cahoot’s Macbeth,” follows a theatre company in Czechoslovakia who attempts to do a private production of “Macbeth” under the surveillance of a police inspector who suspects them of subversion.

Between the two plays, I would say that the first one is probably the most interesting. “Cahoot’s Macbeth” relies a little too heavily on Shakespeare’s seminal work, which makes up the bulk of the show.

This production is more of an ensemble type show and the cast that Ms. Thuman has assembled is certainly up to the task of performing these challenging one-acts.  The show is chock full of humor and physical action that keep the audience engaged and entertained.

The set design by Richard Schaefer is simple, yet effective, allowing the actors to successfully realize the physicality demanded by Stoppard’s text.

All in all, it was a good night of substantive, thought-provoking and well-produced theatre. Kudos to all involved!

“Dogg’s Hamlet” and “Cahoot’s Macbeth” play through June 23 at Center Theatre at the Seattle Center Armory, 305 Harrison St. Tickets: 800-838-3006 or on-line at http://www.bronpapertickets.com/event/362445.

OTHER DESERT CITIES

Posted: August 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

In this day and age, — a time period that has been shaped by war, recession, massive unemployment, corporate and banking scandals, as well as by the “Occupy Wall Street” movement that brought so much attention to the existing and growing economic disparity between the 1% economic elite and the 99% rest of us, — it is difficult to identify with, or have any empathy for, the characters in a play like Jon Robin Baitz’s “Other Desert Cities,” the Pulitzer Prize nominated living room drama that premiered on Broadway in 2011, and which is now playing at Seattle’s very own ACT.

Set in Palm Springs, CA on Christmas Eve, 2004, Other Desert Cities, brings Seattle audiences into the home of “Polly and Lyman Wyeth” (played respectively by Pamela Reed and Kevin Tighe), a wealthy, ‘old-guard, Hollywood B-list’’ couple, now in their golden years, and who used to hobnob with the likes of Ronald and Nancy Reagan back in their heyday.

The couple is joined by their two children: their TV-show producing son “Trip” (played by Aaron Blakely), and their liberal daughter “Brooke” (played by Marya Sea Kaminski). Brooke lives in New York and hasn’t visited her parents’ home in several years.  She has just emerged out of a severe depression, and has written a memoir that threatens to upset her parents and destroy their relationship forever.  Also rounding out the family is the very funny, recovering alcoholic, liberal aunt “Silda” (played by Lori Larsen); Silda is Polly’s sister and the two of them used to have a show together many years ago.

So on one level, it is hard to even want to care about these characters from such privileged background in times like these. And it can be even more difficult to relate to them: how many senators, TV producers, successful authors, and Hollywood actors and actresses do most of us typically interact with on a given day? But this is exactly what the playwright expects audiences to do; and he succeeds in his venture, for the most part, as he slowly unravels a story in which things are not exactly as they appear to be.

Further rendering Other Desert Cities potentially disengaging to audiences, in addition to the heavy layer of political rhetoric that infuses it, are the lofty questions it attempts to contemplate regarding the conflict that can arise between the making and sharing of ‘art’ versus the sanctity of privacy and personal relationships, between personal freedom of expression and social/familial loyalty.

In a time of stagnant wages, foreclosures, bankruptcies, lost pensions, high unemployment, crippling debt, uninsured sick, and weakened unions, there is quite a barrier to breach between the preoccupations of the Wyeth family and those of the 99%, making the playwrights task to engage audiences all that more difficult.

Judging from the standing-O the show received on opening night, I would say that he overcame this challenge quite successfully. Of course, this IS Seattle and this IS ACT, so there is a good chance that many of those in attendance that night actually could relate to this family they were watching on stage (I could not). But it was also the brilliant performances given by the cast of 5 that brought the audience to their feet.

Pamela Reed gives a convincing and complex portrayal as the staunchly conservative  family matriarch who has all but abandoned her Jewish identity and become a “Texan.”

Lori Larsen as Polly’s sister, “Silda” also gives a great performance and brings much comic relief to the tense household.

Kevin Tighe as the family patriarch, takes a little bit of getting used to at first. Maybe it was opening night jitters, but when he first came on, he seemed a bit stiff, but soon he became the likable, simple guy who had the good fortune to go from being a B-movie actor to a US diplomat.

Daughter and son were also believably portrayed by Kaminski and Blakely. In his role as Trip, Blakely also brought much comic relief to the show, and showed much range in his more dramatic moments as well.

Kaminski did a good job too in her role as the liberal daughter who threatens to expose the family in a negative light as her memoir causes to resurface some painful and disgraceful events in the family’s past 30 years before.

The set-design by Robert Dahlstrom, which was the living room interior of the Wyeth family’s Palm Springs home, was appropriately simple and elegant, consisting of off-white chaise lounge sofas and chairs, an amply stocked bar, and illuminated by a desert sky backdrop that blanketed the arid, California landscape of all those Other Desert Cities.

Other Desert Cities runs though June 30th at ACT. It is directed by Victor Pappas. For more info, visit: http://www.acttheatre.org.May 3, 2013