Archive for January, 2014

THE NORMAL HEART

Posted: January 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

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Well, this review probably won’t win me any friends, but here goes. Strawberry Theatre Workshop’s revival of the 1985 off-Broadway hit, “The Normal Heart,” though good and important, still leaves a lot to be desired.

The play takes place during the beginning of the AIDS crisis, 1981, before the epidemic had become known to the mainstream masses. The show opens in Doctor Brookner’s office, (played by Amy Thone), with emaciated, young gay men covered in lesions, worried that they have become afflicted with the still unknown disease that was invading their community.

The feisty, wheelchair bound doctor believes that the illness is spread through close sexual contact, and she urges “Ned” (played by Greg Lyle Newton) to do what he can to call attention to the problem and to encourage gay men to start practicing abstinence.

Realizing the preposterousness of such a notion as to stop gay men from having sex, Ned tries to raise awareness in the public with whatever means he can, via the media, politicians, and by seeking the support of his millionaire brother, “Ben,” (played by Rob Burgess), to help him start an organization that would work to get the word out.

In the mean time, he meets and falls in love with “Felix”, (played by Andrew Russell), a style reporter for the “New York Times,” and begins to experience, for the first time, true love.

Without getting into too much more detail, suffice it to say that Ned’s tactics aren’t always appreciated, and the play becomes more and more an issue about how best to educate the masses: does it require in-your-face aggressive campaigning, or would a more subtle approach produce the best results?

In the meantime, the numbers of the dead keep rising while the government does nothing to stop it.

Almost 30 years later, the play is still pertinent, but I don’t think it packs as big a punch as it did when it first came out in 1985. And that’s unfortunate, because I think it still could. Unfortunately, director, Sheila Daniels, didn’t really know how to update the play, to bring it to life for a new generation and a wider audience that has been (and still is being) afflicted with the disease. Essentially, what she gave us was a period piece. In other words, I felt that this production could have been the same production that was presented in New York back in 1985. The set was bare, the mood was dark, the characters were stereotyped, and really, the play stays too much on the political level rather than focusing on the human drama, the interaction between individuals. (This last criticism, of course, is a critique of the playwright, Larry Kramer, rather than the director).

But I wasn’t impressed with the staging. There was so much more that could have been brought to the show by utilizing the stages technical equipment. For instance, why use banners when we have digital projectors?! Why not incorporate advances that have been made in the treatment of AIDS since the time the play was first written? Why not bring in slides and video that contextualizes the AIDS crisis as it has played out in Africa and the rest of the developing world?  Why not be brave and re-conceptualize the original script with daring staging.

Instead, what we got was a recipe that always yields the same dish, delicious and meaty, but still nothing new.  I guess I just wanted to see a re-visioning of the play and of the AIDS crisis as it has evolved over the past 30 years from a director who refuses to be a slave to the text. (And yes, I know people will take issue with me on that, but I will always contend that the playwright does not have the last word and is not the dictator of a show).

This said, there were some good performances, and I think one of the strongest was given by Rob Burgess who played the brother. He was honest, believable, and spot on in his portrayal.

The main character, Ned, was also pretty good, but he tended to stay on one level the whole time; of course, that might be just because of the way the character is written; and also, sometimes his enunciation wasn’t very clear, making it hard to understand him at times.

But over all, it was a good ensemble. However, the technical execution was lackluster. The set was bare and merely functional. The lighting remained dark and somber, and I question the use of Pink Floyd’s, “The Wall” for all the musical interludes, even though I do like that album. To me, this was a one note production – not bad, just not riveting, and definitely not imaginative.

Note to Seattle directors: Don’t be afraid to take chances and approach things differently. Theatre is a not a boxed recipe to follow; it’s a soufflé to add to, to change, and with which to make something new. Read your dramatic theory books and question what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how you can do it differently.

“The Normal Heart” plays through February 15th at the Erickson Theatre Off Broadway 1524 Harvard Ave.  For tickets and info, visit http://www.strawshop.org or call 1-800-838-3006.

Excellence in Production of a Play

(Large Budget):

  • Trouble in Mind (Intiman Theatre)

(Small Budget):

  • Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them (Seattle Public Theatre)

Excellence in Production of a Musical

  • The Wild Party (Sound Theatre Co.)

 

Excellence in Performance as a Lead Actor

(Large Budget):

  • Jerick Hoffer — Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Balagan Theatre)

(Small Budget):

  • Jose Abaoag — Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them (Seattle Public Theatre)

Excellence in Performance as a Lead Actress

(Large Budget): TIED

  • Hannah Mootz — Bo—Nita (Seattle Repertory Theatre)
  • Shellie Shulkin — August: Osage County (Balagan Theatre)

(Small Budget):

  • Sydney Andrews — Undo (Annex Theatre)

 

Excellence in Direction of a Play

(Large Budget):

  • Valerie Curtis-Newton — Trouble in Mind (Intiman Theatre)

 

(Small Budget):

  • Desdemona Chiang — Gruesome Playground Injuries (Azeotrope)

Excellence in Direction of a Musical

  • Corey D. McDaniel — The Wild Party (Sound Theatre Co.)

 

Excellence in Performance as a Supporting Actor — any non-lead

(Large Budget): TIED

  • Eric Polani Jensen — Les Miserables (Village Theatre)
  • John Q. Smith — August: Osage County (Balagan Theatre)

(Small Budget):

  • Tim Gouran — Red Light Winter(Azeotrope)

Excellence in Performance as a Supporting Actress — any non-lead

(Large Budget):

  • Amy Thone — The Trial (New Century Theatre Co.)

(Small Budget):

  • Allison Standley — The Wild Party (Sound Theatre Co.)

 

Excellence in Performance as an Ensemble

(Large Budget):

  • Master Harold…and the Boys (West of Lenin): G. Valmont Thomas, James Lindsay, Kevin Warren

(Small Budget):

  • Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them (Seattle Public Theatre): Sara L. Porkalob, Jose Aboag, Tim Smith-Stewart

Excellence in Set Design

(Large Budget):

  • Carey Wong — Boeing Boeing (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

(Small Budget):

  • Deanna Zibello — Gruesome Playground Injuries (Azeotrope)

Excellence in Costume Design

(Large Budget):

  • Pete Rush — Rapture, Blister, Burn (ACT Theatre)

(Small Budget):

  • Candace Frank — The Wild Party (Sound Theatre Co.)

Excellence in Lighting Design

(Large Budget):

  • L.B. Morse — The Hound of the Baskervilles (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

(Small Budget):

  • Jessica Trundy — Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (Washington Ensemble Theatre)

 

Excellence in Sound Design

(Large Budget):

  • Paul James Prendergast — The Hound of the Baskervilles (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

(Small Budget):

  • Evan Mosher — Gruesome Playground Injuries (Azeotrope)

Excellence in Musical Direction

  • RJ Tancioco — Les Miserables (Village Theatre)

 

Excellence in Choreography or Movement

(Large Budget):

  • Bob Richard — The Music Man (The 5th Avenue Theatre)

(Small Budget):

  • Jessica Low — The Wild Party (Sound Theatre Co.)

 

Excellence in Local Playwriting

  • Holly Arsenault — Undo (AnnexTheatre)

 

Excellence in Local Composing

  • Jesse McNeese — The Gingerbread House (Theater Schmeater)

JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA

Posted: January 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA

So, I had waited nearly 12 years to see a production of “Jerry Springer: The Opera” now playing at the Moore Theatre.

I first heard about the show when it made its début at the Scottish Fringe Festival in Edinburgh back in 2002, and I immediately fell in love with its creative concept of marrying high art to the lowest of low brow television.

Of course, the show’s “irreverence” meant that most theater companies in good old puritanical USA wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole, or in this case with a ten foot pole that has a barbed-wire covered dildo attached to the end of it! And so that meant waiting a l-o-o-o-o-n-g time to get my chance finally to see what, conceptually at least, sounded like a raucous good time.

But thanks to the ballsy Balagan Theatre Company & STG, I got my opportunity to have my “Jerry Springer moment,” and all I can say is that it lived up to, and even exceeded, my expectations!

You see, after 12 years, I had become a bit wary of the show’s staying power. The world has changed a lot in the last decade, and with the explosion of digital media and technology making every thing under the sun visible and accessible to us via computer, phone, or iPad, I had my doubts as to the show’s ability to pack the irreverent punch it once had.

In other words, would today’s 24 hour access to porn, sleaze, and generally debauchery in a variety of digital modalities render the shock value of this lowbrow opera less shocking 12 years later? Would the hipster-created, irony-loving, Honey-boo-boo pop culture world in which we now live make this show seem boring and old-fashioned by today’s standards?

The answer would be a resounding “NO!”  The show is still every bit as racy, smart-in-a-dumb-way, and wildly entertaining as it was when it was first conceived!
(Insert video of me with my arm circling in the the air screaming “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!” here __________.)

With songs like “I’ve Been Seeing Someone Else,” “Chick With a Dick”, “Talk to the Hand,” “Mama Gimme Smack on the Asshole,” and “Every Last Mother Fucker Should Go Down,” what’s NOT to love?! This is EXACTLY what modern theatre and opera should be! — not taking itself so seriously as it seriously explores the depravity of modern American society.

And even more beautifully, it doesn’t necessarily condemn this society or shows like that of Jerry Springer to which society has given birth. If anything, it offers an exaltation of the beauty of humanity, in all of it glory and misery, much like Baudelaire tried to do in the 19th century when he wrote his famous book of poetry, “Les Fleurs du Mal” (Translation: “The Flowers of Evil.”).

By and large, director, Shawn Belyea, did a great job handling this large cast. Granted, the Moore theatre is not the best venue for such a production, as its proscenium stage seems to suck the action up into a vacuum, thus impeding what could have been, and should have been, a much more ‘audience interactive’ show. But Belyea’s blocking and choreography, especially with the Jerry-Springer-audience-chorus, was well done.

As for the performers, admittedly, there was some unevenness. As others have mentioned, the women had far superior voices to the men over all, and Megan Chenovick as “Peaches/Baby Jane” was absolutely brilliant! Her voice was angelic and totally stood out from most of the rest of the cast. Jennifer Bromagen as “Zanda/Irene/Mary” also had a very powerful voice.

Brandon Felker did an OK job as the title character, “Jerry,” but I think many other actors could have done a better imitation of the talk show host. And Sean Nelson was a bit lack luster in his role as “Satan.” Also, Kevin Douglass as “Montel/Jesus” did a fine job, but his voice was no match to the ladies.

As I said, however, I loved the show primarily because of its concept. Granted, the first act, which is basically an episode of “The Jerry Springer Show,” is much more interesting and entertaining than the second act where Jerry is sent to hell after having been shot in the chest by one of his audience members. But all in all, the laughs keep coming all the way through.

I do wish, however, that lighting designer, Ahren Buhmann, had been a bit more creative  with the scenes that took place in hell, and especially during the video game war between Satan & God. That was a missed opportunity to do some really fun special effects.

In short, I suggest that everyone stop taking themselves so seriously and go have their “Jerry Springer Moment!”

“Jerry Springer: The Opera” plays through January 26 at the Moore Theatre, 1932 2nd Ave. For tickets and info, visit STGpresents.org or call 877-784-4849.

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I’ve been out of town for a few days and so, I’m a little late in posting this, but here is the full list of Gypsy Award nominees for all categories. Congratulations to all nominees! Winners will be announced soon!

The nine Seattle theater writers and reviewers that participated in this year’s slate include: Jose Amador (Seattle Star), Alice Kaderlan (Feet First), Rosemary Jones (The Examiner), me (Miryam Gordon), Jerry Kraft (Seattle Actor), Nancy Worssam (Arts Stage/Seattle Rage), Michael Strangeways (Gay Seattle Scene), Dusty Somers (Blogcritics) and Scott Taylor (Seattle Stage Revue). All members see and review a significant number of performances throughout the year in order to recommend nominees for excellence in theater.

Excellence in Production of a Play 

(Large Budget):

August: Osage County (Balagan Theatre)

She’s Come Undone (Book It Repertory Theatre)

The Taming of the Shrew (Seattle Shakespeare Co.)

The Trial (New Century Theatre Co.)

The Whipping Man (Taproot Theatre)

Trouble in Mind (Intiman Theatre)

 

(Small Budget):

Bengal Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo (Washington Ensemble Theatre)

Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them (Seattle Public Theatre)

Gruesome Playground Injuries (Azeotrope)

The Gingerbread House (Theater Schmeater)

Undo (Annex Theatre)

 

Excellence in Production of a Musical

Altar Boyz (Seattle Musical Theatre)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Balagan Theatre)

Les Miserables (Village Theatre)

The Music Man (The 5th Avenue Theatre)

The Wild Party (Sound Theatre Co.)

 

Excellence in Direction of a Play

(Large Budget):

John Kazanjian — The Walworth Farce (New Century Theatre Co.)

M. Burke Walker — Master Harold…and the Boys (West of Lenin)

Scott Nolte — The Whipping Man (Taproot Theatre)

Shawn Belyea — August: Osage County (Balagan Theatre)

Valerie Curtis-Newton — Trouble in Mind (Intiman Theatre)

 

(Small Budget):

David Gassner — Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them (Seattle Public Theatre)

Desdemona Chiang — Gruesome Playground Injuries (Azeotrope)

Erin Kraft — Undo (Annex Theatre)

Kelly Kitchens — The Understudy (Seattle Public Theatre)

Michael Place — Bengal Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo (Washington Ensemble Theatre)

 

Excellence in Direction of a Musical

Bill Berry — The Music Man (The 5th Avenue Theatre)

Corey D. McDaniel — The Wild Party (Sound Theatre Co.)

Steve Tomkins — Les Miserables (Village Theatre)

 

Excellence in Performance as a Lead Actor (Male)

(Large Budget):

Greg Stone — Les Miserables (Village Theatre)

G. Valmont Thomas — Master Harold…and the Boys (West of Lenin)

Jerick Hoffer — Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Balagan Theatre)

Peter Crook – The Walworth Farce (New Century Theatre Co.)

Sean G. Griffin — Sugar Daddies (ACT Theatre)

William Hall Jr. — The Whipping Man (Taproot Theatre)

 

(Small Budget):

Jose Abaoag — Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them (Seattle Public Theatre)

Mark Fullerton — Soft Click of a Switch (MAP Theatre)

Mike Dooly — The Understudy (Seattle Public Theatre)

Richard Nguyen Sloniker — Gruesome Playground Injuries (Azeotrope)

Troy Wageman — The Wild Party (Sound Theatre Co.)

 

Excellence in Performance as a Lead Actor (Female)

(Large Budget):

Emily Chisholm — Sugar Daddies (ACT Theatre)

Hannah Mootz — Bo—Nita (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

Jocelyn Maher — She’s Come Undone (Book It Repertory Theatre)

Shellie Shulkin — August: Osage County (Balagan Theatre)

Tracey Michelle Hughes — Trouble in Mind (Intiman Theatre)

 

(Small Budget):

Mariel Neto — Red Light Winter (Azeotrope)

Mary Ewald — Homebody (New City Theater)

Sara L. Porkalob — Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them (Seattle Public Theatre)

Sarah Coates — The Gingerbread House (Theater Schmeater)

Sydney Andrews — Undo (Annex Theatre)

Tori Spero — The Wild Party (Sound Theatre Co.)

 

Excellence in Performance as a Supporting Actor (Male) — any non-lead

(Large Budget):

Adam Standley  — We Won’t Pay! (Intiman Theatre)

Eric Polani Jensen — Les Miserables (Village Theatre)

G. Valmont Thomas — Trouble in Mind (Intiman Theatre)

Trick Danneker — Financial Lives of Poets (Book—It Repertory Theatre)

John Q. Smith — August: Osage County (Balagan Theatre)

 

(Small Budget):

Ben Wynant — Floyd Collins (STAGEright Theatre)

Brandon Ryan — A Behanding in Spokane (Theater Schmeater)

Erwin Galan — Bengal Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo (WET)

Tim Gouran — Red Light Winter (Azeotrope)

Tim Smith-Stewart — Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them (Seattle Public Theatre)

 

Excellence in Performance as a Supporting Actor (Female) — any non-lead

(Large Budget):

Amy Thone — The Trial (New Century Theatre Co.)

Cynthia Lauren Tewes — Good People (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

Jayne Muirhead — James and the Giant Peach (Seattle Children’s Theatre)

Priscilla Lauris — Rapture, Blister, Burn (ACT Theatre)

Suzy Hunt — Grey Gardens (ACT Theatre/The 5th Avenue Theatre)

 

(Small Budget):

Allison Standley — The Wild Party (Sound Theatre Co.)

Chelsea LeValley — Floyd Collins (STAGEright Theatre)

Elinor Gunn — Holiday of Errors (Sound Theatre Co.)

Libby Barnard — 25 Saints (Azeotrope)

Lori Stein — Beating Up Bachman (Radial Theatre Co.)

 

Excellence in Performance as an Ensemble

(Large Budget):

August: Osage County (Balagan Theatre)

Master Harold…and the Boys (West of Lenin)

Middletown (ACT Theatre)

The Walworth Farce (New Century Theatre Co.)

The Whipping Man (Taproot Theatre)

 

(Small Budget):

Altar Boyz (Seattle Musical Theatre)

Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them (Seattle Public Theatre)

Floyd Collins (STAGEright Theatre)

Holiday of Errors (Sound Theatre Co.)

The Understudy (Seattle Public Theatre)

 

Excellence in Set Design

(Large Budget):

Andrea Bryn Bush — Love’s Labours (Seattle Shakespeare Co.)

Carey Wong — Boeing Boeing (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

Jennifer Zeyl — The Trial (New Century Theatre Co.)

L.B. Morse — The Hound of the Baskervilles (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

Nina Moser – The Walworth Farce (New Century Theatre Co.)

Scott Fyfe — Les Miserables (Village Theatre)

 

(Small Budget):

Clare Strasser & Montana Tippett — reWilding (Satori Group)

Deanna Zibello — Gruesome Playground Injuries (Azeotrope)

Richard Schaefer — The Understudy (Seattle Public Theatre)

Richard Schaefer — The Wild Party (Sound Theatre Co.)

Tommer Peterson — Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (Washington Ensemble Theatre)

 

Excellence in Costume Design

(Large Budget):

Catherine Hunt — James and the Giant Peach (Seattle Children’s Theatre)

Frances Kenny — Boeing Boeing (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

Karen Ann Ledger — Chicago (Village Theatre)

Kimberley Newton — The Trial (New Century Theatre Co.)

Pete Rush — Rapture Blister Burn (ACT Theatre)

 

(Small Budget):

Candace Frank — The Wild Party (Sound Theatre Co.)

Doreen Sayegh — Undo (Annex Theatre)

 

Excellence in Lighting Design

(Large Budget):

Alex Berry — Other Desert Cities (ACT Theatre)

Geoff Korf — The Trial (New Century Theatre Co.)

LB Morse — Boeing Boeing (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

L.B. Morse — The Hound of the Baskervilles (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

Tom Sturge — Les Miserables (Village Theatre)

 

(Small Budget):

Andrew D. Smith — 25 Saints (Azeotrope)

Chris Frickland — Altar Boyz (Seattle Musical Theatre)

Richard Schaefer — The Understudy (Seattle Public Theatre)

Richard Schaefer — The Wild Party (Sound Theatre Co.)

Jessica Trundy — Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (Washington Ensemble Theatre)

 

Excellence in Sound Design

(Large Budget):

Matt Starritt — The Financial Lives of Poets (Book It Repertory Theatre )

Paul James Prendergast — The Hound of the Baskervilles (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

Robertson Witmer — The Trial (New Century Theatre Co.)

 

(Small Budget):

Evan Mosher — Gruesome Playground Injuries (Azeotrope)

Joshua Blaisdell — The Wild Party (Sound Theatre Co.)

Robertson Witmer — Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (Washington Ensemble Theatre)

 

Excellence in Musical Direction

Carl Petrillo — The Wild Party (Sound Theatre Co.)

Joel Fram — The Music Man (The 5th Avenue Theatre)

RJ Tancioco — Les Miserables (Village Theatre)

 

Excellence in Choreography or Movement

(Large Budget):

Bob Richard — The Music Man (The 5th Avenue Theatre)

James Rocco — The Pirates of Penzance (The 5th Avenue Theatre)

Kathryn Van Meter — Xanadu (Village Theatre)

 

(Small Budget):

Jessica Low — The Wild Party (Sound Theatre Co.)

Troy Wageman — Altar Boyz (Seattle Musical Theatre)

 

Excellence in Local Playwriting

David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright — The Hound of the Baskervilles (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

Elizabeth Heffron — Bo-Nita (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

Frank Lawler and Daniel Flint — Holiday of Errors (Sound Theatre Co.)

Holly Arsenault — Undo (Annex Theatre)

Kelly Kitchens — Adaptation of She’s Come Undone (Book It Repertory Theatre)

 

Excellence in Local Composing

Annastasia Workman — Smoked (Café Nordo)

Gretta Harley & Sarah Rudinoff — These Streets (Harley Productions)

Jesse McNeese — The Gingerbread House (Theater Schmeater)

 

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Excellence in Performance as a Supporting Actor (Male) — any non-lead

(Large Budget):

Adam Standley  — We Won’t Pay! (Intiman Theatre)

Eric Polani Jensen — Les Miserables (Village Theatre)

G. Valmont Thomas — Trouble in Mind (Intiman Theatre)

Trick Danneker — Financial Lives of Poets (Book—It Repertory Theatre)

John Q. Smith — August: Osage County (Balagan Theatre)

(Small Budget):

Ben Wynant — Floyd Collins (STAGEright Theatre)

Brandon Ryan — A Behanding in Spokane (Theater Schmeater)

Erwin Galan — Bengal Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo (WET)

Tim Gouran — Red Light Winter (Azeotrope)

Tim Smith-Stewart — Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them (Seattle Public Theatre)

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Excellence in Lighting Design

(Large Budget):

Alex Berry — Other Desert Cities (ACT Theatre)

Geoff Korf — The Trial (New Century Theatre Co.)

LB Morse — Boeing Boeing (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

L.B. Morse — The Hound of the Baskervilles (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

Tom Sturge — Les Miserables (Village Theatre)

(Small Budget):

Andrew D. Smith — 25 Saints (Azeotrope)

Chris Frickland — Altar Boyz (Seattle Musical Theatre)

Richard Schaefer — The Understudy (Seattle Public Theatre)

Richard Schaefer — The Wild Party (Sound Theatre Co.)

Jessica Trundy — Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (Washington Ensemble Theatre)

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Excellence in Choreography or Movement

(Large Budget):

Bob Richard — The Music Man (The 5th Avenue Theatre)

James Rocco — The Pirates of Penzance (The 5th Avenue Theatre)

Kathryn Van Meter — Xanadu (Village Theatre)

(Small Budget):

Jessica Low — The Wild Party (Sound Theatre Co.)

Troy Wageman — Altar Boyz (Seattle Musical Theatre)