Archive for March, 2014

ROYAL BLOOD

Posted: March 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

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The first thing you will notice when you enter the house of West of Lenin to see the latest production of “Royal Blood” is the amazing transformation that has taken place in the small space.

Gone are the small, uncomfortably padded seats stacked tightly together on dubious high risers that perch above the stage below. Instead, audiences are welcomed into what feels like the seating area of an English garden, with various types of chairs (adirondack, folding, wicker, etc.) from which to enjoy the show.

Scenic Designer, Jennifer Zeyl, has raised and extended the stage to set the scene just outside of the home of Cliff and Deb, (played respectively by Todd Jefferson Moore and Amy Love), an aging, cantankerous widower and his 42 year old special needs daughter.

As the play opens, Deb comes bouncing out of the house to greet the day with a flower watering can in hand while light music plays in the background. Pouring the water into the pots as she walks, she heads toward the little plot of grass placed just behind the white picket fence and begins to dig a hole in the ground with the shovel that has been propped up against the wall. It is soon learned that she is digging a grave for her dog, Lady Di, that has just died.

Strolling up to the house, and freshly back from Europe, comes Dorothy (played by Mari Nelson), Deb’s older sister. She is a chicly clad journalist, sporting a fashionable hat and dark sunglasses. She is divorced and has pursued her moderately successful career at the cost of her family. She is back in town to deal with the death of her gay brother who has just committed suicide; additionally, she hopes to persuade her dying father to allow her to have Deb admitted into a home where she will be taken care of after his death.

Rounding out the list of characters is Cassiopeia (played by Nicole Merat), Dorothy’s 16 year old daughter, and Adam (played by David Hsieh), the Asian-American neighbor/friend-of-the-family/ and former lover of Dorothy’s now deceased brother.

Scenographically speaking, I was very impressed with the high quality of the stage design. It surpasses all other set designs that I have ever seen from any other show at West of Lenin. (And the investment in what appeared to be a new lighting system was a good move!)

Additionally, I was equally impressed with the casting decisions, – as this family really did look like a family; and it is a very strong cast! Moore gives the strongest performance in his role as Cliff, the family patriarch, but Nelson and Love are convincing in their roles as well. Merat, who plays Cassiopeia, brings a lot of energy and some much needed comic relief in her role as the Dorothy’s daughter.

Thus, in terms of production qualities, “Royal Blood” ranks rather high in my opinion, but my biggest problem with the show is the script itself. To me, it seemed like two hours of exposition for the most part. I never really felt like I understood this family and who they were, and I DON’T think this was the actors’ fault.

There were just too many plots and subplots going on: a dead brother, a dying father who is also racist and emotionally abusive, a special needs adult, a career-obsessed mother, a sexually active runaway teenager, and a gay Asian neighbor whose lover just committed suicide. It was all just a little too much in terms of thematic material, and just could not be adequately handled by the playwright in one 2-hour piece.

There is certainly potential in the script, (ie. good ideas, good dialogue, etc.), but some editing and revisions are in order, especially in terms of fleshing out the details between the dead brother and the lover/neighbor; their whole relationship remains unclear to me.

“Royal Blood” plays through April 4th at West of Lenin, 203 N. 36th St. For tickets and info, visit http://www.OnwardHoProductions.com

THE SUIT

Posted: March 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

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Legendary film and theatre director, Peter Brook, best known for his minimalist, collaborative-driven, and physically-oriented style of directing that broke all of the traditional rules of theatre, along with co-adapters, Marie-Hélène Estienne and Franck Krawczyk, have brought South African writer, Can Themba’s, short story, “The Suit,” to the Seattle Repertory stage.

The play tells the story of a black couple (played by Ivanno Jeremiah as the husband and Nonhlanhla Kheswa as his wife) living in South Africa during the time of apartheid. When the husband finds out that his wife has been cheating on him with another man, he requires, as a punishment, that she pay respect and honor to her lover by taking care of her lover’s suit, which he left behind while hastily fleeing the couple’s house after having been discovered by the husband who came home to find his wife in bed with the other man.

The husband requires that they have meals with the suit propped up at the dinner table, that they take walks with the suit through town, that the suit remain in their bedroom, well taken care of by the wife, so as to serve as a reminder of her infidelity. But any sympathy that we feel for the husband is quickly erased by the humiliation and control he comes to exert over his wife; his cruelty and inability to forgive ultimately lead to the demise of his wife, and by default, his marriage.

Thus, “The Suit” presents audiences with a relatively simple story about betrayal, forgiveness, and control. It is set to music that adds much to an otherwise minimalistic plot-line and staging. The set consists primarily of chairs and wardrobe racks that can be easily used and manipulated to become symbols of other objects (ie. doors, beds, closets, etc.) The costumes (designed by Oria Puppo) also maintain the minimalist aesthetic. In short, the focus here is on the acting, the music, and the storyline more than it is on stagecraft, and the show does excel in this domain.

The actors and musicians are all on their mark and deliver strong performances, especially that of Kheswa, who plays the wife. The musicians (Arthur Astia, Mark Christine, and Mark Kavuma) were also an added benefit in their musical roles as well as when taking on the roles of secondary characters. And the two male leads (Ivanno Jeremiah and Jordan Barbour) were also equally good.

Personally, I enjoyed the show. It was short, simple, and well-executed. The story, itself, is a bit lackluster and somewhat difficult to understand in terms of what it is trying to say, but overall, this is a good traveling production that would probably play better on college campuses, in ways, more than it would in large, professional houses. I say this, simply because of the directorial style, which as I said, is very minimalist and overtly symbolic. But with a short running time of only 75 minutes, the play clips along quite nicely so that one never loses interest despite the underwhelming story and staging.

“The Suit” plays through April 6 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer Street. For tickets and info, see http://www.seattlerep.org or call 206-443-2222.