SPRAWL

Posted: January 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

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Washington Ensemble Theatre (aka. WET) is starting the new year in a new space with a new play by Joshua Conkel that deals with the ever-so pertinent topic of gentrification.

Performed in an over-the-top campy style, the play is basically a spoof on B-rated science fiction movies, complete with killer zombies, alien insectoids, ground-splitting earthquakes, giant explosions, coke-snorting real estate agents, domesticated gay and lesbian couples, pregnant middle-class suburbanites, bumbling cops, and a locally famous drag queen.

The show is creatively directed by WET’s Lead Producer and Co-Artistic director, Ali Mohammed el-Gasseir and features a strong cast to include, among many, Seattle’s favorite “gender-blending ‘boylesque’ sensation,” Waxie Moon (aka Marc Kenison), who gives a very funny performance in his role as the mayor’s wife.

Granted, camp is not a performance style appreciated by all, and it can be difficult to pull off, but when done well, it can result in sidesplitting laughter and brilliant insight into the follies of human nature and society in general.

Does “Sprawl” succeed in this? Yes and no. There are moments of hilarity to be sure, but there are also times when the farcical comedy lags and you find your attention drifting elsewhere (never for too long to be clear). And to be honest, the play’s themes are a bit tired and cliché, but all in all, it’s still good fun.

My biggest critique would be that the playwright should have probably focused on inner-city gentrification rather than urban sprawl. Given how the demographics of Seattle (and of Western cities, in general) are changing, where more and more over-priced condo rabbit hutches are going up incessantly, and where vacuous, high-end warehouse shops are opening every day to cater to the influx of wealthy technocrats, it seems that the real problem lies in the very kind of neighborhoods where the theatre now finds itself (aka neighborhoods like Capitol Hill). In other words, Kent is not the problem, Capitol Hill is. Unfortunately, this point is missed by the self-proclaimed “navy brat from rural Washington State” playwright, who prefers, instead, to critique suburbanites rather than looking into the mirror.

This said, I enjoyed the show; it’s serious, but not too serious; wacky, but not too wacky; slow at times, but never for too long; and it is definitely well-directed with some good performances given by the cast.

“Sprawl” plays through February 2nd at the newly opened 12th Avenue Arts Center, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, WA. For tickets and info, visit: www.WashingtonEnsemble.org or call 206-325-5105

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