“Slowgirl” at Seattle Public Theater

Could there be two more dissimilar characters? There’s Sterling, the laconic, middle-aged American lawyer who’s chosen to remove himself from life as he knew it and establish an isolated, tranquil homestead in the Costa Rican jungle. Then there’s Becky, his hyper, teenaged niece who stumbles into his world to escape for a week from something terribly unsavory back home in the United States.

Gradually, as they fumble around and make adjustments to one another, they slowly reveal their stories, and you the audience are drawn deeper and deeper into this play and all the moral issues it raises. Both characters have a backstory; both have to deal with questions of guilt and accountability.

Under Kelly Kitchens careful direction the two characters slowly peel away the protective layers they’ve built around themselves. They do it on Andrea Bush’s impressionistic Rousseau-like set where the ambiance is enhanced by subtle lighting (Tristan Roberson) and eerie sound (Evan Mosher and Andre Nelson).

sterling_becky_3_sterne_med

Kevin McKeon as Sterling and Hannah Mootz as Becky. Photo by Steven Sterne Photography.

The acting by Kevin McKeon and Hannah Mootz is stunning. McKeon masterfully creates the laid back, contemplative uncle. He’s welcoming to the unanticipated dynamo but senses there’s something terribly troubling behind her unexpected visit. Mootz personifies the somewhat clueless, insensitive, self-absorbed, and emotionally volatile teenager. She has every gesture, every toss of the head, inappropriate question, flippant response that so often typifies that age.

We learn both their stories bit by bit. Sterling has chosen this isolation in response to bad luck professionally and personally. His new life suits him. He reads and studies the wildlife. He’s made a labyrinth in a clearing, and, like the monks of old, gains emotional calm, as he follows its path.

Dense little Becky finds his life unimaginable. Practically her first words express horror at his accommodations “You LIVE in the jungle?” She’s horrified to see her uncle’s house has no doors. “Anything could come in?” Yet her discomfort dissipates and she adjusts to this strange new world.

Slowly she discloses the reason for her visit. Something terrible happened to the girl she and all her friends call “Slowgirl.” It was at a party, and she didn’t even realize they invited Slowgirl. “Slowgirl has Downs syndrome or something.” Like one of those jungle snakes she’s so afraid of, the full story of Slowgirl and the party gradually slithers into the relative peace of Uncle Sterling’s home. Now comes return to the United States for both of them.

Dramatist Greg Pierce has created a tight and compelling work, but best of all, he’s brilliantly captured teen-speak. Listening to Mootz in this role is sheer delight.

Through April 12 at Seattle Public Theater at the Bathhouse, 7312 W. Greenlake Dr. N., Seattle, (206 524-1300 or www.seattlepublictheater.org).

Moliere’s “Tartuffe” at Seattle Shakespeare

69fc7900-6d8a-41d6-92e4-58c11a58eb77

R. Hamilton Wright as Tartuffe and Peter Lohnes as Orgon. Photo by John Ulman

Moliere meets Mel Brooks in this absolutely marvelous Seattle Shakespeare production. Using the Richard Wilbur translation of Tartuffe, Director Makaela Pollock has mounted it as a 1950s romp that just never slows down.

You know the story, I’m sure. The charlatan Tartuffe, has weaseled his way into the household of the gullible but wealthy Orgon. Claiming to be a man of piety and religious zeal, Tartuffe is really nothing but a pious fraud, one scheming to steal away the gullible Orgon’s fortune as well as his daughter, but only after seducing Orgon’s wife. Not a nice guy, this Tartuffe, and R. Hamilton Wright captures his smarmy piousness combined with his insidious dishonesty.

It’s a play where physical humor is given full reign and these talented cast members excel at every opportunity to show their stuff. As the play opens, Suzy Hunt, the family’s grand dame, rules the stage. Presumptuous, acerbic, and self confident, she commands with arched eyebrows, pursed lips, and innumerable other facial contortions.

Then comes Bhama Roget as Dorine the sharp-tongued maid who may be the wisest member of this household, and who is equally gifted at nonverbal communication. Every gesture and every look add volumes to what she says.

It’s a madcap farce where everyone but Orgon, who heads the household, and his mother realize that Tartuffe is a scoundrel. Peter Lohnes as Orgon makes a fine well-to-do, well raised, too trusting, yet incredibly hard-headed dupe. Not wife nor children, nor trusted servants can convince him that Tartuffe is anything but a saintly man of God. He naively defends the scoundrel despite all evidence.

The juxtaposition of the calm and saintly fraud within a household gone mad in its attempt to free Orgon from his delusions is simply delicious. All chaos reigns as the satin-robed Tartuffe glides peacefully through the mess his treachery has created.

This is a joyous gambol. Though lighthearted as it is, it is a timely reminder that there are always charlatans among us. We do well to be on guard.

Through April 12, by Seattle Shakespeare Company, at The Center Theater in The Armory, Seattle Center, (206 733-8222 or www.seattleshakespeare.org).

“The Comparables” at Seattle Repertory Theatre

CM_7_200

Keiko Green, Cheyenne Casebier and Linda Gehringer. Photo: Alabastro Photography.

What a great set! Carey Wong has outdone himself with his sleek, ultramodern, stainless steel and glass real estate office high over the metropolis. I start this review with reference to that spectacular set because it is the best thing about this production.

Oh it’s a comedy all right, kind of like a second rate TV sitcom, sort of the feminine counterpart of Mamet’s “Glengary Gleen Ross.” Its humor centers on women at or striving to reach the top. The actors who play these roles represent their characters splendidly. It’s just that all three of the women they play are either detestable or unbelievable. They are, however, gorgeous, but surely playwright Laura Schellhardt isn’t saying that’s what you need to get ahead in a man’s world.

Linda Gehringer as Bette, the head of the agency, takes imperiousness, self-importance, and manipulation to new levels of unpleasantness. She swirls onto the stage, giving orders, treating her subordinate, Monica, as if she were an indentured servant. Bette, in Gehringer’s hands epitomizes the self-serving, always striving, tough, raging, user who creates enormous success for herself.

Cheyenne Casabier as Monica, the loyal underling, suffers through insults, near servitude stature, and long hours, and has done so for many years because she expects that such subservience will pay off and she’ll gain the top spot. She plays a realistic brown mouse until much younger Iris shows up causing Monica to undergo a dramatic personality change. And the denouement for the new Monica, meant to be the humor highpoint of the play, struck me as unbelievable and cartoonish.

Iris is the antithesis of Monica. She’s a ballsey broad who wants it all, and wants it now. She too is a manipulator and a schemer. You quickly learn not to mess with Iris as played with style and assurance by Keiko Green. I did love the subtle reminder of the age difference between Monica and Iris. Both had to take notes at one point. Monica with paper and pencil. Iris typed on her smart phone.

If this play is meant to describe the manner in which women compete in the workplace, it’s far off the mark. Numerous studies have shown female management style is, for the most part, quite different from the male style. And those of us who have worked for high-powered, high level females can attest to that. Sure there are many exceptions, and those exceptions make good fodder for TV sitcoms. If that’s the sort of entertainment you like, this is a play for you.

Through March 29, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center, 155 Mercer St., Seattle (206-443-2222 or www. seattlerep.org).

“The Flick” Produced by New Century Theatre Company

NCTC_Flick_2015_John Ulman (2)

Sam Hagen and Tyler Trerise. Photo by John Ulman

Playwright Annie Baker (born in 1981) is young to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2014, but she understands losers, people who through their own mistakes or life’s unfairness are able to do little else but plod along day after day. In this prize-winning play where her lost souls muddle through their dull lives the script also subtly addresses issues of race and class. It’s serious stuff marvelously enhanced with biting humor.

Here two disappointed young men who can’t clean up their own lives work in a seedy Massachusetts movie theatre cleaning up after the popcorn-eating, soda-spilling, and candy- wrapper-tossing patrons have left. Their colleague is a female projectionist who holds a higher status because she runs the 35-millimeter film projector, one of the few still operating in movie houses anywhere in the United States.

As these three carry out their mind-dulling, monotonous work they talk. Avery, the younger guy who has just joined the staff turns out to have an encyclopedic knowledge of film as well as his own secrets. All three are film buffs, but Avery’s extraordinary knowledge amazes Sam and Rose, and leads to friendship. These people, however, lack insight. They may be friends, but it’s a friendship in which they are oblivious to the feelings, longings, and ambitions of the others.
People who are unsure of themselves too often can’t understand others.

This is not a play about plot. It’s an exploration of human personality and relationships, and Director MJ Sieber makes sure those lost souls on stage convey both with subtlety and grace.

Emily Chisholm as Rose combines quirky with needy. In one sad but funny scene, she bewails the fact that she’s “like a nympho and then like a dead fish.” Sam Hagen as Sam is a warm mentor for Avery but his rage at his lot in life bubbles up in heartbreaking fashion when we least expect it.

NCTC_Flick_2015_John Ulman (4)

Emily Chisholm , Sam Hagen and Tyler Trerise. Photo by John Ulman

Tyler Trerise’s Avery is a lost soul seeking his path, and obsessing over movie history and movie technology. He creates for us the angst of a young man at a bad time in his life, yet the playwright gives us reason to believe that things will get better for him.

This play has been criticized for being too long. Maybe so, but so is the tedium of life, and that’s very much what this is about. And here, the playwright and this production have managed to make it very funny as well as deeply provocative. You’ll walk away with thoughts churning.

Through April 4 at 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Avenue, Seattle, (tickets at WEARENCTC.ORG)

David Henry Hwang’s “Chinglish” at Arts West

In China, signs supposedly translated into standard English are too often glaringly flawed, as anyone who has visited China can affirm. In “Chinglish,” David Henry Hwang’s robust comedy of miscommunications, American businessman, Daniel (appealingly played by Evan Whitfield), tries to sell correctly translated signs to the Minister of Culture in one of China’s smaller cities. (It has only four million people.)

The play, well directed and staged by Annie Lareau, is performed in both English and Mandarin with supertitles that translate the Mandarin into English for the audience. Young, attractive Chinese translators perform that task for the Chinese officials. Their misinterpretations are numerous and laugh-out-loud funny. Yet comic as these flawed versions are, the play also offers some thoughtful insights into the perils of international trade. Daniel soon learns, as must all American businessmen in China, it’s not only the language that’s misunderstood.

EFKMMc6eqHGmhrQk6S63jNnOkeAFz9rp8R2dEhCrYCGZQtcz9zMgQ8OZ2CtXyCNp6

Evan Whitfield (Daniel) & Kathy Hsieh (Xi Yan) photo credit Michael Brunk

Sadly, it’s all but impossible for Daniel to understand the Chinese culture. To his peril, he’s unaware of the responsibility one has to one’s relatives, the importance of tradition, and the concept of honor. That’s as hard as it is for him to capture the most simple of phrases. And that’s no easy task. For instance when he tries to say in Mandarin “I love you” out comes “Frog loves to pee.”

Ah yes there are some racy love scenes (no frogs included). Daniel connects with Xi Chan, the Vice Minister of Culture, played marvelously by Kathy Hsieh who manages to combine a frosty government hostility with a hot sexuality. The stage lights up when she’s on it.

Although playwright Hwang is far more interested in humor here rather than with character development, the actors play with sly wit, intensity, and, sometimes the inscrutability the role demands. Guy Nelson as Peter, the seemingly affable and knowledgeable British expat who Daniel hires to translate for him, makes sure you never quite know just what side he’s on. And Hing Lam as minister Cai beautifully reveals the layers of his personality as his circumstances change.

As Daniel says at the opening of this play, “One thing you learn about doing business in China is to bring your own translator.” But you won’t need any translator to enjoy this genuinely funny production.

Through March 29 at Arts West, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle, $15-$34.50, (206 938–0339 or www.artswest.org).