“One Man, Two Guvnors” Produced by Sound Theatre Company

There’s no hyperbole in the label “the funniest show on the planet” that’s been affixed to Richard Bean’s English comedy “One Man, Two Guvnors.” Never have I heard any play generate such sustained laughter as this one does.

It’s very loosely based on the 18th C. Goldini play “Servant for Two Masters,” yet there isn’t a genre of humor that’s not cleverly woven into this script. Of course there’s a whiff of commedia del arte. but there’s also a touch of the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, farce, slapstick, pantomime and more. But there’s so much more than funny lines. You’ll find wry physical humor and clever gymnastics woven in to match the verbal laugh lines.

It’s an example of just how good the Sound Theatre Company is that it can pull this off. This is not an easy play to produce, especially in a space as small as the Center Theatre. The acting has to be superb. Many of the actors have to be gymnasts as well as thespians. Timing has to be perfect. With twelve actors cavorting around the stage in a play where physical humor is a strong component, there’s no room for sloppiness. Director Ken Michels has honed his cast to a finely polished ensemble.

The play originated in England and it needs the English accents. The cast does them well, but for American ears some of the language can be confusing. That’s the only negative issue with this wonderful production

David Roby. Photo by Ken Holmes

David Roby. Photo by Ken Holmes

I won’t even try to summarize the plot with all its complications. Of course there’s a thwarted love angle, and there’s a touch of criminality. There is music, very good music with some unexpected instruments to accompany Elijah Pasco’s piano and Jon Brenner’s bass and guitar. There are songs, especially noteworthy are those by Daniel Stoltenberg (who also play guitar) and Madison Jade Jones.

Just know that almost every aspect of this production is funny. The cast, led by David Roby, is universally good. Roby, himself, is phenomenal as he tries to serve his two Guvnors. If you love to laugh, this is for you.

Through August 27, at the Center Theatre in the Armory, at Seattle Center, (BrownPaperTickets.com).

On August 20 at 2:00 pm, the theatre is offered an autistic friendly performance. If you or a member of your family would enjoy this “Sensory Friendly” performance use the code SOUNDFRIEND at BrownPaperTickets.com

“Terra Incognita” at Annex Theatre

Annex prides itself on mounting new works by local playwrights; works such as this world premiere “Terra Incognita” by Benjamin Benne. Benne, a relative newcomer to Seattle, has gained attention at conferences and festivals around the country. “Terra Incognita” was a semifinalist in the 2014 O’Neil Playwrights Conference. His long-time friend Pilar O’Connell directs this production.

On a stark stage with little more than two folding chairs, initially, young Nadia (wonderfully played by Lillian Afful Straton) hesitantly begins her first session with the much older social worker/therapist, Sheila. As played by Gretchen Douma, Sheila is motherly but matter of fact. She’s not going to push, but she’ll get where she wants to go through quiet perseverance and wile. Douma, as does Straton, plays her character with finesse.

Both women are needy, but for different reasons. Through their interactions they are strengthened, even, perhaps freed from the past. “Old things we carry weigh us down,” says Sheila early in the play. It serves as a touchstone for the entire work.

Highlights of the production, in addition to the quality of the acting, are the scenes projected behind the actors (Leo Mayberry, Projection Designer). At one point the two women take a ride on Seattle’s Ferris wheel, and we go with them. It’s a great effect.

What was less effective for me was the “crow woman” who cawed her way to the stage at the play’s opening as deafening drumbeats accompanied her. She appears again later on. Crows, in various forms, are a metaphor for the angst suffered by Nadia. Ben Burris is responsible for the cleverly conceived crows that appear in light boxes at different points in the action. These well presented crows were a good addition.

Edgy, thoughtful, and presented by fine actors!

Through August 20, Annex Theatre, PMB 1440, 1122 E. Pine St., Seattle, (206 728-0933 or info@annextheatre.org).

“Things You Can Do” Presented by Live Girls Theatre

Global Warming as evidenced by melting Arctic ice, reduced glaciers, et al— this is the intellectual pursuit of graduate student Stevie (played by Hannah Ruwe) who knows more about climate change than she does about the interpersonal mayhem and meltdown in her own family.

We meet her as she’s rescued from a fall through thin ice. Her untimely submersion happens when she’s on a long overdue visit home. Rescued from the semi-frozen river, she’s driven to her home where, despite her mother’s efforts, the atmosphere is glacial.

Mom (Alyson Bedford) is big into good works but rather poor at parenting. Stevie’s younger sister Bella is a total mess. Bella, played with nuance and passion by Clara Hayes hates school, looks Goth, and feels rejected. Disturbed as she is, she’s a fascinating character. When half frozen Stevie shows up, all the angst, frustrations, and heartache that define each of these family members comes to the fore.

Every woman in this play, including the EMT who attended to Stevie after her submersion, is unhappy even desperate. Even more disturbing are the men, those alluded to and the one male actually in the play. He gets by being Mr. Cool and selling dope to high school kids. Jonah Martin presents him wonderfully. There’s reference to the missing father/husband who walked out some years ago. Then there’s the high school kid who perpetrates a sadistic act on Bella, contributing mightily to her psychosis. Males do not come off well.

This study of family and personal disintegration juxtaposed to the larger climate issue that’s destroying the world as we know it is a wee bit too much—too many complications, too many issues. But thanks to good direction by Meghan Arnette and good acting by the cast it contains lots of good moments.

It’s worth seeing, but hurry. The play closes on this upcoming Sunday.

Through July 31 at ACT Theatre (an ACTLab Production by Live Girls Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org).

“Daisy” by Sean Devine, a World Premiere at ACT Theatre

Pertinent! Oh my yes, coming as it does in this particular election season. ACT couldn’t have known when it selected this work over a year ago just how pertinent it would be. It is an in-depth look at the making of the unforgettable TV ad created for the 1964 election in which President Johnson ran against Barry Goldwater.

 

You know the ad. It’s the one where a little girl counts daisy petals. It ends with a nuclear countdown and massive explosion. No candidate’s names are uttered, but the message is clear. One candidate is an unguided missile, can’t be trusted not to usher in Armageddon. The other candidate is stable.

 

Most of the action takes place in the New York offices of the ad agency that created the piece, The dialog presents a realistic picture of just what goes on in those offices where the Don Drapers and creative types determine public opinion, tastes, and buying habits. It shows the initial floundering, the searching for a hook, the rancor and antagonisms that inevitably arise, the ego battles, the hard work and long hours, and the sense of triumph when a project is completed.

 

Director John Langs’ fine cast and production crew achieve good results here. Shawn Ketchum Johnson set design works well, but the outstanding element is the video backdrop designed by Tristan Roberson It consists of over 80 TVs of different sizes set in cabinet fronts from the 1960s. The effect as they play election bits and the infamous ad is overwhelming.

 

The cast gives solid performances, capturing the frustrations, excitement, and tensions inherent in their work. For me, however, there are a couple of problematic issues. I hate hearing bad New York accents, and I heard them here.

 

Kirsten Potter as the sole female ad executive gave a powerful performance but one that puzzled me. This woman is ambitious, hard working, and an idealist. Yet during the course of the play she takes credit for work that wasn’t hers. It seemed out of character. If the playwright wanted to make the point that anything goes in the ad industry, it didn’t work. I can’t tell you if the problem is the actor’s, the director’s or the playwright’s, but it is a problem.

 

So, not a perfect production but one that is amazingly topical.

 

Through August 7 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org).

“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” presented by Sound Theatre Company

Jose Abaoag as Judas. Photo by Ken Holmes

Jose Abaoag as Judas. Photo by Ken Holmes

The stage set is stunning! The play rolls back and forth between being incredibly thought provoking and very funny. The acting is superb. This is a big win for Sound Theatre Company and its director Teresa Thuman. But be warned! It is very long, over three hours the night I was there.

Here we have Judas Iscariot in Purgatory on trial for betraying Jesus to the Romans, the crime seen by most Christians to be heinous, unforgivable, sickening. It all takes place in Bryan Boyd’s brilliantly rendered courtroom (one of the best sets I’ve seen this year). And it’s made even more effective with Richard Schaefer’s lighting. The accused Judas (Jose Abaoag) sits or lies almost motionless in an open “pit” front and center of the stage while various witnesses are called to provide testimony that will help the judge decide whether or not to condemn him to eternity in the fires of hell.

This is not an easy decision to make. As the testimony comes forth the judge and we are asked to consider the ambiguities and complexities of being human. Keith Dahlgren is outstanding as the no-nonsense, slightly dyspeptic judge. Caitlin Frances as the defense attorney and Yusef Mahmoud as the prosecuting attorney are wonderful foils for one another. They play off each other with finesse. She’s uptight and serious, passionate about her cause. He’s a bit of a buffoon but a legal whiz.

And then there are the witnesses. What a collection! Shermona Mitchell as St. Monica blows the roof off with her singing and her testimony. She’s a presence you won’t soon forget! In contrast to her overwhelming life force is Eloisa Cardona as Mother Teresa. She’s humble (well sort of) and somewhat wry. And you won’t forget Ray Tagavilla’s Satan. He’s one natty dude, totally self confident. He’ll get the souls he wants. After all God gave man free will.

Among the other witnesses in this trial are Sigmund Freud, Mary Magdalene, Saint Thomas and many more. Each personality is carefully portrayed, and each portrayal brings more testimony to the case, more issues to ponder.

I wish the director had shortened the final scene. It is central to all the issues raised in the play, but its significance could have been equally powerful were it much abbreviated. That said, I rate this production highly—excellent stagecraft and acting, marvelous humor, thoughtful issues.

Through July 31 at the Center Theatre in the Armory at Seattle Center, Seattle, (www.soundtheatrecompany.org)