“Lady Windermere’s Fan” at Taproot Theatre

Oh Oscar Wilde, your astute impressions of the British upper class seem as sharp today as they were in the late 19th Century when you wrote your plays. And I must tell you that you aren’t entirely successful at hiding your attitudes toward class and politics, but then you never wanted to, did you? Your humor, of course, is still pertinent, and your characters, with just a little imagination, could be our contemporaries. Their snobbery and marital distrust are features of our own society, yet how we love to see all this revealed, as you do it, in lives from past generations.

We’re certainly immersed in a snobbish society in this play, just as we are immersed in a society in which males were in charge (totally and absolutely). Wives were expected to be utterly faithful to their husbands just as they were expected to obey his rules. They bore his children, entertained appropriately, made the proper social connections, and, if they were particularly inventive, perhaps they did some watercolor paintings (landscapes, no nudes) or excelled at needlework. Of course they carried fans in an age before air conditioning, but those fans did much more than keep them cool. They served also to deliver subtle messages. Lady Windermere, as we see, was not as careful with her fan as she should have been.

Taproot’s presentation of “Lady Windermere’s Fan” plays out on a suitably classy, period perfect set (Mark Lund). Lund is also responsible for sound. Kent Cubbage’s lighting reinforces mood and period just as Jocelyne Fowler’s lush costumes epitomize the late 19th C. upper class English.

Directors Karen Lund and Marianne Savell have assembled a fine cast, all of whom seem to settle well into the period. This is a good ensemble whose members play off one another with grace and impeccable timing.

I happen to love Oscar Wilde. If you are unfamiliar with his work, this is a good introduction. If you know his work well, this will please you.

Through June 23 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, 206-781-9707, taproottheatre.org.

“Hand to God” at Seattle Public Theatre

“Hand to God” at Seattle Public Theatre

Hysterically funny, the funniest play I’ve seen all year, well, no, maybe in the last five years! But it’s not only funny. Playwright Robert Askins has written a wildly creative, totally unexpected, simply delightful play, and infused it with exquisite poignancy despite its irreverent humor. Kudos to Kelly Kitchens for her adroit direction of this little gem.

Here we are in a Christian church that supports a puppet club designed to reinforce the Christian message to the youth of the congregation. Unfortunately for poor, and somewhat naive, Pastor Greg (Martyn G. Krause), when Jason (Ben Burris), one of his young parishioners, introduces his hand puppet, Tyrone, things go wildly out of control. Tyrone is outrageously irreverent and impossibly behaved. To say he wrecks havoc is to understate his impact.

Puppeteer Burris is simply remarkable. He not only provides rich emotions for his human character, but at the same time controls puppet Tyrone with consummate skill and wit. Tyrone is, of course, the major character in this irreverent comedy. The puppetry is magical, and it should be mentioned that Tyrone has some of the best lines. But it’s the skill of Burris that makes Tyrone into star material.

It’s an adept cast that supports Tyrone and his handler Jason. Martyn G. Krause exquisitely captures the cluelessness and sexual hunger of Pastor Greg. Hannah Mootz brings scintillating sexual energy to the stage, and Sunam Ellis and Arjun Pande are able supporters with their own sexual interests.

For those who revel in wit and skill, this is a must see. It played on Broadway in 2015 and received 5 Tony nominations.

Through June 3, at Seattle Public Theatre (in the Bathhouse at Green Lake), 7312 West Green Lake Dr., N., 98103, Seattle, 206-524-1300, www.seattlepublictheater.org.

Towards Impressionism: Landscape Painting from Corot to Monet Now at the Frye Museum through August 5

If the Impressionists are among your favorite artists, and if you love dreamy 19th C French landscape paintings, the Frye Museum has an exhibition for you. Fifty-one glorious landscape paintings by artists including such greats as Corot, Rousseau, Boudin, Courbet, Renoir, Sisley . . . need I go on? This is an extraordinary exhibition in which most of the works are on loan from the Mussée des Beaux Arts in Reims, France. The Frye curators have wisely added to them selections from the museum’s own collection, providing the viewer with insight about the interests of Mr. and Mrs. Frye.

The Reims Museum is widely recognized as having one of the world’s foremost collections of French landscape paintings. And remember, the 19th Century was really the birth of landscape painting. During these years, artists began moving away from their studios and out into the countryside. They began experimenting with paintings of the natural world. Before this time, the vogue was for classical depictions of imagined environments. The new plein air paintings were groundbreaking, and were important in the development of Impressionism. One of the interesting aspects of this exhibition is the way it reveals that shift.

Many of these artists travelled to the Normandy coast. I was particularly captivated by two of Boudin’s seaside paintings. One shows rough waters with numerous boats fighting the wind. The other is a beach scene of well-covered ladies and gentlement gazing out at saiboats. When you go, compare these early Boudin works with Monet’s painting of the rocks at Belle-Ile. Boudin was a generation older than Monet. The contrast of their works provide a good example of how the Impressionists moved on from the landscape painters who preceded them.

Of all the artists represented in this exhibition, Corot is primary. Again, a comparison of his many works, with those of Piassarro, Renoir, and Caillebotte, reveals the evolution to Impressionism. Gradually the classical principles of the esteemed French Academy gave way, and Modernism was born.

This is a remarkable retrospective. Enjoy noting the changing style, and pay attention to the details. You’ll see tiny people engaged in daily activities, animals grazing or working, villages, and more, all embedded in lush landscapes. I doubt that you’ll ever have an opportunity to compare so many landscape painters of the 19th C. unless you visit the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Reims.

Through August 5, at the Frye Museum, 704 Terry Ave., Seattle, fryemuseum.org. (Don’t forget that the parkiing lot is closed because of constuction).

“Familiar” at Seattle Repertory Theatre

“Familiar” by Danai Gurira at Seattle Repertory Theatre

Ahh! The joys and traumas of weddings . . . happy bride and groom, fractious family members and friends. It’s a wedding and the preparations for it that welcome us on this stage. Here the mother of the bride is in charge. The father pretty much obeys, but isn’t that the way it always is with American weddings? The thing that distinguishes this from most other American weddings is the fact that this family is a transplant from Zimbabwe.

But don’t expect much African ritual and verbiage, oh no, “We’re going to be refined and modern.” Ha! Show me any American wedding where the preparations maintain a calm, civilized demeanor. What we have here is a sitcom, trying too hard for laughs, played with a fine cast of varied colors.

On the serious side, the playwright (Danai Gurira) does address the difficulties of trying to maintain a traditional culture in a foreign setting and changing world. What’s the balance between old country and new country, she asks? What and who are we? To whom do we owe allegiance?

While the issues she raises are timely and terribly important, she explores them in a work that contains riotously funny scenes. There’s a sex scene on this stage that is one of the funniest, if not the funniest, I have ever seen.

The play, itself, could have used some judicious cutting, but the direction of this production by Taibi Majar is excellent.

One suggestion when you buy tickets: I had some difficulty hearing all the dialog. Some of it is lost as one moves to the far back of the theatre. Try to sit in the near rows. The dialog is too good to miss, as are the important issues related to identity.

Through May 27 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, 206 443-2222 or seattlerep.org.

Sarah DeLappe’s “The Wolves” at ACT

No this isn’t about the frozen north. There are no Jack London encounters. Instead we, the audience, are invited to listen to a group of adolescent girls talk about maturing and the things that matter in their lives.

Director Sheila Daniels introduces her cast as the members of a girl’s soccer team slowly assemble and warm up for practice. They sit on the green turf that covers the stage, legs spread as they stretch, and stretch some more, a necessary preliminary to any action on the field in order to reduce the chance of injury. It’s also a time to let their concerns and other feelings hang out. Caught between adolescence and adulthood they haven’t yet quite come to terms with their changing bodies, or with the embarasments associated with menstruation, or with their relationships with boys. They mine each other’s experiences, learn more here probably than in any classroom or at any mother’s knee.

As the play progresses a new girl comes to town, joins them on the grass and makes her effort to join the group. We see the frictions, frustrations, and insecurities that typify maturing in our culture. We are made aware of life events, including tragic ones, but even these didn’t add intensity to the production for me.

The play received overwhelming praise when it opened in New York. It was nominated for various prizes including the Pulitzer, and it won an Obie. Here at ACT, the audience on the night I was there responded enthusiastically.

I, however, found it tedious. Whether it was the play or this production, I found myself weary of watching leg stretches and ball bounces. I’m not entirely sure what caused my lack of enthusiasm since interpersonal issues, which I usually find fascinating, were raised. Perhaps it was the lack of action other than throwing a ball around. The set was a reasonable facsimile of a high school playing field. The uniforms the girls wore were reasonable examples of school sportswear.

Given the fact that mine seems an unusual response to this play, I suggest you look it up on the internet and see what the New York critics had to say.

Through May 13 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, 206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org