“Mary Poppins” Produced by Village Theatre

Cayman Ilika and Greg McCormick Allen Photo by Mark Kitaoka

Cayman Ilika and Greg McCormick Allen
Photo by Mark Kitaoka

I’ve read that technical problems plagued the opening night performance of “Mary Poppins.” Well I assure you that whatever technical problems existed then were mostly corrected later in the week. The show I saw soared, despite a couple of minor glitches. Mary flew down, then up and finally she flew above the entire audience. Even her two young charges took a turn in the air much to the delight of the entranced children and adults.

Village did well in offering their take on this favorite for their holiday show. It provides a good contrast to the more traditional Christmas shows yet suits audiences both young and old. This Edwardian story by P.L. Travers was written in the 1930s. The songs are long-time favorites, first introduced in the Disney film of 1964. The stage musical version opened in London in 2004. This production has a bit of all of them, and Village has pulled out all the stops—numerous luminous stage sets by Scott Fyfe, period-perfect costumes by Cynthia Savage, and sparkling dancing choreographed by Kathryn Van Meter who also co-directed with Steve Tomkins.

The entire cast is in top form. Cayman Ilika gives Mary Poppins an authority coupled with a smile that makes you want to do whatever she asks, and wow, can she sing. Mae Corely as little Jane and Jeryn Lasentia as her younger brother are seasoned actors who bring wonder, joy, and even a bit of petulance to their performances.

Then there’s the talented Greg McCormick Allen playing Bert, the sweep. He literally sweeps the rug out from under you with his dancing and acrobatics. Lots of good dance numbers here.

The large cast hasn’t a single weak member. From gruff Father Banks and gentle Mother Banks to the statues that come to life, the Admiral who wanders through, the flustered Mrs. Brill, and all the other minor roles. Every actor inhabits his or her role with panache.

It’s a long show, but I didn’t see any of the younger audience members wiggling or demanding to be let out. Actually, I think there was general disappointment throughout the theatre when this magical confection was over.

Through Jan. 4 at Francis J. Gaudette Theatre in Issaquah (425 392-2202) and Jan 9-Feb. 8 at Everett Performing Arts Center (425 257-8600), www.villagetheatre.com.

The Fierce Urgency of Now” Presented by Arouet

You know you’re in New York the moment you step into the small black box that is Stone Soup’s Downstage. The frieze that runs along the whole of the back wall depicts a crowded city with the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building clearly visible. It’s the Big Apple, where the advertising industry plays a major role. And this is a play about the hell that pervades so many advertising agencies wherever they are.

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Evan Louis Thomas (Kyle) and Laura Crouch (Dodo) photo by Michael Brunk

Written by Doug DeVita, this world premiere, directed by Roy Arauz, doesn’t hold back. Jealousies, back stabbing, impossible deadlines, even more impossible clients, outrageous demands, long hours! Yet within that circle of Hell, can be found compassion and friendship.

At its center is Art Director Kyle. His world is in disarray. Neil, his great love of the moment, breaks up with him, and his boss, the double-dealing, conniving, castrating Kate the Dragon Lady, is out to get him. But an angel, in the person of Dodo, is assigned to work with him, and Neil’s life changes in the most extraordinary way.

The playwright is skilled at revealing a nasty world within a script heavily dosed with humor. It’s filled with laughs. The writing is fresh, funny, and smart without striving for hilarity. It hits where it’s meant to hit.

The acting of the entire cast captures both the poignancy and humor of the play. Evan Louis Thomas as Kyle can be as feisty as a caged bobcat and as broken as yesterday’s toy. Lisa Viertel as Kate is as loathsome as the part demands. Laura Crouch as Dodo is the friend we all want to have.

It is interesting to note that the title “The Fierce Urgency of Now” is a line taken from Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Perhaps the message here is that whatever life throws at you, it’s in your interest to act, to address it. Complacency is not an alternative.

Through Nov. 22 at Stone Soup’s The Downstage Theatre, 4029 Stone Way N., Seattle, (800 838-3006 or brownpapertickets.com)

“I Never Betrayed the Revolution” at West of Lenin

Christopher Danowski’s “I never Betrayed The Revolution” places us in an unnamed Eastern European country reeling under the unjust rules of its corrupt government. Inspired by events in Poland in the late 1980s, the play, which has been under development for 25 years, addresses brutal, demoralized governments wherever they are.

Director A. J. Epstein was drawn to this work not only because of its political message, but also because, as he says, “The script is one of the finest examples of contemporary Absurdism….” This is its world premiere production realized with minimal props and set.

We find here all the components of repressive government. There are the subjugated, hungry peasants willing to fight over a single potato while they wait for promised reforms. Power resides in callous petty bureaucrats. Ill equipped politicos rise in station. The people say they are “like butterflies who must be rid of our shackles.” It’s all here. Unsurprisingly, there’s an overthrow of the government that fails to achieve its higher purpose. Hope! Expectations! And then it’s right back where it started. But now, even the cow is gone.

An interesting element in this portrayal of a timeworn tale is that the leading revolutionaries are women. But the woman who most impressed me was Kate Kraay whose main role is to walk out onto the stage, in a slinky black dress and high heels, her long black hair falling below her shoulders. Her face is a mask or solemnity. She carries a signboard. Time and again she appears, stands soberly in front of the audience, turns her sign board for all to read how much time has passed between the last scene and the next. Then she retreats into the wings as mysteriously as she appears.

The creative costumes by Sarah Mosher are praiseworthy, and the rousing Russian male-chorus military or political songs that occasionally fill the theatre provide just the right atmosphere. Overall, however, I found the production to be slow going despite the farcical elements. The Who said it all but more succinctly:

Meet the new boss

Same as the old boss.

Through Nov. 23, at West of Lenin, 203 N 36th St., Seattle, (Brownpapertickets.com or 800 838-3006).

“5 By Beckett” Presented by Sound Theatre Company

Beckett, like fois gras, is a refined taste, often savored in small bites by the cognoscenti, but a little off-putting in large doses and to those who haven’t been exposed to it. And so it is with this production directed by Teresa Thuman and Andrew McGinn.Samuel Beckett Art by Kathryn Rathke

It begins with two pantomime pieces. Both address the frustration, tediousness, and even the futility of human life. In “Act Without Words I” Ken Michels plays a man, alone in a hot desert where he is continuously tantalized. Neither shade nor water is attainable, though they dangle just out of his reach. He tries again and again to grab them, never successfully. The tools he’s been given prove frustrating to use, and eventually he gives up. It’s only then that the water and shade become accessible. Too late! Man’s fate! Michels as everyman brings both humor and pathos to the role.

In “Act Without Words II” two large sacks and a pile of clothes sit on the empty stage. But then a long prod comes out of the wings and pokes at the nearest sack. The sack tremble, shakes and from it emerges a rather disorganized man (Jon Clark) who then goes through the rituals of daily life before he returns to his sack. All is still until the prod pokes at the other sack. The man who emerges (Ken Michels) is more organized than that the first man. He too goes through the rituals of daily life, but in a much more determined manner, before returning to his sack. The actors provide a good contrast to one another, and again here make clear the humor and pathos of human existence.

The three other pieces offer similar examinations of life’s frustrations and demands. They provide moments of wry humor as they examine the sad reality of the human condition. You can’t help thinking of Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” or some of Buster Keaton’s routines that mix the funny with the dark. Unfortunately, these works go on too long, and seem to tediously drag out the action or lack thereof.

It’s not the fault of the actors. John Clark, Jose Amador, Robert Bergin, and Ashley Banker nicely round out the cast. Yet the full production didn’t work well. For me, the mistake was including all of these works in the same presentation. It’s too much of a good thing. I felt like the kid on Halloween who overloaded on candy. Here, I overloaded on Beckett.

Through Nov. 9 at the Eulalie Scandiuzzi Space at ACT, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206-292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org).

“Twelfth Night” produced by the Seattle Shakespeare Company

In this most beloved Shakespearean comedy, poor shipwrecked Viola washes ashore. She’s beached in the strange land of Illyria, but her twin brother Sebastian is nowhere to be seen. Alas, he must have drowned.

SSC_12th_Night_2014-151

Jay Myers as Orsino and Allie Pratt as Viola.
Photo by John Ulman.

What’s a poor girl to do but disguise herself as a boy and hightail it to Duke Orsino’s palace where certainly the Duke will take her/him on in service? And theDuke needs all the help he can get. He’s in love with the lovely lady Olivia who will have nothing to do with him. What if he hired Viola (now operating under the name of Cesario) and sent “him” off to Olivia as a petitioner for his cause?

Of course it doesn’t work. Olivia falls for Cesario. Cesaro (aka Viola) falls for the Duke, and what follows is a madcap tale of mistaken identity with crazy characters making considerable additions to the mayhem.

Director Jon Kretzu’s design crew has magically transformed the stage. Andrea Bryn Bush’s set and Kent Cubbage’s lighting work together to create a fairy-tale illusion. It’s just umbrellas and streamers hanging from the ceiling, but what an effect they produce!

Sadly, within this enchanted setting, the production disappointed me. Four of Shakespeare’s silliest characters appear in this play. My favorite of all of Shakespeare’s comic characters is Malvolio, Olivia’s pompous steward. His comeuppance, masterminded by Maria the maid along with the fey and awkward Aguecheek, and the conniving Sir Toby Belch can be one of the most comical scenes in all of Shakespeare. Here it isn’t. It’s funny, but not hilarious, as I’ve seen it in other productions. Costuming is key, and Malvolio dressed in golf pants fails to project the appropriate gartered effect that the script calls for. And in other aspects, Malvolio’s victimization is too cruel.

Julie Briskman shines as Maria the maid. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and she lights up the stage whenever she is on it. Another bit of good casting, combined with clever make-up and hair styling, is Allie Pratt as Viola and Christopher Morson as Sebastian, the brother who didn’t drown and who turns up near the end of the play. Their likeness to one another is uncanny, an important factor here, and especially delightful when it all sorts out in the end.

Ah romance! It always begins with illusion and winds up with reality—sometimes for the better; sometimes for the worse.

Through Nov. 16 at the Center Theatre in the Armory in Seattle Center, (206 733-8222 or wwwseattleshakespeare.org).