“Come From Away” at Seattle Repertory Theatre

Cast Photo by Chris Benin

Photo by Chris Bennion

Seattle Rep could not have imagined when they planned this year’s calendar just how apropos “Come From Away” would be, couldn’t know just how deeply it would resonate with its audiences. During a period when we are all mourning the tragic events in Paris, when we are reminded of our great losses on 9/11, comes a joyful musical that is a testimony to human kindness, generosity, and neighborliness at a time of terrifying violence and rising xenophobia.

This is the story of how the people of Gander welcomed and cared for the thousands of passengers whose planes were diverted to Newfoundland on the morning of 9/11. It’s not soppy, not designed to make you weep, though you just might shed a tear. No it’s a rollicking, upbeat musical featuring the stirring Celtic music of Newfoundland with its penny whistle, numerous stringed instruments, and the traditional Irish drum. It’s a foot stomping, hand clapping musical feast built around a poignant response to a horrifying reality.

Gander, with no advance warning, became the temporary home for four days for a population of plane passengers and personnel equal to the town’s own population. The play so beautifully reveals the enormity of the task and the creative manner in which it was carried out.

We see and even feel the gamut of emotions that overwhelmed townspeople and stranded passengers. “What’s happened? Why are we here?” “Where will we find beds enough?” “Have we enough food?” “Toilet paper! Is there enough?” And then such things as, “My son’s a New York firefighter, and I can’t get any news of his safety.”

And in the midst of the frantic arrangements, fears, and strangeness of it all, friendships are made; people come together in a spirit of good will and collaboration, even romance blooms. All the while the music reverberates through the theatre, bounces off its walls, and reinforces life affirmation in this most tragic of times.

Director Christopher Ashley has fine-tuned his cast to perform as an impeccable ensemble capable of moving with the precision of a Marine drill team. Most of the play involves the full cast as well as the lively orchestra supervised by Ian Eisendrath.

This is a co-production with La Jolla Playhouse in California.

Through Dec. 13 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, (206-443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org).

“Buyer & Cellar” at Seattle Repertory Theatre

SeattleRep_Buyer&Cellar(2015)_Scott Drummond_(C) Chris Bennion

Scott Drummond as Alex More. Photo by Chris Bennion (C)

In 2010, Barbra Streisand published a book, “My Passion for Design” picturing and extolling the wonders of her Malibu estate. In it she described the shopping mall in her basement. Ah yes, a street of shops, the sort you might find in a Disney theme park. This is true. What takes place on this stage is imagined. It’s a sort of quirky fairy tale, a whacky and wonderful one-man show written by Jonathan Tolins and featuring the highly talented Scott Drummond.

Drummond as Alex More, an unemployed gay actor, is broke. So what’s he to do but apply for the job when he learns that Barbra wants someone to serve as a sort of museum director cum shopkeeper in this underground fantasy world? Who better than an unemployed actor, a gay unemployed actor? He swears he’s not a Barbra Queen, but admits to feeling rapture at the idea of actually being in her house.

And so begins his strange and lonely odyssey which he describes in hilarious detail to the audience. Drummond plays a guy you’ve known for a long time. He immediately succeeds in becoming your good friend who’s delighted to be able to tell you this great story. He reminds you that out of work actors will grab almost anything that comes along, and what better than a job with proximity to Hollywood royalty. And he’s here to remind you that this royal being is true to herself and doesn’t hide her past or imperfections. Yes she’s from Brooklyn, grew up with a mother who withheld love, and has a big nose. Yes she’s not considered pretty, but she’s “Barbra” and don’t forget it.

She actually comes to her cellar mall and establishes a relationship with Alex. Drummond with just the turn of his head, a pursing of the mouth, and a change in posture become Barbra and effectively carries on conversations with Alex. It’s a terrific bit of acting, directed by David Bennett.

There’s a poignancy to the relationship between the gay guy and the not so pretty super star. Both have had to steel themselves against the wounds society inflicts, but this is not a play designed to explore social injustice. Yes, we’re all struggling to make perfect our world, and this hilarious, whacky, campy and absolutely charming show explores how two people attempt it.

Through Nov. 22 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, (206 443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org).

“Mother Courage and Her Children” Produced By Seattle Shakespeare

In war there are no true winners. Both sides suffer, and although there’s usually a victor, the win comes with a heavy price. So it is in “Mother Courage and Her Children” set in the 17th C. Mother Courage is a hard-nosed purveyor of goods, a canteen woman who sells foods and drinks to the army, seeking her profit, as the Thirty Years’ War drags on.

This is Bertolt Brecht’s magnum opus anti-war play. Philosophically he was opposed to the vitriol of the rising Nazi party in his native Germany, and was forced into exile when Hitler seized power in 1933. He wrote this play (with help from Margarete Steffin) in 1939 in Sweden before the German troops got to Scandinavia. From there he fled to the United States. After the war, his Marxist views brought an invitation from the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. He returned to Europe the next day.

The powerful antiwar message in “Mother Courage…” is as pertinent for modern audiences as it was years ago. So too is its equally powerful reminder of the danger of religious extremism. (The Thirty Years’ War was, after all, a conflict of Protestants against Catholics.)


Jeanne Paulsen and Chesa Greene in Mother Courage and Her Children. Photo by John Ulman

Seattle Shakespeare plays it on a bare stage dominated by Mother Courage’s wagon, which contains her goods and serves as home for her and her three children. They’ve lost their cart animals so it’s the two sons or the daughter or mother who slowly and laboriously pull the wagon behind the lines where indomitable Mama makes her sales and tries to put away her profits. There’s money to be made in wartime.

Jeanne Paulsen as Mother Courage creates a steely, no nonsense powerhouse of a character. Her Mother Courage drives a hard bargain. It matters not to whom she sells. What matters is survival and profit. No one is allowed to get in her way, and woe to any of her children who dare to cross her. Yet Paulsen’s grief when they come to harm is heartbreaking. Hers is a remarkable performance.

Director Jeff Steitzer deserves much praise for the entire production. The spare stage works wonderfully, especially with the creative sound and lighting. The supporting cast members reinforce one another in expert fashion. It’s almost unfair to single out any one for special mention, but Chesa Greene as Mother Courage’s daughter is absolutely remarkable. She plays a mute, and manages with facial expressions, body movement, and guttural sounds to articulate a vast mix of emotions.

What this play says about war and human nature is as pertinent today as it was 400 years ago. You will not leave the theatre unmoved.

Through Nov. 22 at The Center Theatre in the Armory, Seattle Center, (206 733-8222 or www.seattleshapespeare.com).



“Festen” produced by New Century Theatre Company

There are times when I am reminded how lucky I am to live in Seattle. Attending “Festen” the other night was one of those times. So much talent to produce it! Such impeccable acting! Such an overwhelming play! Such brilliant direction by Wilson Milam!

“Festen” is a tragedy on the level of the great tragedies of western theatre. Adapted for the London stage by David Eldridge, it originated in 1998 as a Danish film and is called “The Celebration” in English. Oh there’s gaiety here. It’s a celebration of the 60th birthday of the family patriarch. His wife, his children, his close colleagues are all gathered. Yet below the glad hands, the slaps on the back, and the honorifics, lies a gut wrenching evil. And one son dares to expose it when his turn comes to honor his father.

What the father had done is despicable, but, on another level, so too is the behavior of

Bradford Farwell as the father Photo by John Ulman

Bradford Farwell as the father
Photo by John Ulman

his family and colleagues who willfully ignore the revelation. They gather the next morning for breakfast. The mood is light. There are no outraged denunciations. It’s just a normal day with everyone behaving, for a while, as if nothing’s happened, kind of as the citizens of Germany did while the Nazis were carting away their neighbors. One critic has called it “moral inertia.” It’s an evil that so easily spreads through a society.

Bradford Farwell as Helge, the birthday boy is ramrod straight throughout. He smiles as he is lauded, initially shows no emotion when he is accused. Amy Thone as his wife is a body absent a soul. She walks, she sometimes talks, but there’s no there there. It’s an amazing performance of someone who has paid a heavy price for knowing but doing nothing.

Then there’s brother Michael played by MJ Sieber. He’s a loudmouthed, vulgar, misogynist who should be arrested for cruelty to his wife. But then watch his face during the accusation scene. Tears roll down his cheeks; his nose runs; he’s exhibiting what the rest of us feel, or should feel.

Connor Toms as Christian, the accuser who has been grievously harmed, shows some of the robotic qualities of his mother. His emotional reserve, which appears almost pathological, vividly proves that the wounds of his childhood have crippled the man.

Powerful theatre? Oh yes, overwhelming theatre, the kind that comes only when play, production, and the acting are outstanding. If you love theatre, don’t miss this.

Through Nov. 21, at 12th Ave. Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, (206 954-0296 or info@wearenctc.org).

“My Mañana Comes” at Arts West

Enter the kitchen of almost any up-scale Manhattan restaurant and one of the things you are bound to see is the scramble to achieve the American dream. The dishwashers and busboys are likely to be immigrants, both documented or undocumented, or they’re members of other ethnicities on the bottom rungs of society. They have dreams, hopes for a better life, but you know few will achieve them.

So it is with the busboys in “My Mañana Comes” by Elizabeth Irwin, directed here by Mathew Wright. Three Mexicans, two of whom are undocumented and an African American from Harlem work harmoniously chopping lemons, wrapping napkins and cutlery, taking out the garbage, bringing the plated dishes to the out-of-view waiters, and doing all the underling chores that keep a restaurant running.

There’s an easy camaraderie among them. Joshua Chessin-Yudin, Santino Garcia, Chris Rodriguez, and Tyler Therise fill the roles well. They move easily from hopefulness to frustration, yet always they do their jobs to the best of their ability despite the insecurities that come with their low status. Management needs them, but they need the jobs even more. There’s no safety net for the illegals and little to fall back on for the others.

Their wages plus tips are barely enough to scrape by on, yet they dream. They have ambitions, some so modest it’s almost heartbreaking because you know there’s little likelihood they will achieve even them. The system seems designed to hold them back. Any thoughtless misstep can and does bring devastating results on this stage.

The play is as much a sociology lesson as a theatrical experience. There are few dramatic arcs. Plates are run in and out of the kitchen; the floor is mopped; the place is cleaned, again and again. It’s tedious work leading nowhere for these pawns in the system. You ache for their naiveté and society’s callousness. Yet in such an environment some do figure out how to survive. Others don’t.

It’s the dialog that provides the power of the piece. Sadly I found it difficult to understand some of it, and I heard others mention the same problem. Was it the accents or the sound system? I don’t know, but I hope it can be corrected for the rest of the run.

Through Nov. 22 at Arts West, 4711 California Ave., SW, Seattle, (206 938-0338 or www.artswest.org).