“Do no harm,” probably the most important rule in all of medicine. “Do no harm!” Sadly, sometimes the best efforts and the most up to date knowledge do result in harm. Not often, but so heartbreaking when it happens.
“Roz and Ray” begins in the early 1980s, a time when the AIDS epidemic was in its infancy, a time when good-hearted individuals, unaware of the infection growing in their own bodies, met the call to civic service by donating blood. At this time the medical community, thankful to have the “life-saving” blood supply, was ignorant of the presence of the deadly virus contained in the transfusions or blood products they administered. Lives were saved initially but the blood recipients were likely doomed to develop AIDS and die.
This is the tale of a devoted single father, Ray, (Teagle F. Bougere) whose two sons have hemophilia. Ray commits his life to their well being and places his sons under the care of the gifted pediatrician, Dr. Roz Kagan, (Ellen McLaughlin) whose specialty is hematology. The boys are kept alive by regular injections. Bougere and Kagan play well off one another, each displaying an intensity and humanity that is visceral.
Director Chay Yew offers us a taut play where both characters are obsessed, he with the care and nurturing of his sons, she with the care and healing of all her patients. It’s that dedication, that intense preoccupation and commitment that is truly the heart of this play. Roz and Ray develop a romantic relationship, but I wish they hadn’t. It seemed a little too predictable and, for me, drew attention away from the core plot line,
Though Bougere’s acting is commendable, he has to play a somewhat contradictory character. Late in the play are revelations about his own sexual preferences that seem like an unnecessary add-on. So too are his screaming rants about the doctor. Maybe a little rethinking of that character would make this powerful tale of devotion and perseverance, of hope and dashed expectations even better.
Kudos to Scenic Designer Tim Mackabee who fills the back of the stage with a marvelous wall of wheelchairs, bikes, toys, cribs, bunk bed parts, all painted white in a giant collage.
Playwright Karen Hartman is a local author. Seattle Rep has nurtured the play, and this production is its world premiere, though it is due to open in Chicago early in 2017.
Through Nov. 13 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle (206 443-2222 or seattlerep.org).
As the current presidential election moves into its final weeks, Taproot offers us a play about how religion has become an increasingly important factor in American politics. Must our candidates profess a faith (mainstream, of course) and act as if they shared the belief in God that is held so dear by the majority of our citizens?
In “The God Game” written by Suzanne Bradbeer and directed here by Carol Roscoe, we meet upstanding Tom, a really good man, a fine husband and father, and the well-respected Junior Senator from Virginia. The presidential election is coming up, and the anticipated Republican nominee has sent his emissary, Matt, to Tom’s house to see if Tom will serve as the Vice Presidential candidate on the ticket.
Tom, strongly played by David Drummond, appears to be the ideal candidate. He is indeed respected; his reputation is impeccable; his legislative history stands up well; he’s handsome and has a pretty wife involved in charitable works. But Tom has a flaw! One he never talks about. No one but his wife knows that he doesn’t believe in God.
Though he initially rejects the idea of running, the more he thinks about it, the more it appeals to his ego and his sense of duty. Why not? He doesn’t have to talk about his lack of faith. He can finesse questions, maybe make show appearances at church as so many politicians do. “Of course you can.” encourages Matt (Cobey Mandarino) who just happens to be Tom’s good and long standing friend. But such behavior is abhorrent to his wife, the true believer. Thus plays out the conflict at the center of this play.
The acting is excellent. Drummond’s Tom makes a very believable metamorphosis from “No way” to enthusiastic acceptance of the idea. Nikki Visel captures all the devotion of a truly loving wife, just as she rails against any deceptive religious behavior. The two play off each other with finesse and powerful emotion.
Meanwhile their old friend Matt is totally likable, totally tied to them both emotionally, yet in a way he is the devil who leads Tom away from integrity. We the audience are witness to powerful acting by all three characters.
What didn’t work as well for me were coincidences within the script that stretched credulity—Lisa’s all too perfect charitable work, Matt’s deep history with the couple juxtaposed to his role as the presidential candidate’s aide de camp, the couple’s ability to sustain a “perfect” marriage despite the religious issue. It’s just a little too pat.
But the issues raised are so thought provoking and the production (acting, set, lighting) so compelling, you can put aside the forced coincidences and just enjoy the performances and consider the issues the play raises.
Through Oct. 29 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, (206 781-9705 or taproottheatre.org).
If you like powerful theatre, do yourself a favor and get tickets to this production. The play is a theatre classic, and Arts West’s production is simply extraordinary. Under the direction of Mathew Wright, the company has done everything right with it.
“Ghosts” was first staged in 1881, interestingly in Chicago, by a touring Danish company. It’s the story of a dutiful upper middle class, 19th C. wife, who endured marriage with a narcissistic, philandering, syphilitic husband who, at the time of the play, is dead. Her life has been a misery. She wanted desperately to leave the monster. Ah, but the local minister, locked in the mindset of the time and his religion, consistently reminded her of her wifely duty and the danger of scandal and its effect on her son. So she stayed. We meet them both when that same minister is advising her, about the orphanage she established with her dead husband’s money. When her beloved son returns home, her tragedy intensifies. Here the sin of the father is visited on his offspring.
The play takes place in the round, and Shawn Ketchum Johnson’s period set uses the space beautifully. Alyssa Milone’s lighting design is carefully conceived to heighten emotion. Together they amplify the actions that Ibsen placed on stage as he explored the dark side of the middle class. Not interested in kings or queens, he dove into the religion, morality, ideology, struggles, and pretenses of that vast segment of post-industrial society—the upper middle class. He asks his audiences to review their own lives, to take note of how they are trapped by convention.
So it’s powerful stuff we have on this stage, and it demands powerful acting. We get it, especially in the role of Helene, the trapped wife, as played by the sublime Suzanne Bouchard. Her Helene is breathtaking. Elegant and gracious, she’s a tormented soul. She’s a gentle and adoring mother when her son returns home after a long absence. She’s crazed when catastrophe disrupts her dreams. Here’s an actor who is the master of nuance and emotion.
John Coons as the needy son forces us to empathize completely with him. You’ll be strongly affected by his later scenes! Noah Racey epitomizes the know-it-all minister who seems more driven by moralistic interpretation than human kindness or insight. Sophia Franzella makes a most efficient and unobtrusive servant, and Paul Shapiro rounds out the cast and hides his secret very well.
This is a remarkably good production of a truly superb play. Put it on your calendar.
Through Oct. 23 at Arts West, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle, (206 938-0339 or artswest.org).
The joyful noise that this theatre piece concerns is George Frederick Handel’s “Messiah,” one of the most beloved and best-known musical works in Western culture. While so many of us have sung part or all of it at some time in our lives and so many others have enjoyed its music, I’d be willing to guess that few of us know the furor that accompanied its first presentation in London in the 18th Century. That furor is the fascinating tale that plays out right now on Taproot’s stage.
Handel was considered one of Europe’s leading composers in the early to mid 18th Century, and the English king, George II, especially revered him. German George, of Hanover descent, had a special fondness for all things German and couldn’t wait to hear Handel’s new oratorio that was scheduled to open in one of London’s most popular theatres.
Ah! But he hadn’t taken into account the furor it’s upcoming presentation raised within the church. The leading clergy considered it blasphemous that a religious work would be presented in a theatre. Theatres were places of bawdy, funny, somewhat lewd performances, not holy venues. The church hierarchy was determined to stop the show before it began. Not only was the venue inappropriate, but also the featured contralto, though a brilliant soloist, had a scandalous past.
Director Scott Nolte has assembled an outstanding cast in this tale of church vs. state, professional jealousy, genius, heartbreak, and ultimately triumph. There’s not a weak member on stage. I especially loved the wonderful German accent and wry mannerisms of Frank Lawler as King George. Jim Gall as Handel gave his character all the dignity, stature, and emotional turmoil the part demanded. Molli Corcoran and Allison Standley as feuding singers brought angelic voices to the production as well as fierce competitiveness.
Pam Nolte excels at playing English dowagers or busybodies. Here she was a bit of both. William Kumma as the Bishop who is determined to force the king to cancel the presentation has all the smarminess the part demands.
And if you love the elaborate, sumptuous dress of the early 18th Century, you’ll love Nanette Acosta’s costumes.
Lush! That’s a good word for this production.
Through Oct. 22 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, (206 781-9707 or Taproottheatre.org).
Bellevue Arts Museum is now offering an exhibition of Kara Walker’s work, especially her phenomenal, provocative, in-your-face silhouettes with their stinging social commentary. If you don’t know her art do get to the Museum before Nov. 27 to be introduced to her genius, and, if you are familiar with her work, go and be reminded of just how powerful her art is.
One of the youngest recipients of the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Genius Award, she delights and disturbs viewers with her images that shine a spotlight on issues of race and gender in the American past and present.
Although this show contains video, sculpture, and a mural, it’s the stark black silhouettes that most enthralled me, especially the depictions of white plantation owners and their black slaves. She cuts detailed images that mock the stereotypes of both races. They are powerfully funny at the same time that they are effective representations of an evil history and a disturbing comment on contemporary race relations.
As one major collector has said about Walker’s work, “It’s provocative and impossible to view passively.” It does indeed cause the viewer to question his or her own preconceived notions. First you’ll laugh at the image before you, then you’ll be overwhelmed by what it all means.
Walker’s work is in major museums in this country and abroad. How nice to have some of it here, even if only for a short time.
Through November 27, Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way NE, Bellevue, (425-519-0770 or www.bellevuearts.org).