“Cabaret” at Village Theatre

“Cabaret” smash hit musical! Opened on Broadway in 1966. Marvelous success in London and elsewhere. Revived many times since its original production. And now here it is at the Village, directed by Brian Yorkey, and it’s just OK, not great. So what happened? All the songs are there. Tim Symons’ musicians are hot. Kathryn Van Meter’s dances are snappy. The singers are in good voice. The opening set with its detritus, destruction, just plain mess is powerful and sets a mood. Yet for some reason the production lacks verve. I think this is a case where the chemistry just isn’t right. Individual elements work well, but put them all together and they don’t sparkle.

You all know the story. It’s 1931 in Berlin at the Kit Kat Club, a seedy, somewhat risqué establishment with a creepy emcee (Jason Collins). Lead player Sally Bowles (Billie Wildrick) is pretty and sexy, and, of course when the visiting American Cliff Bradshaw (Brian David Earp) wanders in, he falls in love with her. Things are great at the Kit Kat Club where customers are expected to lap up the lascivious atmosphere, throw cares away, and revel in the lewd and wild. Meanwhile, the increasingly evident Nazi presence outside the club is ignored—until it can’t be.

The impact of that presence is most evident in the thwarted love affair between the boarding house owner, Fräulein Schneider (marvelously played by Anne Allgood) and Herr Schultz, the Jew, equally well played by Peter Crook. Their relationship is one of the best things about this production. Sadly the love affair between Sally and Cliff never takes off. There just isn’t any chemistry between them.

If it’s the music you are after, this will please you.

Through July 3, Francis Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St., Issaquah, (425 392-2202 or villagetheatre.org).

“The Children’s Hour” Presented by Arouet

As we all know, power in the wrong hands can be very dangerous. And in Lillian Hellman’s 1934 play “The Children’s Hour” badly placed power has devastating effects. Arouet’s gripping production captures all the emotion, tension, and heartbreak contained in this play that dared to address lesbianism at a time when it was illegal to even mention homosexuality on New York stages.

The story takes place in a girls boarding school established by two young women (Martha and Karen) with a dream. They’ve worked hard to make it a success, and by all measures it seems to be doing well. They do have one troublesome student, however. Young Mary is a vindictive, manipulative monster who after one punishment too many, runs home to her grandmother and accuses Martha and Karen of lesbianism. Of course they are not lesbians, but rumor and small mindedness destroy them.

Kayla Lian (Karen) and Lindsay W. Evans (Martha)

Kayla Lian (Karen) and Lindsay W. Evans (Martha) Photo by Michael Brunk

Director Daniel Wood has assembled a fine cast for this production that plays out on Robin Macartney’s subtle but effective set. Rachel Sedwick as the bad seed, Mary, is stunning. Evil exudes from her pretty little face and every inch of her body. She’s positively frightening. And the young actresses who play her classmates capture both the verve of youth and the helplessness and despair of those caught in the clutches of a monster.

Kila Lian and Lindsay W. Evans as the accused bring passion, hope, and then utter despair to their roles. They see that they are going to lose not only the school they have worked so hard to create, but also whatever joy they had hoped to achieve in the future. The vicious lie set loose in a homophobic society will work its evil.

Lillian Hellman has gone down in history as a potent though often controversial writer. When she adapted this play for the movies, she had to rid it of its references to lesbianism. Instead one of the school founders had sex with the other’s fiancé. Oh how interesting are society’s attitudes about appropriate sexual behavior.

There’s so much to like about this play and this production. It’s not easy to find the Ballard Underground, but it’s well worth the effort for this little gem.

Through May 31 at The Ballard Underground, 2220 NW Market St., Ballard, produced by Arouet, (425 298-3852 or http://arouet.us).

“The Tall Girls” produced by Washington Ensemble Theatre

UnknownAt a desolate railroad stop in a no-hope prairie town during the dry days of the Dust Bowl, young Jean waits in loneliness for someone to pick her up. Almeda at whose house Jean will live shows up late, dirty and unpleasant. She never asked for this visitor. Things don’t bode well for either of them, or for anyone else in this godforsaken prairie town.

But then a basketball enters the picture along with a new male teacher (well played by Ali Mohamed El-Gasseir) who agrees to be the basketball coach for a group of girls in love with the game. They form a team and, because they are short one player, they strong arm Jean into joining it.

Directed by Kelly Kitchins, the acting and staging work well to capture the deadening reality of life in the town of Poor Prairie as laid out by playwright Meg Mioshnik. But the play is about much more than life in the 1930s and girls’ basketball. It raises numerous issues about women’s place in society and the roles they must assume or are forced to assume. These issues continue to have relevance.

Leah Salcido Pfenning as Jean captures well the despondency of a girl discarded by her mother and forced to face her own tragedy alone. Competitive Almeda (Bailie Breaux) morphs from self centered brat to team player. Pretty Hannah Ruwe as Lurlene preens about the stage with certainty that beauty guarantees success and without it she’s nothing.

Chelsea Callahan as Inez accepts the limited future life offers a young farm woman, and Adria Lamorticella is Puppy, a sweet thing dominated by a mother who, lacking real power in society, manipulates and destroys opportunities for others. Through basketball these dead-end girls learn teamwork and dare to believe that they can achieve, that they can get good enough to be invited to the state championships.

Basketball offers hope in a place and at a time when optimism is almost impossible, especially for girls. It teaches good sportsmanship, offers the thrill of the win, and most of all it allows for dreams. But these are women, and this is the Depression on the prairie. Here such dreams rarely come true.

Through May 18, produced by Washington Ensemble Theatre at 12th Avenue Arts Theatre, 1620 12th Ave., (206 325-5105 or www.washingtonensemble.org).

PREVIEW  Memory Care Plays at Taproot May 8 and 9

Two nights of award winning drama are coming to Taproot’s Isaac Studio. The performances should be of interest to all who care about someone with Alzheimers or the other diseases that effect memory The show includes staged readings, directed by Scott Nolte, of three one-act plays performed by professional actors who capture all the emotional highs and lows of caring for someone they love. Each play speaks to the humanity, dignity, and love that is part of that experience.

The Friday night performance is a fundraiser and includes a pre-show reception in Taproot’s Stage Door Cafe. Benefactors ($100) will also receive a signed book by Esther Altshul Hefgott whose poems and prose speak to her own experiences dealing with the disease in her beloved husband. Patron tickets are $50.00. The Saturday performance is $25 ($15 for seniors and students). All proceeds will go to hiring teaching artists to develop programs within organizations serving those with memory loss and their caregivers.

Taproot, Full Life Care, and PNA/Greenwood Senior Center are cosponsoring the performances. Additional support from Full Life, CareForce, Aegis Living, Merrill Gardens at First Hill, and Alzheimer’s Association.

Tickets may be purchased through Brown Paper Tickets at www.thememorycareplays.brownpapertickets.com or 1 800 838-3006 ext. 1.


“Outside Mullingar” at the Seattle Rep

Emily Chisholm and M.J. Sieber. Photo by Chris Bennion

Emily Chisholm and M.J. Sieber. Photo by Chris Bennion

Oh, and don’t the Irish know how to hold a grudge? In this enormously satisfying tale of resentment, stubbornness, and sweetly realized love, John Patrick Shanley lays it all before us in exquisite language and with a wry humor that capture the essence of the rural Ireland from whence came his ancestors.

This romance directed by Wilson Milam is wonderfully realized, but at first you won’t realize it’s a romance. As the play opens, Seán G. Griffin plays old Tony the patriarch who hasn’t got long to live. In his easy chair in the kitchen, he chats with neighbor Aoife (Kimberly King), berating the fact that his unmarried son approaches middle age with not a marriage thought in his head. He wants his farm to stay in the family for many future generations so will probably have to sell it to a relative.

Aoife reminds Tony what a terrible thing such a sale would be for his son, Anthony, who has diligently worked the land from earliest childhood. She also wonders if the relative or anyone else will pay the price since Tony doesn’t own the narrow strip of land that links his property to the road, and he hasn’t had any success in trying to buy it.

What Tony doesn’t know is that it’s actually owned by Aoife’s daughter, the feisty Rosemary who awkward Anthony knocked down when they were both youngsters. Proper apologies have never been made so the land won’t be sold.

What follows is a torturous relationship cum romance between Anthony and Rosemary, both introverted misfits far past their salad days. Their mating dance is as bizarre as that of the emu. It involves a shotgun, metal detector, frozen eggs, lyrical descriptions of the countryside, and a good deal of rain.

This all plays out on the evocative set created by Eugene Lee and Patrick Lynch and cleverly lit by Geoff Korf. The dark interior of Tony’s kitchen and barn match the mood, and then when we move to Rosemary’s kitchen the stage is filled with light. For it’s in Rosemary’s kitchen that repressed love finally blooms.

Emily Chisholm, marvelous as the pipe and cigarette smoking Rosemary, captures the no-nonsense hardness of this Irish farmer, but lets her soft side come to the fore when we, the audience, are ready for it. M.J. Sieber creates a repressed and slightly odd Anthony, that’s just right for this idiosyncratic role. And King and Griffin brilliantly capture the music of Irish-English speech.

If you already love Ireland and its people or you’d like to know them better, or just enjoy the melody of the language, this is a play for you.

Through May 17 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St. Seattle, (206 443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org).