Archive for August 2011

“Dead: Unearthing the Shift in Funerary Practices from Home to Mortuary”

In years gone by, most people died in their own homes attended by family members. At death, their bodies were washed and dressed by their loved ones and laid out in the parlor where friends and relatives could pay their respects. When you visit this exhibit you can trace the changes in our attitudes and practices related to death from Victorian times until now.

The Museum provides us with an array of items associated with death: Victorian mourning clothes, photos, floral arrangements, crepe, caskets, and even early embalming tools. You’ll learn what had to be done during the Civil War when soldiers died far from home and families wanted the bodies returned to them. This war plus the impact of the Industrial Revolution and the growing middle class brought changes to our death rituals.

Today it’s the funeral director who does everything. We have distanced ourselves from death. We refer to it with euphemisms like “gone to his reward” or ‘kicked the bucket.” This tasteful and fascinating exhibition tells much about the concept of death and its relationship to social history.

Check out my full review in The Seattle Times, NWSaturday section of August 27.

Through Nov. 6 at White River Valley Museum, 918 H St. S.E., Auburn (253 288-7433 or www.wrvmuseum.org).

Endangered Species Project

They’ve done it again! Enchanted me, overwhelmed me with their skill, absolutely delighted me. The Endangered Species Project’s August production of Chekhov’s “A Marriage Proposal” and Shaw’s “Village Wooing” offered love’s sweetest side as well as its potential for disaster.

You won’t see these one-act plays at a theatre near you any time soon or probably ever. That’s what ESP is all about, resurrecting theatrical gems and getting them before an audience. For one night only, no props, no set or costumes, just brilliant acting to make it all come alive. It’s an experience that gets to the essence of acting. I’ve seen readers’ theatre before, but never as good as this.

In the Chekhov piece, Robert Alan Barnett self destructed before our eyes, his paroxysms reducing the audience to fits of laughter. Kate Kremer moved from gracious lady to harridan in the blink of an eye, excelling in both aspects of her split personality. Alan Bryce, personified the Russian landholder melding graciousness and pomposity with a sort of confused reality.

And then there were Clayton and Susan Corzatte in the Shaw piece. So wonderfully matched to each other, so nuanced. She, so forward yet demure. He, so wry, witty, and so borderline acerbic. The little lady wins in the end, but it’s a delectable battle of wits. Kudos to Cynthia White who directed both pieces in this one-night delight.

On Sept. 19 it’s “Stalag 17” at the Erickson Theatre, 1524 Harvard Ave. Seattle Central Community College. Get there early for this free gift to Seattle. The August show played to a full house. Clearly the word’s getting out.

Endangered Species Project at info@endangeredspeciesproject.org

“In the Next Room, or the vibrator play” at ACT

Sarah Ruhl is viewed by many as one of the most accomplished playwrights on the contemporary scene. She’s been awarded a generous Genius Award from the MacArthur Foundation and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. This play was nominated for a variety of Tony’s in 2010. So it pains to tell you I didn’t really like the vibrator play.

Oh yes, it’s very funny with the laughs coming at a rapid pace. The audience loved it the night I saw it, and I would guess many of you would like it too. It’s a sex comedy for the intelligentsia who delight in reading more depth into a work than the author provides.

For me it was a one trick pony. Give a woman a vibrator and watch her squirm in delight. Or shape it like a phallus and offer rear entry to a man for the same reaction. Others have commented on its exploration of male control over female lives, minds, and bodies. Some see within it a riff on lesbianism, as well as a brief history of female sexuality in the 19th C. And some even suggest it directs our attention to the remarkable advances made possible with the invention of electricity. I admit it touches on all of those things. But for me, it just wasn’t a cohesive piece of theatre that spoke to my mind as well as my erogenous zone. There were too many orgasms but too little satisfaction.

Though the play seemed flawed, I liked the ACT production. It’s lush. Staging is inventive, attractive and efficient. The acting is excellent, and the costumes and set work beautifully to evoke the upper-middle class late 19th Century environment into which the author thrusts us.

So, good production of a somewhat weak play. But remember, that’s a minority viewpoint,

Through August 28 at A Contemporary Theatre, 700 Union Street, Seattle, (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org)