Archive for February 2012

Seattle Shakespeare Company’s “Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw

“I’m a good girl, I am,” says Eliza again and again in Shaw’s “Pygmalion.” Not only is she good, but everything else is terrific in Seattle Shakespeare’s brilliant production of this well loved play. It’s good from the moment Shaw himself (played by A. Bryan Humphrey) walks on stage to remind the audience that this isn’t a musical, good to its satisfactory conclusion a couple of hours later.

Director Jeff Steitzer has pulled together an outstanding cast. Mark Anders’ Henry Higgins epitomizes the stuffy pedant who hasn’t a clue about human feelings, a man who knows manners but no kindness. R. Hamilton Wright as Colonel Pickering manages to fully support the obtuse Higgins yet reveal enough sensitivity to allow you almost to forgive him. Jennifer Lee Taylor as Eliza the brash and coarse flower vendor transforms herself magnificently into an elegant and tender lady. Jeanne Paulsen is regal as Henry’s long suffering mother, and when A. Bryan Humphrey takes on the role of Eliza’s deal-seeking father humor and irony abound.

The fine acting is supported by a skilled production team. Take special notice of Jason Phillips’ majestic set. With its marble columns, it works beautifully as Covent Gardens in the rain and equally as well as a series of Victorian interiors. Through imaginative use of projected images Phillips establishes period ambiance.

And, of course, there are Shaw’s wonderful lines, his not so subtle reminders of the flaws in a strict class system, and his feminist inclinations. This is also one of his funniest plays. When it’s done as well as it is in this production, it’s theatre at its best.

Through March 11 at Intiman Playhouse, 201 Mercer St., Seattle, (206 733-8222 or www.seattleshakespeare.org)

Three New Exhibits at the Frye

You never know quite what to expect at the Frye—staid landscapes, partially clothed women from the late 19th Century, cutting edge contemporary performance art, sculpture, what? The current exhibits offer a range. There’s “Beloved: Pictures at an Exhibition” drawn from the permanent collection. Right next to it is “Of Breath and Rain” a new media installation by Seattle artist Susie J. Lee. Then there’s “Eternity and Commoner,” sculptures by Chinese artist Li Chen. Each offers its rewards.

It’s hard to pick favorites, but Li Chen blows me away. Using what appear to be scraps of lumber, heavy rope, and clay, he creates figures that majestically look down on viewers, reminding us of life’s transiency, nature’s power, and false gods. In the major piece, “Eternity” created especially for this exhibition, a commanding twelve-foot tall wooden figure holds a glittering treasure representing human spirit and wisdom. Surrounding him are sycophants and subordinates. They stand on a bed of clay, mere skeletons of wood. It’s a gallery-sized morality piece inviting us to examine who and what we are.

Susie Lee invites us to stay a while. A 30-minute HD video (Still Lives: Exposure) reminds one of earlier work by Andy Warhol. See how quickly you can identify her subject. Her second piece, “Rain Shower,” takes up an entire darkened gallery. Walk in and be surrounded by the sound of rain on a roof and occasional music; above 512 “stars” flash on and off in what appears to be random fashion. Stand quietly, sit, or lie on the floor. Assume whatever position frees your mind and lets the aural and visual effects wash over you. It’s a stunning experience.

Complementing these two contemporary artists, are works from the permanent collection, works loved by one of the Frye’s oldest and most regular members and visitors. Frieda Sondland visits the Frye almost every day and has been doing so for years, first with her husband and then alone. She was invited to select her favorites for “Beloved Pictures at an Exhibition” and to comment on her reason for selecting them. What makes this exhibition particularly interesting is the inclusion of Ms. Sondland’s interpretive labels with the art historian’s labels.

So, three exhibits, three reasons for visiting the Frye.

Through April 15 (April 8 for Li Chen), Frye Art Museum, 704 Terry Ave., Seattle, (206 622-9250 or www.fryemuseum.org).

“I Am My Own Wife” by Doug Wright at Seattle Repertory Theatre

“Nature has played a trick on us,” says his lesbian aunt to her young nephew Lothar, and with that gives him permission to become the woman she knows she is. The story of transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf has been thrilling theatre audiences around the world since it opened in New York in 2003.

Seattle Rep’s production of this award winning play (Pulitzer, Tony, etc.) is a jewel. The set (Jennifer Zeyl), costume (Erik Andor), lighting (Robert Aguilar), and sound (Robertson Witmer) provide an ideal background for Nick Garrison’s brilliant portrayal of Charlotte and the dozens of people who enter and leave her life. Garrison, who played the lead in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” some years ago, moves seamlessly from part to part, then slips back perfectly into the persona of the somewhat prim, definitely ladylike, and always intriguing Charlotte. Kudos to director Jerry Manning for pulling it all together.

Charlotte’s story is riveting. She survived a brutal father, the homophobic Nazis and then the East German Communists. How she managed raises some troubling questions, but persevere, nay triumph, she did. As she says, one must be as smart as the snakes; it says so in the Bible.

And there’s good news for those of you who haven’t seen the play or have been told that it’s sold out. The play has been extended until March 10.

Through March 10 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, (206-443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org).

“The Young Man from Atlanta” at Stone Soup Theatre

Will Kidder, self confident, full of bluster and pride, is an aging Houston go-getter. He’s just built the 1950s equivalent of a McMansion, and he’s ordered a brand new luxury car for his wife. You’d think he’s on top of the world, but his only child, a son, has recently drowned, and, as if that’s not tragic enough, he believes it was probably a suicide. He suspects why but doesn’t want to know.

Gordon Coffey as Will owns the theatre. He’s the magnetic force field in this production of Horton Foote’s wrenching drama from the 1990s. We watch him disintegrate before our eyes as his life spins out of control with one crisis after another.

We never meet the young man in the title in this Pulitzer prize-winning play. Will wants no contact with this man who was his son’s roommate, believing that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. Besides, he suspects the young man wants to bilk the family out of money.

His broken-hearted wife Lily Dale (Maggie Heffernan), the quintessential southern belle and ‘50s housewife, disobeys her husband and sneaks encounters with and money to the young man.

Director Maureen Hawkins’ actors adequately perform their roles, and overall it’s a good production. But it’s Coffey’s performance that’s memorable. He embodies the emotions that Horton Foote so skillfully weaves into this oh so sad play about inordinate hurt tempered by the small mercies provided by self-deception.

Through March 10 at Stone Soup Downstage Theatre, 4029 Stone Way North. (206 633-1883 or stonesouptheatre.org).

“Gauguin and Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise” at the Seattle Art Museum, Downtown

SAM’s current Gauguin show combines his luxuriant images with graceful objects of material culture from the Polynesian Islands. It’s an exhibition even better than the blockbuster at the National Gallery in D.C. in the late ‘80s where there were more paintings but no ethnographic richness, and better than the show ten years ago at Chicago’s Art Institute focused on Van Gogh and Gauguin during their brief time together in Arles.

SAM is the only United States venue for this exhibition. Seeing Gauguin’s brilliant colors and exotic yet serene scenes in conjunction with the 60 majestic objects from various Polynesian Islands, gives us insight into traditional life and the cultural changes brought on by French colonialism and missionary activities.

Gauguin arrived in Polynesia expecting to see pristine native culture. Instead he found societies altered by western influences. He couldn’t throw away his own ethnocentric views so he never quite understood what he was seeing. His paintings suggest the Polynesian reality but offer it with a European patina. Make sure you look carefully at the women in their missionary dresses and expressions of resignation.

One gains new understandings by seeing Gauguin’s paintings, wood block prints, carvings, and ceramics  juxtaposed with traditional Polynesian ancestor figures, paddles, and tikis carved in wood and stone. Be sure to look at the illustrations of extraordinary body tattoos and don’t miss the remarkable body adornment made of feathers, sharks teeth and dog hair that could be inspiration for contemporary fashion designers.

Gauguin was a traveler who came naturally to his wanderlust. His parents brought him to Peru as a child, and he later visited much of the world as a seaman before settling down in France as a stockbroker and married man with five children. It was a market crash in 1882 that eventually set him and his paint box adrift again.

His beloved paintings of the people and landscapes of the South Pacific will undoubtedly and deservedly draw large crowds. Consider ordering your tickets in advance. Prices range from $18 to $23. Children under 12 are free as are members. Reduced rates are offered on first Thursdays.

Through April 29, 2012 at Seattle Art Museum, 130 First Ave., Seattle (206-654-3121 or www.seattleartmuseum.org)