Archive for February 2012

“Prairie Nocturne” at Book-It

Adapted by Elena Hartwell from Ivan Doigt’s novel of the same name and directed by Laura Ferri, “Prairie Nocturne” is sustenance for Seattle’s conscious stricken liberals who seek an equitable society.

The time is 1924; the place is the Montana plains. Monty Rathbun, (Geoffery Simmons) is a man with a remarkable voice and enormous potential, but he’s black. Wesley Williamson (Shawn Belyea), who employs him as his chauffer, approaches his former lover, voice teacher Susan Duff (Myra Platt), to coach Monty. Thus begins a saga of thwarted ambition, racial prejudice, Ku Klux Klan violence, hate, and love.

The cast is amazingly versatile. Who knew that Myra Platt, Book-It’s co-founder and co-artistic director and here the female lead, is an accomplished pianist? Where else would you find actors that seamlessly move from stage to orchestra pit and excel in both roles? The entire cast works well together, and all but the leads take on more than one role.

Throughout the production Doig’s poetic language flows beautifully through the theatre as it evokes images of landscape and illuminates the human condition.

Yet for all its strengths, this production becomes tedious, drawn out, and far too long. It’s an adaptation that attempted too much, a production that would have been more compelling had some of the peripheral stories and characters that enrich the novel but weigh down the stage version been left out.

There’s a line in the script: “If you don’t dominate the audience, it will dominate you.” This production failed to dominate this audience member.

“Prairie Nocturne” through March 4 at Center House Theatre, Seattle Center (206 216-0833 or www.book-it.org)

“Tartuffe” at Taproot Theatre

Despite being more than 300 years old, Molière’s plays are still among the funniest mounted on modern stages. And “Tartuffe” as produced by the skilled team at Taproot is winning theatre for all.

The sanctimonious scoundrel, Tartuffe, is a hypocritical, self-aggrandizing, immoral phony. Despite his evil deceits he gains the trust and admiration of Orgon, a wealthy 17th C. French aristocrat, who dismisses all warnings and proofs against the man offered by members of his household. Not until Orgon and his family are almost destroyed does Tartuffe receive his just comeuppance.

Taproot, using the elegant Richard Wilbur translation for this production, impeccably recreates, on its small stage, upper class French society of the late 1600s. Mark Lund’s set is rich and evocative. Sarah Burch Gordon’s costumes are dazzling. Eleven period outfits, each one lusciously layered and patterned. And Karen Lund has directed her cast so meticulously that not a movement or gesture is out of place. The timing is spot on, and every actor in every scene, through facial expression or gesture, reinforces the central action. That’s an ideal not always achieved.

The whole ensemble works well together. But Frank Lawler as Tartuffe excels in smarminess, and Don Brady as Orgon convincingly creates a man you want to throttle, so sure is he that his opinions are right, so deaf to the good counsel of others.

Not only is this a good production. Taproot offers here an ancient piece of theatre that’s amazingly pertinent to our modern society. You don’t have to go much further than current politics or media to be reminded of Tartuffe and his moral flaws.

Through March 3 at Taproot Theatre, 204 North 85th Street, Seattle (206 781-9707 or www.taproottheatre.org).

Seattle Public Theatre’s “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead” by Tom Stoppard

Stoppard writes for an audience that enjoys intellectual challenges and philosophical conundrums. Like Becket, he frolics with the absurdities of life, and he’s at his game in this theatrical work in which two minor characters in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” have become the bewildered stars of the piece. Like so many of us, they are dupes in a world they just don’t understand. But be warned it’s a difficult play and, if you’re not already familiar with it, you might like it more if you read a synopsis before attending.

Various cast members of “Hamlet” appear before Rosencrantz and Guildenstern spouting the Bard’s own lines. That simply increases their inability to make sense of anything. These are two characters in an incomprehensible social world, characters who are doomed to die without ever finding enlightenment And the brilliant Stoppard has wrapped this challenging package in humor. Yes, it’s a very funny play.

In this production directed by Shana Bestock the title roles are played by Angela DiMarco and Alyssa Keene rather than by two men as is usual. And you know what? It works. As DiMarco and Keene perform it, gender is never an issue. What’s more important is their ability to play the fools yet deliver Stoppard’s penetrating insights on the human condition in a manner that can’t be ignored.

In wonderful contrast to these dull stooges with their faulty memories and inability to even remember which of them is Rosencrantz and which Guildenstern, is Heather Hawkins as leader of the band of traveling actors in “Hamlet”. She was a marvelous choice for the role. With her flaming mass of generous red curls, her flamboyant costume and personality she lights up the stage. It’s an interesting part designed to be the antithesis of the gray suited, subdued two leads who consistently remind us that uncertainty is the normal state.

Through Feb. 19 by Seattle Public Theater at the Bathhouse Theater on Green Lake. (206 524-1300 or www.seattlepublictheater.org).