Archive for March 2012

“Freud’s Last Session” at Taproot Theatre

It’s Sept. 3, 1939, the day England declared war on Nazi Germany, and Sigmund Freud has invited C. S. Lewis to tea. Two great minds, one old atheist at the end of a brilliant life, one young man in the early stages of his writing career, what on earth do they have to say to one another?

Well, quite a bit. Their conversation is witty, intellectually challenging, and positively electrifying. The play by Mark St. Germain (suggested by Armand M. Nicholi, Jr’s “The Question of God”) has been a hit off-Broadway for over a year, and opened in Chicago on the same date that it premiered here at Taproot. I’d be surprised if the New York or Chicago productions were much better than Taproot’s, directed by Scott Nolte.

Nolan Palmer embodies the Freud we think we know. He’s got the gestures, mannerisms, self assuredness, accent, even the pain and suffering from the cancer of the jaw that eventually killed him. Matt Shimkus as the much younger Lewis is at first tentativeness in the presence of greatness. Yet he holds his own. And, as he and Freud spar over issues related to the existence of God and the problem of evil, his reticence is left behind.

Scenic designer Mark Lund has recreated Freud’s study just as we might imagine it. The couch is covered in an Oriental rug. There are many bookshelves, vintage furniture, a large radio which periodically offers static-filled updates on the impending war. Most interesting is an enormous collection of tabletop sculptures of religious figures from around the world. Freud the atheist obviously finds the role of religion in human life an appropriate study for a philosopher/scientist.

If you like mind candy, plays where there’s more thoughtful discussion than action, this is one for you.

Through April 21 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85 St., Seattle, (206 781-9707 or www.taproottheatre.org).

“The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” by Jim Cartwright at Arts West

Poor Little Voice, her father’s dead and her mother’s a self centered, loud mouthed, sex crazed drunk, someone ideally suited to Rush Limbaugh’s recent description of womanhood. It’s no wonder that Little Voice is withdrawn, timid, and lost in her own world, spending her days listening to the records left by her father and imitating the voices of the female vocalists as she tries to drown out the sounds of her mother’s amorous encounters.

Then one night, mother Mari brings home Ray, a sleazy talent agent. Before she gets him to bed, he overhears Little Voice singing, and determines to make her a star. As you’ve probably guessed, it doesn’t turn out well. But no thanks to Ray, Little Voice does escape this misery at play’s end.

Directed by Christopher Zinovitch, the production captures the lower class seediness of the 1980s in Northern England. Jill Beasley’s set is appropriately scruffy, though on opening night there were some unfortunate malfunctions. Josh Randall’s lighting works well to create some elaborate special effects. Myrna Conn as Little Voice has a lovely voice though the task of impersonating ten singers from Edith Piaf to Julie Andrews is a bit much for an 18 year old.

Peggy Gannon throws body and soul into her role as frenetic mother Mari. She’s about as slutty and manic as any one person can get. Unfortunately, the performance was a bit over-the-top for me. I wished for a little moderation, an occasional respite from her frenzy. Daniel Reaume as Ray makes one’s skin crawl. Smarmy, manipulative, cruel, he’s a man on the make, hungry for his big break. It’s a great performance.

Though not perfect, there’s a lot to like about this production.

Through March 31 at Arts West Playhouse, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle (www.artswest.org or 206 938-0339).

Five Interesting Artists at the Lynnwood Convention Center

If you live north of Seattle or have reason to go anywhere near Lynnwood, go to its Convention Center at 3711 196th St. SW and take a look around. The work of five artists, each with a unique style hangs on two floors and offers lots of interest. From the surreal to the abstract, from pointillistic realism to underwater fantasy, it’s a collection well worth your time.

Through summer 2012.

“The Foreigner” produced by Sound Theatre Company at Center House Theatre

Is there any modern playwright funnier than Larry Shue? Sadly, he died in a plane crash at the age of 39, but if he were alive today, he’d give two thumbs up to Sound Theatre’s production of “The Foreigner.” Director Teresa Thuman has done everything right.

Mark Waldstein as Charlie Baker, the foreigner, first appears on stage in long overcoat and bowler hat looking as if he just stepped out of a Magritte painting. It’s an apt surrealist introduction to his upcoming surreal experience. Poor Charlie, a depressed visitor from England, realizes with horror that his gregarious friend Froggy (Ken Holmes), who brought him to this Georgia fishing lodge, must leave him alone there with its weird people. Charlie can’t abide the thought of having to be social, so Froggy passes him off as a foreigner who doesn’t speak English.

Just imagine the high jinks that follow. Double entendres, pantomimed conversations, overheard secrets, uproarious physical humor, all played out with impeccable timing and accompanied by Waldstein’s rubber-faced expressions. Especially funny are the efforts of endearing but slow-witted Ellard (Daniel A. Guttenberg) to teach Charlie English.

The cast is a well matched ensemble of odd ball characters ranging from the naïve but sweet lodge owner (Jody McCoy) to the duplicitous, fast talking Christian minister (Nick Rempel). Rounding it out are an assortment of unforgettables.

Supporting the splendid acting is the first rate production staff. And within this uproarious play there is a moral, one we do well to notice. Among the characters are two Ku Klux Klan members, spouting their staunch Christian values while planning to defraud the lodge owner and do in the foreigner, and any Jews, Negroes, Catholics or others who displease them. But on this stage, good triumphs over evil.

Through March 25 at Center House Theatre, Seattle Center, (www.brownpapertickets.com, or info at www.soundtheatrecompany.org).

“Red” by John Logan at Seattle Repertory Theatre

Out with the old! In with the new! That’s a fine sentiment when you are the “new,” but it sure isn’t fun when you’re on the other end. And “Red” provides ample proof of both.

In “Red” (directed by Richard E. T. White) we’ve entered the studio of Mark Rothko where he’s busy creating the red and black color-field paintings that were commissioned for the very expensive Four Seasons restaurant. Rothko is delighted with the commission, its placement, and the money.

As he and his newly hired assistant work feverishly they talk, about art—where it’s been and where it’s going, what defines it, who’s doing it, what makes it good or bad. Like a Rothko painting, their discussions have many layers.

Initially the young assistant listens more than he talks. He soaks in the words of the master, but as the work progresses he becomes more and more aware of their differences, and more and more ready to express his own concepts. Connor Toms as the berated and lectured at assistant morphs from toady to worthy opponent, and the transformation is impeccably presented.

It’s heady stuff! Denis Arndt as Rothko is the master of moods. So full of himself one moment, so sulky and petulant at another. He rants and rages. He spews out pronouncements. He gloats over the fact that his abstract expressionism “destroyed” cubism but then at the play’s end must face the reality that new artists with new concepts are now replacing abstract expressionism.

This all takes place on Ken Dorsey’s magnificent set. It’s the quintessential artist studio made all the better with Robert Peterson’s lighting. Fine paintings deserve fine settings. You have that setting here.

Through March 18 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer Street, Seattle. (206 443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org).