Archive for April 2012

“Clybourne Park” at Seattle Repertory Theatre

“Clybourne Park” written by Bruce Norris opened on Broadway (after an Off-Broadway run) the same week it opened here in Seattle. Here are snippets of what the New York critics had to say about the New York production:

“A theatrical treasure! Indisputably, uproariously funny,” Entertainment Weekly

“Ferociously smart! A vital, superlative production of the sharp-toothed Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy.” Ben Brantley, The New York Times

“Superb, hilarious and explosive!” John Lahr, The New Yorker

“Funny as Hell! The theatre shakes with gales of laughter.” Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post

“The best play of the year is also the funniest.” Fox 5 News

I’d say the same thing about the Seattle production directed by Braden Abraham, but I’d add a few thoughts.

The play, a spinoff of Lorraine Hansberry’s “Raisin In the Sun,” probes racism, that issue we don’t really want to discuss, the one we’d like to think we’ve already dealt with. You know, the one that still simmers, sometimes boils under the patina of brotherhood. This play deals with racism head on, and from the perspective of both sides at different time periods.

The Seattle production grabs you from the opening moments and like a boa constrictor tightens its grip with every passing moment. Indeed, “funny as Hell yet explosive.” Seattle’s cast is superlative and the set is straight out of Oak Park (one of the first Chicago suburbs to be integrated)

I deplore the common Seattle practice of giving standing ovations to just about every production audiences get to see. Standing ovations are meant for theatre pieces that knock your socks off. This production deserves a standing ovation.

Through May 13 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center at Mercer St. and Second Ave. (206 443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org).

“The Pitman Painters” at ACT

I just love it when a playwright is able to combine hearty humor with thought-provoking issues. You’ve got a terrific display of both in “The Pitman Painters” by Lee Hall now playing at ACT. Director Kurt Beattie has mined the script for every nuance, every laugh, and every poignant moment as it examines the role of social class in providing access to the uplifting experiences offered by the arts.

The play is based on the real-life story of pitmen (miners) in northern England who in 1934 happened upon an art course and, despite seemingly impossible obstacles, wound up creating a body of acclaimed art. Their journey from ignorance to enlightenment is a raucous transition complete with bizarre miscommunications, quaint “truths,” and marvelous dialog. Frank Lawler as Robert Lyon, is an indefatigable teacher passionate in his quest to inspire.

Subtly yet indelibly cast members make each miner  unique—Charles Leggett, perfect as an officious stickler to the rules, Joseph P McCarthy charmingly buffoonish as Jimmy, Daniel Brockley as the unemployed youth who knows just how to stay out of the way but get a word in here and there. Jason Marr imbues the talented Oliver with pride yet hesitancy, a man afraid to take a chance. Watching him struggle with awareness of his talent is a delight. The only non-pitman in the group is the dental technician who spouts Marxist creed at every opportunity played with gusto by R. Hamilton Wright.

Cheers also for this production’s creative team. The sound of mining equipment during blackouts does much to suggest what life in the mines was like. The images projected aloft introduce the audience to the art these men produced.

So, can only the well-educated, privileged members of society create art or even appreciate it? We, of course, are shocked to even think of such a question. Surely this is strictly a British class-system problem. But be reminded: it has been less than 50 years that museums in this country have made any effort to entice the unwashed public into their sacred halls. Public outreach simply wasn’t considered before then. Only those who were educated to appreciate art were welcome to it.

Through May 20 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org)

“The Art of Racing in the Rain” at Book-It

I must begin with a disclaimer. I don’t care for chick lit, and Garth Stein’s extremely popular book from which this production was adapted is chick lit with an undercoating of Formula One Racing to give it male appeal.

Like much chick lit it’s maudlin, melodramatic, and manipulative. Lots of people love that sort of thing, and if you’re one of them you’ll love Book-It’s rendition. Amazingly, Director Carol Roscoe has created a good production from Myra Platt’s overly long, saccharine script. The acting is superb. The staging is inventive.

David S. Hogan who plays Enzo the dog is brilliant. Enzo is not just any dog. He’s the sentient creature who is relating this story to us. Though he’s endowed with human emotions, speech, and understandings, his owners perceive him as a regular, enormously lovable dog. And he acts like a regular dog, cocking his head, lifting his leg, wagging his invisible tail, prancing in dog-like fashion, turning round and round as he settles in his bed.

Eric Riedman plays the human hero, Denny Swift a race car driver (excuse the author for giving him that name), with great sensitivity. Denny’s a good man, an honorable one, a man with great capacity for love and with ferocious ambition to be a top auto racer. Riedman captures the wide range of emotions as Denny’s life moves from great happiness to outrageous unfairness, and then finally success.

Sylvie Davidson as Eve, Denny’s wife is a scrumptious lover, a Madonna-like mother, and a heartbreaking cancer victim. Her parents played by Peter Jacobs and Eleanor Moseley precisely capture the smug, privileged souls who think they can have whatever they want. And, as I said, the dog is marvelous.

Huge numbers of Seattelites are crazy about their dogs. This one’s for them.

Through May 13 at Book-It Repertory Theatre, Center House Theatre, Seattle Center (206 216-0833 or www.book-it.org)

“Back, Back, Back” at Seattle Public Theater

Imagine that you could use some drug that would increase your competitiveness in whatever your field. Drugs to make you a brilliant physician, drugs to make you a best selling writer, drugs to make you a top salesperson, an outstanding CEO, an award winning scientist, teacher, actor . . . drugs to make you just a lot better than you naturally are. Using them wouldn’t be ethical, but they were there if you wanted them. Would you use them?

The men in “Back, Back, Back” Itamar Moses’ baseball play are offered such magic drugs. The author provides a 20-year history of steroid use in professional baseball by using the device of a scoreboard to mark off nine innings of the script. But the innings go quickly and superficially. Significant issues whiz past without adequate exploration.

Under Kelly Kitchens’ direction, however, Patrick Allcorn, Ray Gonzalez, and Trick Danneker as the three teammates make their roles more powerful than they are scripted. As the three play off each other and reveal the kinds of discussions, rivalries, support structures and tensions that fill the locker rooms of professional sports, it won’t be hard to guess who the real life players are on which the characters are modeled.

They shock, delight, disappoint and amuse. I loved the advice Allcorn gives the younger Danneker about how to deal with sports writers. “Speak in complete sentences and don’t stop talking.” The message is clear. The longer it takes you to answer one question, the fewer questions you’ll be forced to answer.

This isn’t the definitive baseball play, but it raises ethical questions that today are pertinent to more than our ball fields.

Through April 22 at Seattle Public Theater at the Bathhouse at Green Lake, (7312 W. Green Lake Drive N., Seattle (206 524-1300 or www.seattlepublictheater.org).

“The Blue Room” by David Hare produced by The Schoolyard at Odd Duck Studio

The Schoolyard, in this, its second production, boldly offers one of theatre’s most definitive explorations of heterosexual sex. It’s David Hare’s adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1900 play, “Reigen.”

Now for those of you who don’t know Schnitzler, some background information might be useful. Schnitzler was a physician who appeared to be obsessed with sex. He has gone down in history as requiring daily intercourse throughout his mature life. Kubrick adapted one of his novellas for the erotic movie “Eyes Wide Shut.” And when he wrote “Reigen” even he thought some of the scenes too sexually explicit to be performed. When it was staged 20 years later, the police closed it down.

So, what do we have on stage at Odd Duck Studio? It’s a series of sexual encounters of varied length and success, a daisy-chain of partner changes that reveal lust, lasciviousness, lechery, loneliness, and longing. There’s not much love, and in this production there’s little passion. Don’t go expecting to see nudity. What you will get are two clothed actors in ten scenes playing characters from all levels of society getting it on in various fashions.

Mariel Neto is fetching as both the young and older females. She’s effective both as provocateur and as mark. Andrew Murray makes a fine student and cab driver. He doesn’t, though, have the gravitas for the roles of older, more powerful, though not necessarily sexually competent, men.

Directors Todd van der Ark and Luke Sayler have been most ambitious in staging this work of so many scenes. It requires a bit too much furniture moving and set redesign given the limitations of the space.

Though not one of the most polished shows in town, it’s one of the most audacious. If you bother to explore the nature of the characters’ non-sexual relationships, you’ll find more than voyeuristic satisfaction here.

Through April 21 at Odd Duck Studio, 1214 10th Ave., Seattle, (206 984-8006 or www.theschoolyard.net).