Archive for May 2012

“This Wide Night” at Seattle Public Theatre

Life doesn’t treat everyone kindly, and not everyone is equipped to cope effectively with life. In “This Wide Night” by Chloë Moss we enter the lives of two former cellmates in an English prison trying to make a go of it on the outside. These are devastatingly lost human beings, women badly equipped for life’s demands.

Marie (Emily Chisholm) has been on the outside long enough to have gotten a menial job and found a dingy bed-sitter (studio apartment). Into her life stumbles Lorraine (Christina Maslin), newly released, looking for a place to stay, overwhelmed by the challenges of rebuilding a life. With help from pills and liquor the women try to make it. But you leave the theatre thinking there’s little chance they’ll actually succeed.

The two gifted actresses pull out all the stops as they reveal their emotional turmoil, fear, loneliness, and heartache. The acting is superb, skillfully exposing the interplay of dignity and degradation. Sheila Daniels has precisely directed the production so that every emotional swing, hits you in the gut. The appropriately dismal set reinforces the plight of the characters.

Unfortunately the play’s mournful note just won’t let up. Initiated in an effort to provide rehabilitation therapy for women prisoners, the play is a bit too much social work, too melodramatic. The author deliberately withholds information. I can understand wanting the audience to focus on the women’s efforts to rehabilitate themselves, but I found this manipulative. Early on, I wanted to know why they had been in prison. The lack of answers to obvious questions is a dramatic flaw.

Problematic though the play is, this is a masterful production.

Through June 10 by Seattle Public Theatre at Bathhouse Theatre, 7312 W. Green Lake Dr. N, Seattle (206 524-1300 or www.seattlepublictheatre.org)

“Leaving Iowa” by Tim Clue and Spike Manton at Taproot Theatre

Family vacations, long rides with Mom and Dad to get to favored locations! How we looked forward to them as kids. But think about it, weren’t the car trips sheer hell? “She’s sitting on my side!” “He took my book!” “One more word out of you and I’m stopping this car and giving you both the smack you deserve.” Complaints, fights, boredom, teasing, interminable hours, disappointments. “Leaving Iowa” captures it all. It’s a rollicking ride down memory lane, far enough removed in time from your own experiences it allows the humor full expression.

Director Karen Lund has drawn together a cast of gifted actors, all of whom inhabit their roles with panache. Helen Harvester as Sis deserves special mention, however. She’s the quintessential bratty sister. Her pouts, sneaky moves, conniving, and carefully planned displays of affection are so right on it’s hard to believe she’s not a kid.

Ryan Childers must be specially commended too. He plays a succession of off-beat characters, the sort one all too often meets on road trips, and he gives each a unique identity.

The story is told in flashbacks. It’s not masterpiece theatre. You won’t leave mulling over deep issues or questions of conscience. It is, however, very funny, and like Iowa, it’s all American, down home, and comfortable. It touches the heart as well as the funny bone.

Through June 16 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85 St., Seattle, $15-37, (206 781-9707 or www.taproottheatre.org)

“The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico García Lorca

“Tether the mares; let the stallion run free,” says the cruelly dictatorial Bernarda, mother of five daughters. The quote aptly describes life in her house. But don’t think this is simply a domestic drama. Within it, Federico García Lorca says much about women in repressive male-dominated societies, and even more about Spain as Franco’s power was ascending. (Lorca was assassinated shortly after completing the work.)

Bernarda is a tyrant. Her unmarried daughters pay the price. As in all dictatorships, secrecy, jealousy, hatred, and fear are primary emotions. In this one there’s also rampant sexual desire that can’t be fulfilled.

Produced by Arouet Productions and forcefully directed by Charles Waxberg with assistance from Roy Arauz, this production makes the most of the play’s opportunities for arresting tableaux and lyrical dramatic action.

Ruth McRee’s dynamic performance as Bernarda is memorable. Her hands grasp her cane with aggressive intensity. Her facial expressions are hard, determined, imperious. She’s ever on guard, an enforcer with a dirty job to do and the qualifications to do it well.

With support from an accomplished cast, she wields her spell over everyone, reminding us that tyranny exists on many levels.

SEE MY FULL REVIEW: May 10 seattletimes.nwsource.com

Through May 19 at The Ballard Underground, 2220 NW Market St., Seattle, $12-$18 (Brown Paper Tickets 800-838-3006 or http://arouet.us)

Take Advantage of Museum Day

The Henry Art Gallery will offer free admission on Friday, May 18 as part of the Association of Art Museum Directors’ (AAMD) Art Museum Day, coinciding with International Museum Day. The Henry will encourage visitors to share their museum experiences during Art Museum Day on a special printed form available at the museum and via social media with the hashtag #ArtMuseumDay in a collective public response.

Check out other of your favorite arts and crafts museums in the area. See what else is going on and take advantage of the rich museum bounty in our region.

“Sex in Seattle 20: Happily Ever After . . .” produced by SIS Productions

SIS Productions uses humor and romantic comedy as it documents the life experiences of four contemporary young Asian American women. Over the past 12 years it has presented 20 episodes of a sex-filled soap opera focused on the efforts of these heroines to find the men of their dreams and the happiness that comes with that perfect coupling. Of course, along the way the episodes reveal conflicts that arise because of cross cultural misunderstandings and contradictions.

The men in their lives are both Anglo and Asian, and the partners change places as often as contra dancers move down the line. So be alert. It’s a challenge to keep all the couplings straight.

Between the trysts, images of the women’s mothers flash on a screen with old-country advise on how to lead the good life. It’s a fine device to emphasize the generational shift and the complexities of life for first generation Americans.

An audience has been building for the series over the years, but don’t worry if this will be your introduction to it. This final episode can stand on its own as did all the others.

Through May 26 at West of Lenin, 203 N. 36th St. Seattle, $12-$16, 206 323-9443 or tickets@sis-productions.org or Brown Paper Tickets 800-838-3006)