Archive for July 2012

“The Dumb Waiter” and “Celebration” A Pinter Feast at ACT Theatre

Delicious! There’s no other way to describe the first two plays in the ACT Pinter festival. This is the ideal opportunity for those of you who are Pinter-phobic because you’ve heard he’s too intellectual to delight in his humor as well as his insights into the agony of human existence. You’ll beg for more.

This first production consists of two short works, very different, but very funny. “The Dumb Waiter” takes place in a dismal basement where the fluorescent lights flicker uncontrollably, and two suit-clad men lie about on dirty metal cots. They are here waiting for a mysterious job call.

The gruff headman (wonderfully and eerily played by Charles Leggett) reads a British tabloid harumping from time to time over banal or slightly freakish articles. He’s mostly incommunicative but his very demeanor exudes anger, repressed rage.

His colleague (appropriately played as inept and edgy by Darragh Kennan) is a much younger and smaller font of banality as he tries to communicate with his partner. Suddenly there’s a screeching sound of metal on metal. It’s the dumb waiter holding a toy monkey with a food order. There’s not even a working kitchen in this basement. It’s absurd! The absurdities increase, as does the tension. The mood is sinister, yet the cockeyed conversation between the two highly skilled actors keeps you laughing. There is a denouement, but you’ll have to see the play to find out what it is.

“Celebration” takes place in a posh restaurant where two couples celebrate the wedding anniversary of one of them, and a third couple joins them near the end of the meal. What a party it is! Boisterous, replete with loutish stories, it’s a sad little evening of one-upsmanship. Their vulgarities and demeaning swipes at one another reveal the holes in their lives, lives where the ability to spend money substitutes for meaningful existence.

One of the waiters periodically breaks into this boorish event by serving up, along with the courses, an absurd list of people his grandfather knew. He does this name-dropping in the manner of a schoolboy reciting his lessons.

But don’t be misled. This unseemly party is probably the funniest you’ll ever witness. Director John Langs’ ensemble members play off each other with perfect timing and finesse as they spout Pinter’s hilarious script. Body language is as finely played as are the words. Be particularly alert to Anne Allgood. Her facial expressions can be read like a book, a very, very funny book.

This has been a summer of particularly good theatre in Seattle. This show is one of the best.

Through Aug. 26 (check the schedule for all the Pinter productions and events), ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org).

“Romeo and Juliet” at Intiman

I dreaded going to see this play wondering how any production could offer something fresh or even interesting in this too-often-played tale. Well I was certainly wrong. This “Romeo and Juliet” directed by Alison Narver has all the pathos and lots of unexpected subtlety.

You can tell something interesting is in store as soon as you see Jennifer Zeyl’s set. Yes of course there’s a balcony, but center stage are three green roll-down doors, the sort you might see in front of markets in a developing country or garages in a rough neighborhood in New York. It evokes past and present as well as first world and third world. It creates a backdrop for antagonistic street fights between the Capulets and Montagues. And, when the doors are open they serve as perfect windows into the Capulet’s party, the Friar’s sanctuary, even Juliet’s crypt. The dance scene during the Capulet party, partially hidden behind gauze is especially effective.

Fawn Ledesma as Juliet captures the 14-year-old child better than any other actress I’ve seen. Her transition from kid to hot lover is a bit abrupt, but one forgives this wisp of a girl her passion. After all her Romeo (Quinn Franzen) is lithe, lovely to look at, and arrestingly acrobatic.

Marya Sea Kaminski as Juliet’s nurse practically steals the show with her stylized gestures, pantomime, and manner of speaking. She proves that moderation isn’t always the best policy. And Timothy McCuen Piggee as Lord Capulet brings all emotion to the fore as adoring father and then horrified parent as his daughter does the unthinkable.

So, welcome back Intiman! This whole summer festival has proven just how much we’ve missed you. It’s such fun and so impressive to see the actors metamorphose from one character to another as they appear in the different plays. And how smart you were to select four plays that have widespread appeal yet specific attraction for different audiences. Well done!

Through Aug. 26 (check box office at 206 443-7178 or www.intiman.org for exact dates), Intiman Theatre 201 Mercer St., Seattle, tickets $30 at Ticketmaster.com.

“Dirty Story” at Intiman

John Patrick Shanley who delighted us with “Moonstruck” and challenged us with “Doubt” plays sinister games with us in “Dirty Story.” It opens with two men playing chess, not with each other, but on separate tables. By the end we’re watching the Palestinian/Israeli catastrophe play out as allegory in a New York loft.

The play is composed of two disjointed acts. In the first, a self important and cruel professor (Shawn Law) cuts to shreds the work of a hopeful student (Carol Roscoe) then ends up inviting her to dinner in his apartment. There he ties her up so that she is straddling a ladder, gets out his chain saw, and threatens to cut her to shreds. You want tension? You get it here, tension with truly horrifying moments.

In the second act they are living together, fighting over territory in the apartment. Gradually you begin to understand that the references, the costumes, the accents, and the action are all metaphors for the Israeli/Palestinian tragedy. Fascinating idea but a little too clever by half.

The play is built like a Rubic cube or jigsaw puzzle. You’ve got to do a lot of work to get the pieces lined up. But if you like intellectual challenges there’s lots to like here and great satisfaction as you fit what you can together. The problem is it’s just too much work. And unfortunately, the two acts don’t quite jell.

The acting is great. The set is interesting. Director Valerie Curtis Newton has staged it well, but playwright Shanley needs to do some rewriting and refinement.

Through Aug. 25 (check box office at 206 443-7178 or www.intiman.org for exact dates), Intiman Theatre 201 Mercer St., Seattle, tickets $30 at Ticketmaster.com.

“Yellow Face” at Center House Theater

Fact or fiction which is it that informs our understanding of the foreigner? And when foreigners have a yellow face, how do we perceive them? Identity is at the center of David Henry Hwang’s provocative play “Yellow Face,” just as fact and fiction are intertwined in this semi-autobiographical work.

In it DHH (Moses Yim) leads the protest against “Miss Saigon” in 1990 because the production included a white man cast as an Asian. Years later he too cast a white man (Mark Tyler Miller) in an Asian role, not deliberately but by mistake. To avoid the backlash, he created a web of lies to justify the gaff. It’s not easy to get past the nuances of race.

Meanwhile as DHH struggles with his own racial dilemma, the nation addresses a number of scandals involving Chinese Americans. The most notorious concerned Wen Ho Lee, the Los Alamos scientist who was arrested and jailed for espionage. Later he was absolved of guilt. DHH’s own father, a successful and fiercely loyal American citizen was falsely accused of covertly using Chinese money to illegally influence the American political process.

Hwang’s play forces us to address the question of who we are as well as how we perceive others. He asks us why we consider “black face” off limits but think nothing about “yellow face”

Some theatre gets its power from elaborate sets and costumes or from musical numbers. Some theatre presents us with ideas, ideas so compelling that almost nothing else is needed. This is an idea play, yet Director David Hsieh has put in place some simple but effective staging to add to its power. A video screen flashing images pertinent to the plot line is mounted above the heads and to the side of the actors. Stark but stylish black marble blocks sit in front of a black marble wall.

Moses Yim as DHH captures all his anguish, all his pride. Mark Tyler Miller as the guy who has a white face but develops a yellow heart is an attractive theatre presence I hope we’ll be seeing a lot more.

Through July 29, “Yellow Face” presented by React Theatre and The Pork Filled Players at Center House Theatre, Seattle Center, www.reacttheatre.org.

Frye Art Museum Reopens

Closed since early spring for refurbishment and gallery updating, the Frye Museum reopened last week with three new exhibits. The Frye had left behind its image as Seattle’s stodgy museum some years ago, and now with newly painted and flow-through galleries it has additional opportunities to highlight its founding collection and present provocative new exhibitions.

Two of the three opening exhibits focus on works from its own collection. The third show, the first in this country, by celebrated Chinese conceptual artist Liu Ding, “Liu Ding’s Store: Take Home and Make Real the Priceless in Your Heart” raises important questions about the relationship between art and the marketplace.

Located in the gift shop and the hall that joins the museum’s entry with its rear galleries the exhibit features Liu’s somewhat minimalist take on the Frye’s iconic painting “Sin” by Franz von Stuck. Liu contracted with a Chinese factory to have its workers copy, in different sizes, his adaptation of the original work as well as its frame. The Liu “originals” are on display. The copies, in “sales racks” face the wall with Liu’s signature on the back of each. They are all for sale, and, as each is sold, it will be removed from the gallery.

Sound bizarre? Well stop and think about it. For how many years have artists had ateliers where workers create art for the master who takes the credit? Think back to the Renaissance, to Rodin. Think about Andy Warhol, Murakami, Chihouly. Who is author of the art? What sets the value? How does marketing impact value? Is art an aesthetic or commercial commodity? Does it matter? Liu Ding gives us much to think about.

“Ties that Bind: American Artists in Europe” features paintings from the Frye collection by Americans influenced by their sojourns overseas. It’s refreshing to see work by artists not often displayed at the Frye. Paintings by Twachtman, Inness, Chase, Cassatt, Eakins, and Whistler among others are hung with lots of space around them so viewers can really concentrate on each work.

The third opening show, “The Perfection of Good Nature: The Frye Founding Collection” includes a number of old favorites but relates them to the impact that the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago had on Charles and Emma Frye as they began their collection and how the collection became Charles Frye’s vision of a Seattle Art Museum.

Frye also announced that Scott Lawrimore will join the staff on Oct. 15 as Deputy Director, Collections and Exhibitions. Lawrimore is a familiar figure in Seattle’s art world. For the past six years he was the creative force behind the Lawrimore Project, a Seattle contemporary art gallery that featured leading local artists as well as innovators from further a field.

So, new staff and three new exhibits to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the museum. And now, with its newly finished floors, its refined public spaces and the better flow though the galleries, the Frye is better than ever.

Through Sept 23 (except Liu Ding though Sept. 9), Frye Museum, 704 Terry Ave., Seattle, www.fryemuseum.org. (Free entrance and parking)