Archive for September 2012

“Gaudy Night” at Taproot

This should be a tension building, spellbinding theatrical experience—mystery in a woman’s college at Oxford, malicious goings-on, a sweet youngish thing caught in the middle of it all. Sadly, it seems instead to plod along, pleasant enough but not gripping.

The story, set at Oxford in the 1930s, centers on Harriet Vane, former student and now minor celebrity who is invited back for the annual “gaudy night” celebration. She finds herself caught up in an unsavory series of events that the Dons (all women of course) wish to keep from the public eye and which Harriet is determined to explain.

This adaptation by Frances Limoncelli of the Dorothy Sayers novel does offer some interesting perspectives on the feminist movement. The Dons, all but one old maids, are convinced that married life precludes a life of the mind. They have had to fight vigorously to achieve their academic success at the cost of eliminating the familial and sexual pleasures of wifedom.

This is a period of chaste women. Lord Peter Wimsey, a renowned detective, loves Harriet, has consistently asked her to marry him, but despite her affection for him she can’t accept because to do so would be to give up her independence and her intellectual pursuits. As a result they do no more than shake hands with one another.

Alyson Scadron Branner is affecting as Harriet capturing her insecurities as well as her determination. And Jeff Berryman is an elegant, self-assured Wimsey, very British, very reserved and able with great difficulty to restrain his feelings for Harriet. There are a couple of lovely scenes where the two go punting on the Thames, moving languidly through the lapping waters. But passion! Sex! Out of the question.

The women in supporting roles are appropriately frumpy, fusty spinsters, convinced that their choice of an intellectual life over an emotional life was a good one. Beware the widows among them!

Lovely cello and stringed quartet music provide background ambiance for this slow moving look back at life before Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan.

Through Oct. 20 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, (206 781-9707 or www.taproottheatre.org).

“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” at Arts West

This is no doubt the whackiest history lesson you’ll ever receive. But history lesson it is accompanied by primal rock music and performed by a cast of energetic and acrobatic young actors, who are little more than adolescents, in keeping with the immature nature of our nation’s political system. Oh yes, there’s a heavy dose of contemporary political commentary here hardly disguised by setting it in the 19th Century.

In Jackson’s time the country was awash in “likker.” Today it’s “tea” that overwhelms us. The insights into contemporary politics in this work are as sharp and cutting as the knife young Andy uses to slash his own body and that of his wife’s in their idiosyncratic form of lovemaking.

Jackson proudly proclaimed himself “the people’s” President. So many of those people came to the White House for his inauguration they trashed the place in their exuberance. Oops, I should have said the “white people’s president.” He’s the one who doubled the size of the Union but did it by exiling the Native Americans to desolate, unproductive lands so far west that many died along the way—a genocide that didn’t quite succeed. He was “Old Hickory,” a hero, a celebrity. Isn’t that what we are still looking for?

This is not a production for those who seek gentility and calm and abhor profanity. The book by Alex Timbers and music and lyrics by Michael Friedman require a rollicking, raucous, ribald staging, and Director Christopher Zinovitch and Musical Director Kimberly Dare have provided it in spades. The actors, led by Kody Bringman as a petulant, violent yet charismatic Andrew Jackson, have their timing just right and bring an infectious enthusiasm to the piece.

Rowdy it is, perhaps a little too long, but certainly jam packed with vigor and insight. But tell me please, in a relatively small house like Arts West, why do all the actors have to be miked in such a visible way?

Through Oct. 20, Arts West Playhouse and Gallery, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle, (206 938-0339 or www.artswest.org).

“Disco Pigs” produced by Sound Theatre Company

If you liked the movies “Trainspotting” or “Clockwork Orange” you’ll no doubt find similarities in this production of “Disco Pigs”. Adapted from the 2001 film by Edna Walsh, it’s an emotional roller coaster as two characters come of age and explore their violent inclinations.

Pig and Runt, Irish teenagers who were born on the same day, are closer than jam on bread. They have their own language; they can practically read each other’s thoughts. They love the same disco music and the same wild behavior. They are explosive, fierce, one could say unsocialized beings who run amuck. But all they need is each other so to hell with the rest of the world.

But something happens when they are 17. Runt begins to catch the eye of boys other than Pig, and Pig’s hormones are beginning to respond to Runt’s female body. It doesn’t end well.

The tension and hostility are so up front that the play just wouldn’t work with the wrong actors. Fortunately Fox Rain Matthews and Alyssa Kay as directed by Giani Truzzi are up to the demands of the script. Kay’s face is an emotional encyclopedia. You can find whatever you need there, and her physicality is amazing. In one remarkable scene she has an explosive fight with an opponent we can’t see.

Matthews is wound as tight as a spring, ready to ricochet or bounce off the walls at every moment, every moment except when he’s daydreaming of better things and his face becomes placid, poignant.

The wonderfully realized disco lights and sounds by Richard Schaefer and Lindsey Morck intensify the volatile interactions. If only I could have understood the dialog. The actors have been carefully coached to speak in a Cork dialect. In “Trainspotting” there were English subtitles. I could have used them here.

Most performances are preceded by readings by youthful Richard Hugo House teen writers.

Through Oct. 6, Ballard Underground, 2220 NW Market St., Seattle, (800 838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com/event/259302

“Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” at Book-It Repertory Theatre

Written by the Northwest’s own Jamie Ford about Seattle’s International District this is a sweet production of a bitter time in Seattle and American history. It documents the antagonisms between Japanese and Chinese neighbors, the prejudices of many of their white adversaries, and the destructive and shameful removal of Japanese-American citizens to relocation camps during WW II. But it is also a story of youthful optimism and tender romance in the midst of this frightening environment.

Central to the story are Henry, a young Chinese boy (sensitively played by Jose Abaoag) and a Japanese girl (charmingly played by Stephanie Kim) whose tentative friendship builds to love. Their affecting relationship is sorely tested by the heinous internment and then effectively destroyed by Henry’s father whose own family history has caused him to hate the Japanese.

Adapted and directed by Annie Lareau the production successfully pulls on the strings of your heart. It is, however, over long at almost three hours. Taking book to stage doesn’t require quite so much of the book.

Carey Wong’s set makes use of a number of wonderful floor-to-ceiling photos of the streets of the International District in the 1940s and of Camp Minidoka. But there are many, many interior scenes, and the stage at times resembles a furniture-moving warehouse.

But these are carps. The production is powerful. The acting is excellent. And it’s good to be reminded about how fragile our freedom is.

Through Oct. 28, Book-It Repertory Theatre, Center House Theatre, Seattle Center, (206 216-0833 or www.book-it.org).

“Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam” A Profoundly Moving Immigrant Story at ACT

I really never understood it before. I knew getting out of Vietnam alive after the war was tough, and I know assimilation into a totally different culture is always fraught with enormous difficulties, but I never knew the devastating details. Trieu Tran spells them all out in the searing, astonishing, unforgettable “Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam” which he wrote with Robert Egan who also directs his one-man performance.

In this world premiere at ACT the audience is taken on a personal journey in which innocence and hope are battered at every turn and dangers are ever present. Where traditional culture and assimilation are antagonists. More than a coming of age story, it documents the courageous, often bitter struggle Tran endured to survive, no less live up to his potential.

Powerful story, powerfully told! Tran, a remarkable actor, calls forth all the emotions as he transforms from frightened little boy to swaggering teenager and then on to maturity. He deals with death of loved ones, is wounded again and again by prejudice, teeters on the edge of criminality, and eventually, almost miraculously, finds his true self.

Carey Wong’s set and Rick Paulsen’s lighting evoke past and present, call forth Vietnamese culture but allow for an American presence. Within its confines Tran ensnares his audience. You cannot leave the theatre without a deeper consideration of our country’s foreign policies and our treatment of immigrants to our shores.

Through Oct 7 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org).