Archive for November 2012

“Inspecting Carol” at Seattle Repertory Theatre

In Daniel Sullivan’s “Inspecting Carol” a down and almost out theatre company makes a desperate last-ditch effort to survive bankruptcy by mounting that old favorite, “A Christmas Carol.” But oh dear! They really aren’t very good. Their production is plagued with problems. The cast lacks real talent; the set and costumes are tacky. To make matters worse, a program officer from the National Endowment for the Arts is due at any moment to conduct the review that will determine if they get the grant that is their only hope for continued operation.

Though things don’t bode well for them, this Seattle Rep production  is a sparkling holiday gift to Seattle audiences. Here I must make a disclosure. This has been my favorite Christmas show for some years. I love farce, and earlier in my career I was a program officer at NEH, the Arts Endowment’s sister agency. Thus I came to this production with a propensity to love it. And I did.

It’s nonsensical, riotous, and meticulously acted. The cast works like a well-oiled machine, quite unlike the hapless actors they portray in the play within the play.

The first act is a set-up for the second act where all hell breaks loose. There absolutely nothing works well or as expected, and that’s the joy of it. It’s rowdy farce, precisely paced, full of surprises and some not-so-hidden social commentary. Kudos to Jerry Manning and his sharp direction.

There are two lessons to be learned here, ones you’ll appreciate only when you see the show. First, you’ll get a whole new appreciation for lemons, and second you’ll realize that jumping to conclusions can have disastrous result.

Through Dec. 23, at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle in Seattle Center, (206 433-2222 or www.seattlerep.org).

“Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol” at Taproot

If you like holiday presentations of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol, but have seen them so many times that you’re looking for a bit of a change, head over to Taproot Theatre. There, you’ll find Sherlock Holmes acting as unpleasantly as Scrooge. Although there’s no Bob Cratchit, Dr. Watson is a good stand-in, and a scary spirit of Christmas Yet To Come convinces the errant Holmes that he’d better change his ways.

There are a few surprises contained within John Longenbaugh’s script, and the concept of layering Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on top of Charles Dickens is an interesting one. But this is a little too derivative for my taste.

That said, you should know this has played in previous years at Taproot and been an enormous success. Attribute that to the production values achieved by Director Scott Nolte. Sarah Burch Gordon’s costumes, Mark Lund’s set and sound, and Brian Engel’s lighting superbly establish the Victorian mood.

There’s good acting too. Terry Edward Moore creates a vile Holmes who does indeed undergo a dramatic yet believable transformation. Stephen Grenley’s affable Watson is a lovable bear, and all the supporting characters do well. Pam Nolte is just right as Holmes’ landlady, Mrs. Watson. Unfortunately, when she plays the Spirit of Christmas Past and waves her arms about, she resembles seaweed rippling in tidal waters.

It’s a new take on an old standard. And it, too, in the spirit of the season, ends with a message of hope, charity, and forgiveness.

Through Dec. 29, at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, (206 781-9705 or www.taproottheatre.org).

“Fiddler on the Roof” by Village Theatre

There’s no denying that “Fiddler on the Roof” is schmaltz of the highest order. But in Village Theatre’s production, the schmaltz is presented in superb musical style by a cast that knows just how to drip it out. Director David Ira Goldstein understands the culture and his audience. And how lovely at the holiday season to have a Jewish theatrical spectacular amid all the Christmas trees, plum puddings, and Santa Clauses.

Our central character, Tevye, is a poor Russian Jew living under the rule of the Czar. With five daughters to marry off and no money for their dowries, he has serious problems. But is he disconsolate? No! He’s happy for his blessings, loves his family and community and gains strength from his religion. The robust Eric Polani Jensen brings forth all of Tevye’s frustrations, wistfulness, joy, and moral fiber whether he’s dancing gaily around the stage or laboriously carrying out his daily routine

His supporting cast abounds in energy and skill. The musical numbers, so many now part of our popular culture, are both fresh and heartwarming here thanks to the skilled musical direction of Bruce Monroe and the wit of choreographer Kathryn Van Meter.

With their prayer shawls, black hats, and substantial beards the male actors would be perfectly at home in orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Every cultural icon is here from matchmaker, to Sabbath candles. And the set, with its Chagall images creating the backdrop, puts us directly into the little shtetl in Russia 100 years ago.

There are no surprises in “Fiddler on the Roof.” It’s been around since 1964. You know its music, and you know its story. Sentimental as it is, it still works, and this is a particularly good production.

Through Dec. 30 at the Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah 425-392-2202 and from Jan. 4 to 27 at the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett, 425-257-8600, (www.villagetheatre.org).

“Antony and Cleopatra” Produced by Seattle Shakespeare Company

The sexy opening music of Seattle Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra” played while Cleopatra’s courtiers romp in an oversized sandbox sets the mood for this production. It’s all about passion, but much more than the sexual passion between the two lead characters. There’s also the passionate striving for power by Octavius Caesar, Lepidus, Mark Antony, and Pompey.

This is a play about lust—for position as well as for sexual satisfaction. And, as you all know, it doesn’t end well for the main characters. But oh, what a spectacle the production provides on the way to the denouement.

Amy Thone as Cleopatra, garbed in Pete Rush’s mostly luscious costumes, is temptress as well as harridan. Chameleon-like, she slithers around the stage seducing at one moment, berating at the next. This emotionally distraught lover becomes the iron-willed despot in the blink of an eye.

Hans Altwies as the besotted Mark Antony is the real-life husband of Ms. Thone, and their personal relationship adds a fillip to the production. But it’s his wife’s stage, and everyone else including Mr. Altwies and the fine Darragh Kennan as Octavius Caesar pales in Cleopatra’s presence.

Lots of impressive stagecraft here. Director John Langs has taken full advantage of the large Intiman stage to present a production that would have been impossible in the company’s usual home, the theatre in Seattle Center’s Armory (formerly Center House). Battles are imaginatively choreographed, especially the sea battle where Cleopatra withdraws the fleet she had promised to Antony.

The play has been cut to about three hours, but even that makes a long night or afternoon for modern audiences. Be prepared, and you won’t be sorry.

Through Nov. 18 at the Playhouse (formerly Intiman), 201 Mercer Street, Seattle (206 733-8222 or www.seattleshakespeare.org).

“The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams at Seattle Repertory Theatre

Wow! That’s what happens when an extremely talented director takes on a great American play. And the current production of “The Glass Menagerie” at Seattle Rep is breathtaking. Acting, set, lighting, all work together to provide luminous theatre. Director Braden Abraham decided to play no tricks with the script, to present it as Williams most probably intended it, and what a gift that is.

Tennessee Williams prided himself on turning memory into art. This play opens with Tom (representing the playwright and played with great dignity and power by Ben Huber) saying, “I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” And from then on we are caught up in the battle between truth and illusion.

The Wingfield family, a stand-in for Williams’ own, is headed by mother Amanda whose husband had fled long ago. She, her daughter Laura (heartbreakingly played by Brenda Joyner) and son Tom are living a hardscrabble existence, made tolerable to Amanda only by retreating into exalted remembrances of her youth, memories that probably don’t jibe with reality.

In the marvelous Suzanne Bouchard’s hands, Amanda Wingfield, oppressor of her children, is a woman who talks but can’t listen, a woman who has lost the American dream. Bouchard proves she loves her offspring even as she effectively destroys them. Son Tom, required to give up his own dreams and aspirations, must labor at a dull job that pays the bills. Laura, the pathologically shy, lame sister, unable to cope with the outside world, becomes a trophy by which Amanda hopes to secure the family’s future.

Amanda persuades Tom to invite a man from work, any man, to their home for dinner with the hope of providing a mate for Laura. Eric Riedmann, as the gentleman caller, quite early in the visit recognizes that he’s been brought here for a reason. He’s not a subtle man, but Riedman makes him believably compassionate despite his self centeredness.

The emotional charge of this production is enormous with its outstanding acting reinforced by first class production techniques. L. B. Morse’s lighting is as central to the action as are the actors. Black outs, fades, projected shadows, spotlights reinforcing significance, color and intensity changes to create mood—all done masterfully.

One always hopes that theatre will be magical. There’s magic here!.

Through Dec. 2, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center at 155 Mercer St., Seattle (www.seattlerep.org or 206 443-2222).