Archive for December 2012

“Ballard House Duet” presented by Washington Ensemble Theatre

Put together an award winning playwright and two talented Seattle actresses, charge them with creating a play together, and expect something good. “Ballard House Duet” is the first of such ventures by Washington Ensemble Theatre, and though this play needs work, it has enough promise to encourage the theatre to try again to create custom made plays by teams of actors and writers.

This script would benefit from a keener focus and more than a little judicious cutting. It is overstuffed with plot twists. Another problem concerns the many flashbacks that are not clearly differentiated from the present action.

The play does, however, superbly capture the angst and differences that tarnish so many family relationships. Here two sisters come together to help clean out their hoarder aunt’s junk-filled home. The blonde, extroverted sister is a TV personality. The dark-haired adopted sister seeks comfort in religion not fame and fortune. She’s the introvert.

Their dialogue reveals the jealousies, petty slights, remembered animosities that date back to childhood. They snipe at each other, yet, as sisters, they share so much. Like the junk in the house that must be dealt with, they have to decide what of the past to keep and what to throw away.

Hana Lass as Holly the struggling adopted sister and Rebecca Olson as blonde, beautiful Heidi are excellent foils for one another (good direction by Erin Kraft). It’s worth the price of admission just to see these women face off.

Through Dec. 17 at 7:30 P.M., at The Little Theatre, 608 19th Ave. E., tickets at the door or in advance at www.washingtonensemble.org.

“Santaland Diaries” at Seattle Public Theater

David Sedaris is our nation’s preeminent living humorist, leaving aside Woody Allen, and “Santaland Diaries” is considered his funniest monologue. It’s a holiday standard on NPR that has been adapted for the stage, and now Patrick Lennon plays the David role in Seattle Public Theatre’s production, directed by Kelly Kitchens.

Poor David, unemployed in New York City at Christmas, is willing to take almost any job. What he gets wouldn’t necessarily be anyone’s first choice…playing an elf at Macy’s annual Christmas extravaganza. Yet, in order to get this humbling assignment, he has to endure a demoralizing and pretentious interview process, and, while the application process was demeaning, the job itself is humiliating. He and all the other elves must dress up in ridiculous costumes and prance around Santaland wearing a happy face as they lead and amuse the restless children and their cranky parents until they eventually arrive at Santa, himself. All the time, the elves cope with the children’s stomach upsets, bathroom needs, and other untoward emergencies.

There’s no substitute for Sedaris, but Patrick Lennon does well at capturing the Sedaris way of speaking in exclamation points. He rolls out all the jokes, sarcastic observations about human frailty, and caustic advice for coping with holiday chaos with the seriousness of a judge and the hauteur of royalty. And that’s just the right way to emphasize the humor of it all.

The production team has chosen minimalist staging that emphasizes but doesn’t overwhelm the monologue. It’s a one-act bit of frivolity to remind you that insanity at holiday time is to be expected, so just laugh and make the most of it.

Through December 24 at Seattle Public Theatre at the Bathhouse, 7312 W. Greenlake Drive N, Seattle, (206 524-1300 or www.seattlepublictheatre.org)

Daniel Tarker’s “The Woman in the Wall…a haunting mystery set in Seattle”

The thing about Seattle is that there’s so much talent here. I’m constantly amazed. One expects much from the big equity houses, and we usually get something that’s at least pretty good and often just stunning. It’s the small houses and production companies that are unpredictable. They try hard, sometimes fail, and at other times offer imaginative, sophisticated, amazing work on a shoestring budget. They accomplish little miracles.

Playwright Daniel Tarker is one of Seattle’s noteworthy talents, creator of little miracles. The latest of his successful plays, “The Woman in the Wall”, is now playing at Annex Theatre. Though not perfect, it’s damned good. It focuses on Stephanie, an ailing journalist, who happens upon a startling story that demands exploration. The 50-year-old bodies of a woman and her fetus are found inside the wall of a downtown apartment building undergoing demolition.

The ghost of the dead women enters Stephanie’s mind and our stage. The intrepid journalist gradually teases out the story of the woman’s life and death as she too faces her own mortality.

The play offers thought provoking examples of challenging relationships, reminds us of contemporary issues, and raises interesting philosophical questions that force us to reflect on our own lives. Within it are wonderful literary references, and just enough clues are doled out so that we can solve the mystery before its solution is revealed, and that’s a great satisfaction.

This is a thinking person’s play. No jingle bells, elves, or tinsel. It’s a refreshing change at this time of year, and the price is right.

Through Dec. 15 produced by Pacific Play Company at Annex Theatre, 1111 Pike St., Seattle (206 728-0933 or Annextheatre.org).