Archive for June 2013

“All in the Timing” offered by Seattle STAGEright

There are just three performances remaining of STAGEright’s take on seven short plays by David Ives. Mr. Ives’ best-known work “Venus in Fur” was a smash hit on Broadway last year, and is coming to Seattle Rep next year. Meanwhile, you can get a taste of his humor, quick wit, and sophistication in these short presentations.

The best in this production are the first two pieces. We can all relate to “Sure Thing” where a man and a woman who don’t know each other share a table in a cafe and hesitantly start up a conversation. Oh, do they do it wrong! Each time they make a false start, a bell rings and they start again. Bit by bit they get it right, and thus begins what might be the beginning of a grand relationship. A funny yet sweet playlet.

In “The Universal Language,” a shy, self-conscious woman falls prey to a scammer. He offers a fraudulent course in what he purports is a universal language. She is so naive, so insecure that she plunks down her money for the nonsense he presents. He launches into his gibberish with a sincerity and intensity that eventually convince her this is the real thing. As they jibber jabber, Cupid launches his arrow, and romance fills the stage. It’s charming.

In “Foreplay: or the Art of the Fugue” we have a delicious fusion of miniature golf and sex. Who knew?

The other pieces are less successful. In some, the joke is carried on too long becoming tedious. In others the punch is just too soft. Yet overall, the young actors are engaging, and the pre-play activities are both unexpected and amusing.

Thorough June 29 at Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave., Seattle (seattlestageright.org)

“Buster Simpson // Surveyor” and Two Other Shows at the Frye Museum

Old landscape paintings, a new environmental consciousness—the Frye combines art, ideas and activism in its current exhibitions, showing that everything is connected to everything else. This is especially apparent when one looks at the exhibition exploring and illustrating the life and work of Buster Simpson.

A community activist against environmental degradation, Simpson has for 40 years been surveyor and caretaker of Seattle’s changing built and natural environments. He documents what was and what is being altered, takes steps to retard any debasement of our natural resources, and creates socially motivated art. Through his many projects he raises awareness and recruits others to his cause.

Slide1

He’s a spokesperson for recycling, repurposing, and reuse, and his work shines a light on those concepts. One of the large objects in this show is his plywood dining table and stools. The table is set with mottled plates whose discoloration was due to submergence in rivers prone to pollution. Plucked from the streams, slip cast, and re-fired, they look quite modern. Twisted bedsprings hold paper cups. The candleholders are made from tin can covers and the centerpiece is a distressed metal lunch box that serves as a hibachi for a salvaged teakettle.

A galvanized sewer pipe in the rotunda serves as pedestal for a marble Venus unlike any you’ve seen before. Here, instead of a carefully sculpted solid stone figure, we see chunks of marble fit within a Venus-shaped wire cage. The whimsy continues in the galleries where there are eye opening examples of his conceptual art as well as photo-documentation of his public works.

He creates energetic collaborations among public officials, engineers, and artists. One project illustrated in the exhibition involved dropping limestone disks into the Hudson River to reduce pollution. The limestone sucked in the pollutants, acting like Rolaids for the river. He’s been part of the effort to clean up the Duwamish, and, at a time when the entire Seattle waterfront is undergoing change, Simpson is here enlarging the vision for the future.

Complementing the Simpson show is “The Hudson Flows West,” ten paintings by artists from the Hudson River School. This nineteenth century movement glorified landscapes, first of the Hudson River Valley and then of the west. All but one of these works are from the Frye permanent collection.

The final show currently on exhibit is called “horizon” and features more landscapes, again from the Frye’s own founding collection. They are hung in a manner that encourages visitors to contemplate the boundary between earth and sky and be refreshed by that vision.

Through Oct. 13 for the Buster Simpson show (The Hudson Flows West through Sept. 22; Horizon through September 1), 704 Terry Ave., Seattle, (206 622-9250 or fryemuseum.org); the Frye is always free and offers free parking.

“The Financial Lives of the Poets” produced by Book-It

In our present recessionary society, Matt Prior (Evan Whitfield), husband, father, finance journalist, and central character in “The Financial Lives of the Poets” left his job to start up a finance web site written in blank verse. Finance presented in blank verse? Insane! Of course it fails. How could he not know it would? Here, Matt isn’t presented as a cockeyed optimist as perhaps he is in the book. Here Matt comes off as hapless and naive.

What middle aged, middle class, responsible family man takes up with young druggies at a convenience store when he rushes out late at night to get milk for his kids’ breakfast? And what man, sound of mind, would immediately decide to become a dealer based on the quality of their marijuana? How could anyone of normal intelligence do that even if he were really down on his luck? The idea that Matt is just addlebrained gains further gravitas when he takes all of his remaining finances, and gives the entire wad to a dope grower for three small bags of high quality marijuana and a promise of two pounds at a later time?

Though Matt the character is somewhat unbelievable, the production is quite good at capturing the ethos and pathos of contemporary society where houses are repossessed, jobs are lost, and dreams are shattered. This is a work that shines a light on the frustrations and personal crises so common over the past few years. It’s also a play where the individual lines are outrageously zany, marvelously funny. Sadly, as a whole, it strains credulity and feels like a knockoff of “Weeds.”

Within the good cast, Jennifer Sue Johnson as Matt’s wife is particularly compelling. She lights up the stage whenever she appears. Overall the production values are high. I just couldn’t embrace a script where Matt is more like Homer Simpson than the head of a family down the street trying to cope in difficult times.

Jess Walters may have written an award-nominated novel, but Book-It’s adaptation of novel to stage makes one question the nomination. Oh, the production’s very funny. Very funny in the way sit-coms and cartoons are, with character development at just about that level.

Through June 30 at the Floyd and Delores Jones Playhouse, 4045 University Way, NE, Seattle; (206 216-0833 or www.book-it.org)

“An Evening With Groucho” Presented by The Central Heating Lab at ACT

If you’re a fan of the Marx Brothers movies, if you love Groucho, or just want a good laugh, get over to ACT where he’s alive and well. Frank Ferrante transforms himself into Groucho right on stage, and once the transformation is made, there’s no doubting that the real Groucho is there.

Twenty-five years ago Groucho’s son saw Ferrante, then a University of Southern California drama student, play the comic master and hired him for an off Broadway review featuring Groucho. Ferrante has been delighting audiences as Groucho ever since—in London, New York, Los Angeles, and every major city in between.

With the trademark cigar and glasses, the black baggy suit, the sooty eyebrows and mustache, the energetic leaps and exaggerated walk, Ferrante launches into Groucho’s old jokes, songs, vaudeville bits, and life history. He ad-libs throughout, and chats with audience members in the zany way that Groucho interacted with the contestants on his quiz show, “You Bet Your Life.” Ferrante is remarkably adept at the audience exchanges, displaying exactly the quick wit that was Groucho’s hallmark.

He reminisces about his family, his four brothers, growing up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at the turn of the 20th Century. He resurrects bits from his vaudeville years and his movies. He tells behind-the-scenes-stories about Louis B. Mayer, the all powerful movie mogul, and friends like Charlie Chaplin and his large bosomed foil Margaret Dumont. It’s biography, history, performance, and spontaneous witticisms.

Mark Rabe, one of Seattle’s top musical talents, plays piano for Groucho, and makes his music match the wit. The whole evening is monkey business of the best sort.

Through June 30 at ACT’s Bullitt Cabaret, 700 Union St., Seattle (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org).

“Dogg’s Hamlet and Cahoot’s Macbeth” presented by Sound Theatre Company

If you like an intellectual romp all tangled up in a wild comedy, this is a theatre experience for you. Two one-act plays, meant to be performed together, they address the complexities of communication as well as artistic repression in Soviet Bloc countries. (Remember, Stoppard, born in Czechoslovakia, wound up as a schoolboy in Britain after his family fled from the Nazis.)

In “Dogg’s Hamlet,” English schoolboys speak Dogg, a language in which the words are English but have different meanings than those we’re accustomed to. When the character Easy, a deliveryman who speaks Standard English, comes in with building materials, chaos reigns. There’s no communication. There are only absurd misunderstandings, something that the philosopher of language Ludwig Wittgenstein would have predicted.

In “Cahoot’s Macbeth,” actors in a Soviet country prepare a private performance of Macbeth. But they are watched over by a threatening secret police inspector who suspects them of subversion. The play is homage to writer Pavel Kohout who’d been banned from theatres by the Communist leaders for his own subversive concepts. Macbeth, of course, is all about power plays, and in this work, that takes on a whole new meaning,

The cast, like the whole production, is good, but especially good is Robert Hinds in his role as the snide police inspector in a one-party government. He relishes his power as he toys with the actors who are his playthings. He reminds them that there are so many ways to harass and punish people. He laughs at the idea of a constitution. All the while, Macbeth, his Lady the witches, Banquo, and all the others carry on as Shakespeare intended. And at the end, when deliveryman Easy enters, once more chaos reigns and laughter bubbles.

Given the philosophical focus, these are among the least performed of Stoppard’s plays, and we owe thanks to Director Teresa Thuman for presenting them here. They remind us of Stoppard’s brilliant intellect, delight our sense of humor, and challenge our minds. Communication! Words! Language! That’s what makes us human, only just remember—words can be your friends or your enemies, depending on who’s writing the book.

Through June 23 at Center Theatre, Seattle Center Armory, Seattle, (206 856-5520 or info@soundtheatrecompany.org)