Archive for June 2013

“Other Desert Cities” at ACT

Not so happy Christmas holidays for the Wyeth family! Daughter Brooke comes to her parents’ oh so lux Palm Springs home with a present that will tear apart her touched-with-gold family. She’s written a memoir, and included within it the tragic story of her brother’s involvement with a radical underground group in the 1970s and his subsequent suicide. Reliving the horror is bad enough, but the Wyeth parents are devoted Republicans, so truehearted that Mr. was appointed to an ambassadorship by Ronald Reagan. What will their friends say?

The play, nominated for a Pulitzer last year, is Jon Robin Baitz’ finest so far. It’s a five-character tour de force with the very best lines going to the three women. And ACT’s females do justice to every word. Pamela Reed as Mommy Dearest spews caustic remarks, sprinkling them like rat poison throughout the play. Lori Larsen as her live-in, alcoholic sister waivers between kooky and competent, often the most levelheaded person in the room. And Marya Sea Kaminski as Brooke weaves precariously between her love for her parents and her despair at their apparent self-protective demands to stop publication. Watch the faces of these three. The eyes, the frowns, the sneers speak volumes.

The family is being ripped apart; old wounds are gnawed open. Director Victor Pappas has meticulously staged this work to draw every nuance from the script. In addition to the powerful story, that explosive script is lush with quotable lines and dusted with humor.

The family clashes mirror the societal clash between liberals and conservatives, yet the politics never overwhelms the personal. And it’s that personal anguish that hits you right in the core. Which of us has a family where all goes well, where we always meet the needs of our loved ones, where our hearts never break?

And which of our families doesn’t have secrets. There’s a big one in the Wyeth household.

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

“Tall Skinny Cruel Cruel Boys” at Washington Ensemble Theatre

Twenty-first century surrealism¬†with a touch of absurdist theatre¬†is what Caroline V. McGraw’s “Tall Skinny Cruel Cruel Boys” offers. WET’s world premiere production directed by Jane Nichols incorporates puppets and mime, monsters and music. Much, but not all of it, works well.

Brandy, a very good birthday party clown who has a very bad personal life is the central character. Hannah Victoria Franklin as Brandy puts on the round, red ball she wears as a fake nose, adjusts her tutu, picks up her little blue violin and projects a forlorn gaiety. Kids evidently react only to the gaiety, but Brandy knows there’s little in her life to laugh at. She’s a women whose bad decisions and flaccid personality set her up to be used by men and boys. To make matters worse, there’s a terrifying monster under her bed.

In the first act, we see little more of the monster than the long, hairy, red arms with their huge hands and painted nails, but that alone is enough to send chills down your back. Billy Gleeson plays the puppet marvelously and serves double duty as one of the duplicitous guys who torments Brandy in her waking hours.

The monster puppet and others (soft stuffed dolls) are clever props well incorporated into this world premiere production. There are other somewhat bizarre props and a wonderful use of shadows. These and all white stage create a sort of magical or fairy tale ambiance.

If you really try, you can accept this play as a statement on women’s role, or plight…whatever. As such the play needs more work. If you just sit back and let its absurdities, its sounds, its use of props and set wash over you, it’s a most satisfying theatrical experience.

Through June 24 at Washington Ensemble Theatre, 608 19th Ave. E., Seattle (206 325-5105 washingtonensemble.org)