Archive for July 2013

“The Clockwork Professor” at Theatre off Jackson

Poor Professor Pemberton, he’s trying so hard just to get by, but, when he has to deal with beings from an alternate universe, his own dark secrets, and the evil machinations of Dr. Balthazar Higgins, life gets terribly complicated.

Directed by Amy Poisson, this world premiere of “The Clockwork Professor” brings local playwright Maggie Lee’s science fiction a la steampunk play to charming realization. The cleverly designed set by Robin Macartney offers different or altered dimensions with its silhouetted radio announcer who is both far and near, and the space-defying floor. Samantha Armitage’s adroit costumes and David Baldwin’s lighting meet all the demands of the now and then, and the here and there.

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Randall Brammer and Brad Walker

Brad Walker as the Professor is the right mixture of dorky earnestness. He needs all his wits when the scheming, megalomaniacal Balthazar Higgins (evil incarnate as played by Phillip Keiman) tries to pry key information from the Professor (as well as the key to the alternate universe portal).

The entire cast deserves praise for the acting, but special mention must be made of Randall Brammer, the jester of the piece, though not in jester costume, and Karissa Samples and Sascha Streckel as the two male robots. Oh yes, male robots who move mechanically as they carry out their nefarious tasks, and in the process are terribly funny.

Pork Filled Productions, an Asian American theatre group, is “determined to redefine the notion of what Asian American theatre is capable of.” This isn’t ethnic theatre. It’s just fine theatre. So, if you have any interest in science fiction, or you just want something a bit different, give this a try.

Through Aug. 3 at Theatre Off Jackson, 409 7th Ave. S., Seattle; (206 486-0375 or http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/343229) or info@porkfilled.com.

Intiman’s Modern Take on Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata”

Make war and you’ll not make love! When the Peloponnesian War dragged on for more than 20 years in 4th C. BC, Greek dramatist Aristophanes wrote “Lysistrata”. In it men get no sex until they end the war. On the Intiman stage, modern soldiers in Afghanistan decide to produce that play, and what an adaptation it is! Vulgar? Exceedingly so. Bawdy? Of course. Foul language? Indeed. Sophomoric? Somewhat. But it is funny, and if you aren’t put off by raunch, you’ll find things to like about this production.

As you walk into the theatre soldiers (male and female) are moving supplies, hanging around, doing push-ups, just being soldiers when they decide to quell their boredom by putting on a play. “Lysistrata” is a fine choice—anti-war theme, sexual content, humor.

And so it begins. Lysistrata, played with zest by Shontina Vernon, creates an alliance of women from all combattant groups, women who agree to withhold sexual favors until their men make peace. They will tease. They will taunt, but they won’t follow through. As time passes, the men grow large with lust, a condition made evident by some clever stagecraft.

Eventually even the women question the strategy, but Lysistrata works tirelessly to rally them to the cause. In one of the funniest and most vulgar scenes in the play, she encourages Myrrhine, played with luscious lasciviousness by Kamaria Hallums-Harris to drive her husband crazy with lust but to leave him unfulfilled. Tim Gouran the husband, reaches monumental heights with each of her advances as he writhes with pain.

The language is full of double entendres and clever rhymes. Interspersed throughout are references to our modern wars, and the play’s ending is a sharp reminder of war’s toll. It’s Aristophanes made au courant to the beat of hip hop. But oh, Director Sheila Daniels, what would your mother say?

Through Sept. 12, check Intiman schedule for exact dates, The Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center, 201 Mercer St., Seattle; (206 441-7178 or info@intiman.org)

“Rapture, Blister, Burn” at ACT

This talky play begins with a history of the feminist movement. “Ugh,” you say? Hold on, soon you’ll be delighting in incredibly witty and piercing dialog and an astute exploration of women’s lives over three generations. But, I assure you, you won’t leave with any clear understanding of what feminism has actually achieved.

Playwright Gina Gionfriddo is the new Wendy Wasserstein. Her play is funny; it’s smart; and it asks: how have so many women come so far and still wound up unsatisfied? How can men and women negotiate the inequality issue? Perhaps, as she observes, “In a relationship between two equals, you can’t both go first.”

Director Anita Montgomery has paced this Pulitzer nominated exploration in spritely fashion. The gloriously sexy and smart Kirsten Potter plays Catherine, a highly regarded feminist scholar and favorite talk show guest who has come home to care for her ill mother (Priscilla Lauris). She reconnects with Gwen (Kathryn Van Meter) her graduate school buddy and Gwen’s husband Don (Jeffrey Fracé), who was Catherine’s main squeeze until she left for a career-building year in Europe at least 15 years ago.

Catherine teaches a summer seminar on feminism but winds up with just two students: her friend Gwen who gave up grad school for home and hearth and a free thinking 21-year-old new wave woman named Avery (played with superb contemporary flair by Mariel Neto). Oh what different ideas these three women have about what makes a satisfying life. Add to that mix Catherine’s mother who plies them with martinis and offers the wisdom of the proto-feminist woman.

While Avery plans to grab the brass ring on life’s merry-go-round, Catherine and Gwen question their choices. Catherine wound up with academic success but a painfully empty personal life. Gwen never tried for more than two kids and a husband, but she too feels unfulfilled. Catherine and Gwen can’t help but wonder about the life not lived, so they manage to change places. And you won’t be surprised to learn that it just isn’t as great as they expected.

So what’s the answer for women? According to Gionfriddo, Phyllis Schlafly and Betty Friedan may still be even contenders in their assessments of women’s lives.

Through Aug. 11 at ACT, 700 Union St., Seattle; (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre. org)

“Trouble in Mind” presented by Intiman Summer Festival

Playwright Alice Childress never had one of her works presented on Broadway. Her razor sharp explorations of race in America tell it like it is, and white audiences just weren’t ready for that when this play was written in the 1950s. Lorraine Hansberry’s more gentle “A Raisin in the Sun” was easier to digest, so that did get to Times Square. Intiman thinks we’re far more ready now, and audience reaction on opening night suggests the company was right.

 

“Trouble…” takes place in a theatre rehearsal hall. A white director is beginning work with his mostly black cast on a cliché ridden, patronizing play that incudes a lynching. It has banal, stereotypic character, and the whole thing is demeaning to the actors. But for them it’s a job, and they must make a decision. Do they soldier on under a director who thinks he’s being liberal by just taking a chance with this monstrous piece of theatre, or do they stand up for their principles and return to the unemployment line?

 

Director Valerie Curtis-Newton works with a remarkable cast. Tracy Michelle Hughes is an actress with a voice that both caresses and bowls you over. She plays Wiletta, an actress who has had so many roles straight out of “The Help” that she finally makes her stand. Shontina Vernon as the sassy, no-nonsense, sashaying Millie makes it clear you don’t want to mess with her.

 

G. Valmont Thomas as Sheldon, who’s always willing to play Uncle Tom as long as it gets him a job and helps him keep the job, will bring tears to your eyes as he relates a horror of his youth. And Tim Gouran as the director creates the perfect conflicted liberal, trying so hard, but never quite overcoming the prejudices he grew up with. As you watch this penetrating acting, keep in mind that the entire cast is also playing in at least one of the other plays in this repertory season.

 

The one problem here is that there’s little in this Intiman production to establish the timeframe. This play is set in 1957. Much has happened to improve race relations since then. Getting good roles in theatre is still harder for blacks than whites. But, unless you know that this is a play from the 1950s, the first act conversations between actors and director seem too loaded with stereotypes, assumptions, and lack of subtlety. Unfortunately the costumes don’t epitomize the ’50s, and, of course, there’s little in a backstage set that would announce the period. Fortunately, the second act soars.

 

See Intiman Theatre Festival schedule for dates through Sept. 15, 201 Mercer St., Seattle; (info@intiman.org or 206 441-7178)

 

“We Won’t Pay! We won’t Pay!” Produced for Intiman Theatre Festival

Discard your expectations before attending this play! It’s not theatre quite as you expect it. Instead it’s a conglomeration of farce, theatre of the absurd, slapstick, satire, and clowning, all built around biting social commentary. It’s typical of the controversial Dario Fo, Italian playwright and Nobel Prize winner, fighter for human rights and dignity.

Written in 1974, it was a response to Italy’s skyrocketing food prices and stagnant wages. Fo’s play begins after a grocery store revolt in which housewives have run amuck, grabbing what they can then running home without paying. His characters, Antonia (Tracy Michelle Hughes) and Margherita (Kylee Rousellot) are faced with a problem when they arrive at Antonia’s house. Her moralistic husband doesn’t condone theft. She has to hide the goods.

The first act buffoonery centers on her efforts to stash the cache from hubby and the police who make a house-to-house search. For me it’s played a little too broadly, and the humor seems a bit too contrived.

Things get much better in the second act where the tempo picks up, the ensemble truly meshes, and the laughs stream out in a torrent. Burton Curtis (dressed like a clown) and G. Valmont Thomas as the two befuddled husbands recognize that they are held hostage by minimum wage jobs, but what is there to do? Their wives’ effort to fight the system is causing mayhem for all.

The highpoint of the play is the encounter with a State Trooper played by Adam Standley, It’s a comic tour de force. Standley plays a number of roles, some of them concurrently, in an adroit bit of theatre magic, and he’s splendid in every one.

Many of Fo’s concerns resonate today in our country where chief executives of major corporations earn 206 times more than their workers. It’s this inequity that’s front and center in Fo’s play where the people are hungry for justice, but the common man seems to be out of luck.

See Intiman Theatre Festival schedule for dates, 201 Mercer St., Seattle; (info@intiman.org or 206 441-7178)