Archive for October 2013

“Red Light Winter” Produced by Azeotrope, performed at ACT

“Red Light Winter” like “25 Saints” is another play that will hit you in the solar plexus. Azeotrope is running both of these productions in repertory as part of ACT’s Central Heating Lab initiative. Here too Desdemona Chiang directed, and the acting is superb.

Richard Nguyen Sloniker and Tim Gouran play two college friends grown up. Gouran, as Davis, is a successful book editor. Sloniker, as Matt, is a struggling playwright. It’s hard to believe these two have maintained their friendship over the years because they are such different personalities, but each meets needs in the other. Matt is gentle, sweet, insecure. Davis is brash, cruel, totally egocentric.

Red Light - Sloniker Mariel and Tim in focus

Photo by Benito Vasquez

When both are in Amsterdam, Davis, after thoroughly enjoying her services himself, brings a gorgeous prostitute to Matt. He thinks a little sex might loosen up his depressed friend. Mariel Neto as Christina the prostitute is, in many ways, the beautiful girl next door, even as she is the well practiced, extremely competent lady of pleasure. She undresses for Matt, puts on a slinky red gown and transforms herself from sweet to sensuous.

A year later, Matt sits in his tiny New York apartment, struggling with his writing when who should appear at his door but Christina. We learn that Matt has been obsessed with her since their encounter in Amsterdam. We also learn that Christina, like so many women, prefers brutal men to compassionate ones. Matt doesn’t stand a chance.

Actually there’s no redemption for any of them. Of course Christina and Matt are doomed, but even the always successful Davis will have his meeting with the grim reaper. The playwright cleverly has him sow the seeds of his own destruction in a moment of his most vile and vicious behavior.

Award winning playwright Adam Rapp has given us a finely wrought, tightly wound piece (nominated for a Pulitzer in 2006). He likes to see his plays on small stages where the audience is close to the action, where they experience the raw visceral power of it all. You’ll experience that in this production.

Through Nov. 24 in The Eulalie Scandiuzzi Space at ACT Theatre, 700 Union Street, Seattle, (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“25 Saints” Produced by Azeotrope, performed at ACT

Some years ago in a tiny theatre north of Chicago I saw a play that was so potent, it left me weak, and I still think about it. It was “Killer Joe” by a then unknown named Tracy Letts, who has since won a Pulitzer Prize and is now regarded as one of our finest playwrights. I give you this seemingly irrelevant information because “25 Saints” by Joshua Rollins had the same impact on me as did “Killer Joe.” This is a powerhouse of a play, and Azeotrope’s production gives it everything it deserves.

131019-25_Saints_Act_Theater-135

Photo by Todd Hobert

It’s violent, harrowing, gut wrenching. It’s about fierce people who never really had a chance, people caught up in tawdry lives, people blackmailed into criminal behavior, manipulated and used. There’s not a weak member in the cast. Richard Nguyen Sloniker and Tim Gouran do despicable things, yet your heart goes out to them. Like flies caught in a spider’s web they struggle as the web draws tighter and tighter until it chokes off all life. Bravura performances!

And the girl friends/accomplices cause the audience to wince for their plight and recoil at the perfidy. James Lapan as the sheriff makes it clear that evil exists in this world and can be found is unexpected places.

Director Desdemona Chiang and her production crew give this explosive play the effects it requires. Effects so powerful for a production so powerful, you might find yourself needing a few moments before you gain the strength to pick yourself up and move on out of the theatre.

Through Nov. 24 in The Eulalie Scandiuzzi Space at ACT Theatre, 700 Union Street, Seattle, (206 292-7676 or acttheatre.org).

“Much Ado About Nothing” presented by Seattle Shakespeare Company

Oh when it’s done really well, what can be better than an evening or afternoon with Shakespeare? Seattle Shakespeare’s ” Much Ado About Nothing,” as directed by George Mount, is really, really well done. It’s a joyous romp played out on a terrific set by actors who make the language as accessible as contemporary Seattle-ese.

SSC_Much_Ado_2013-355

The cast of Seattle Shakespeare Company’s 2013 production of “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Here the keen-tongued Beatrice (Jennifer Lee Taylor), ready always with a quip or spicy retort is a jazz-age cutie, who thoroughly enjoys sparring verbally with the equally clever Benedick. Both love verbal fencing but eschew romance. Imagine Benedick’s surprise when, through a trick, he’s told that Beatrice is hot for him. Matt Shimkus, the elegant and reserved Benedick, pulls off one of the funniest scenes in the play as he goes through untold difficulties to ascertain whether or not this is true.

As in so many of the Bard’s comedies, one romantic coupling is far from sufficient. Here Claudio (Jay Myers) is evilly deceived and turns his back on the love of his life, the virtuous Hero (Brenda Joyner) just as he’s about to marry her. Oh sadness! The maligned Hero wants to die, but of course she doesn’t.

In the midst of these romantic capers and near disasters comes one of Shakespeare’s quintessential clowns, the inept, asinine, clumsy, Dogberry, played with comic abandon by David Quicksall.

For this production, the company has joined forces with the Seattle Jazz Repertory Orchestra. It’s a good pairing made even better by the vocals of the multi-talented Justin Huertas as Balthasar.

By the end of the play, all the loose ends are beautifully tied together, and the audience has been presented with an absolutely splendid package. This is a real winner.

Through Nov. 17 at Center House Theatre in the Armory at Seattle Center, (206 733-8222 or www.seattleshakespeare.org).

“Carrie The Musical” Produced by Balagan Theatre

Just in time for Halloween, Balagan, in their new location at the spiffed up Moore Theatre, brings us the sad tale of Carrie. Bullied by her high school classmates, subjected to the insane ravings and rules of her religious crackpot of a mother, she wants so much to just be an ordinary teenager with all the friendships, boyfriends, and party times that so many of them enjoy. No way Carrie, normal life is not for you!

Based on a book by Stephen King was the wildly successful movie “Carrie.” “Carrie The Musical” has a less successful past. It’s meant to move you, scare you, and thrill you with its mix of ballroom glitter and bloody retribution. Balagan’s production, starring Keaton Whittaker as Carrie, achieves less than that as have all the other attempts. The voices of this cast are well blended; the soloists are in good form, but hearing what they say/sing is difficult, and most of the special effects just aren’t special.

The climactic moment in the play comes when Carrie’s most determined enemy arranges to have a bucket of blood pour down on her at the happiest moment of her life so far. She, the outcast, has been invited to the prom by one of her nicest classmates. She’s made a pretty dress, done her hair in an attractive style, and she can almost believe she’s normal. The bloodbath and the horror that follows should be stupefying for the audience, but they aren’t.

Standouts in the cast include Tessa Archer as the villainous teenager. She’s almost too believable. Larissa Schmitz is sweet without being syrupy as the good teenager. And Kody Bringman as Tommy, Carrie’s prom date, captures the awkwardness of teenage boys as well as the grace of a true gentleman.

There’s wonderful use of the mirrored ball that shoots spots of swirling lights around the auditorium and stage. For me, that was the best part of the production.

Through Oct. 26, The Moore Theatre, 1932 Second Ave., Seattle (877 784-4849 or www.balagantheatre.org).

“Sugar Daddies” at ACT Theatre

ACT-Sugar Daddies Seán Griffin and Emily Chisholm - photo by Chris Bennion

Seán Griffin and Emily Chisholm – photo by Chris Bennion

It’s not often that a noted English playwright comes to Seattle to direct the American premiere of one of his plays, his 64th to be exact. But that is just what we have here. The highly lauded Sir Alan Ayckbourn has been in Seattle fashioning ACT’s production of “Sugar Daddies.”

The laughs are many and come swiftly. It’s a funny, funny work, but underneath the humor some interesting questions poke through. Questions like: Who are we really? Is there ever a gift with no strings attached? Can there be redemption, and do we have it here?

As the play opens, Sasha, an innocent young thing, drags an old man dressed as Father Christmas into her London flat. He’s been knocked down on the street, and she, with the most altruistic intentions, is swift to assist him. His method of repaying her kindness is over the top. He showers her with expensive gifts and experiences, provides unbelievable discounts on almost anything she wants to buy. And she accepts it all never wanting to know what’s behind this largesse. The serpent has offered the apple and Sasha takes more than one bite.

Sean G. Griffin, as “Uncle Val” the beneficent Santa, wears his patina of grace with aplomb, but, of course, this old St. Nick has an unsavory backstory. And there is the moment when he turns that avuncular generosity into hateful threat. It’s a nuanced, powerful performance. Emily Chisholm as Sasha personifies naiveté, so naive is she, she doesn’t see the insidious nature of the change she undergoes as the play progresses. The contrast between Chisholm and Elinor Gunn who plays her world-wise but romantically naive sister is delectable. All five cast members are in top form here.

The only weakness in this piece is that Sasha is simply too innocent to be totally believable. It’s not easy to accept the all-too-wise, savvy woman she becomes at play’s end. That is a bit too contrived for me, but everything else works in this production.

Through Nov. 3 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org).