Archive for January 2014

“A Great Wilderness” by Samuel D. Hunter at Seattle Repertory Theatre

What a fantastic set! The framework of an A-frame woodland haven rises up into the theatre rafters and out toward the audience. On its main floor are the somewhat seedy appliances and furniture you’d expect in a vacation camp, or in this case a conversion therapy center for homosexual boys whose Christian parents think they ought to be reprogrammed. The close-in forest enshrouds the building, sunlight flickering through the trees. It’s marvelous. Sadly Scott Bradley’s great set doesn’t save this predictable play with a message.

Walt (sensitively played by Michael Winters) uses this retreat as a “camp” for teenage boys whose parents have found out, much to their horror, that their sons are not as God intended them to be. For many of Walt’s charges, his facility is just one more stop along the reprogramming route that doesn’t work. But Walt is not only a kind and tender man; he knows from personal experience how hard it is to live a life that makes believe you’ve changed your sexual orientation. But through God’s help he’s living that life, and believes he’s helping the troubled young men, sent to him against their will, helps them to see that they too can get married and lead a “normal” life.

Into Walt’s program comes the glum Daniel (Jack Taylor), a boy who’s sick of these reprogramming camps, sick of his distressed parents who can’t accept him as he is. His disappearance from Walt’s woodland paradise leads to all kinds of angst but very little enlightenment. Walt’s former wife and her husband are there to ready Walt for his transition into an “old folks home” despite Walt’s objections. Daniel’s mother arrives worried for Daniel’s safety even more than for his sexual orientation. Throughout, the Forest Service ranger (the wonderfully calm and down-to-earth Gretchen Krich) tries to maintain equilibrium.
The acting is uniformly good but the script doesn’t allow the characters much growth or insight.

Through Feb. 16, at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., (206 443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org)

“The Equation” presented by Theatre 9/12

This is a play for the sophisticate, for those who enjoy unraveling a mystery. Written and directed by Charles Waxberg, it’s a play that starts at the end and gradually reveals the issues that led up to that ending. Thus it’s confusing. “What’s this about?” you’ll ask yourself, as you try to unravel the plot and gradually put the pieces of this compelling story together.

On stage is a bassinet sitting before a window behind which towers the almost-finished Empire State building. As the play opens, two women in elegant 1930s day attire walk out and stand either side of the stage, stand motionless and emotionless. But that will change. This play resonates with emotion.

As they stand stone-faced, out strolls a man below the stage into a comfortable “room” set up right in front of the audience. “My name is Arash,” he says, before asking the audience what they’ve not figured out. He’s addressing us in 1959, and will continue to address us before the eight scenes from 1931, each one earlier than the last.

Mishka Navarre-Huff’s costumes epitomize the period. Robin Macartney’s effectively minimalist set establishes the sleek elegance of the period. In a nice touch, its centerpiece, the Empire State Building gets lower and lower as each scene goes back in time.

Monica Finney and Colleen Carey whom you might say are both mothers, bring passion as well as reserve to their roles. Theatre 9/12 (one of Seattle’s little gems) is known for the quality of its acting, and this taut production is no exception.

The concept is fascinating. By the end, most of the questions have been answered, but there are still issues about which I, at least, was not sure, about which I may never be sure. And I think that’s the playwright’s problem not mine. However, I’m still thinking about it, still wrestling with what I’ve seen and heard. And that is the sign of a good evening at the theatre.

Through Feb. 15 at Trinity Parish Church, 609 8th Ave., Seattle (206 332-7908 or info@theatre912.com).

“American Wee-Pie” Presented by Seattle Public Theatre

Oh the drudgery of daily life! For so many of us jobs aren’t fulfilling or personal relationships are unsatisfying, and dreams certainly aren’t always fulfilled. Lisa Dillman’s “American Wee-Pie” deals with just those issues, but does so in a humorous manner that gives one hope, that proves that second chances are possible.

This is a quirky, life-affirming morsel where cupcakes and pies play a major role. Director Anita Montgomery has assembled a cast more than capable of playing the sometimes over-the-top characters.

Poor Zed, a discontented proofreader with a vacuum where his personality should be, returns home after his mother’s death. There, he and Pam, his high charging, hyper sister who also doesn’t like her job, snipe at each other as they assume the unhappy task of sorting through the household things. Meanwhile Zed has run into Linz an old high school acquaintance, who’s now in the cupcake business with her husband, a culinary artiste. By the end of the play, lives have been transformed.SPT_AmericanWeePie_03_Goldstein_Leigh_PhotoPaul Bestock

Evan Whitfield’s Zed is appropriately hollow until he finds the secret to a better life with help from Linz (the exuberant, wildly funny, Tracy Leigh). Alyssa Keene as Pam, business-like in pants suit and with severe hair turns out to have a knack for cemetery sales. David Goldstein as Pableu, the cupcake impresario presents his culinary masterpieces as if they were being auctioned off at Sotheby’s.

Early on Zed is given some advice during a game of scrabble with the postman (endearingly played by Stephen Grenley): we don’t have to hoard letters for the triple-word score, better to use them and get some points on the board. It might serve as Dillman’s metaphor for life in this sweet, maybe a bit overly sentimental but delightfully funny confection.

Through Feb. 16 at the Bathhouse Theatre, 7312 W. Greenlake Dr. N., Seattle, (206 524-1300 or www.seattlepublictheatre.org)

“The Little Dog Laughed” at Arts West

Heather Hawkins is a big presence on any stage, and, as Diane the Hollywood agent in “The Little Dog Laughed,” she’s loud, crass, conniving, convincing and always in control. Diane’s the epitome of the grab-all-you-can mentality rampant in contemporary society. There’s no situation she can’t manipulate, and watching her do her self-interested work is simply delicious. She spits out her lines, throws her entire body into her rages, flings her hair in emphasis, and is a presence to be reckoned with.Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Her property is pretty boy Mitch (Alex Garnett) whom she’s angling to move into a role that will make him a big Hollywood star. Only there’s a bit of a problem. He’s unable to control his homosexual proclivities and actually falls in love with the hustler he hired one night for pleasure in a New York hotel. Alex (Jeff Orton) does it for money. He has a girl friend, but servicing gays earns him a living. So he too is shocked and confused to find that he’s developing strong feelings for Mitch.

Of course there are complications. Even today few Hollywood stars will come out as gay? Diane can’t get what she wants if people know Mitch is gay. So she sets about to straighten this mess out. I won’t ruin the impact by telling you how Diane does it. Instead I’ll encourage you to see this fine production of a really good play. It’s fast moving, incredibly well written, and wonderfully acted by the Arts West cast under the direction of Annie Lareau.

It all takes place on Jenny Littlefield’s elegant set. You’ll recognize the hotel room with its lovely, big bed, the designer bedclothes and its lack of personality. New York, Seattle, Chicago, or Hollywood, they’re all the same. It’s exactly the right environment for the impersonal sexual encounter that turns out to be so much more.

Playwright Douglas Carter Beane is a master at funny but edgy dialog with lots of meat below the surface. Here he presents an extended look at self-deception and at the hypocrisy of celebrity and Hollywood—a morality tale, wrapped in laughter.

Though Feb. 8, at Arts West, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle; (206 938-0339 or www.artswest.org).

“Richard II” at Seattle Shakespeare

Richard needed a job coach. As Shakespeare presents him, he’s not the wisest of rulers, clearly not good at making smart decisions or assessing the value of his underlings. Director Rosa Joshi and George Mount, who plays the role, present him in the first act as disengaged, somewhat dull, and lacking fire in his loins. But come the second act, he’s a battered figure who evokes our compassion and pity.SSC_Richard_II-2014-955

This is a difficult play, hence rarely performed. It opens with a clash between two nobles, Mowbray and Bolingbroke. King Richard intercedes and banishes both: Mowbray for life, Bolingbroke for ten then only six years. Richard will learn as the play progresses that it would have been better to have kept Bolingbroke away from the kingdom for life. When Bolingbroke’s father, who is also the king’s uncle, dies, Richard appropriates all his wealth. Bolingbrook returns to England, fortified by other nobles and their soldiers to regain his inheritance and overthrow the King. Richard winds up in the Tower where he is murdered. The play ends with Bolingbroke, crown on head, looking down on the bloodied body of the former king and the severed heads of his allies.

The staging of this production is thrilling. Carol Wolfe Clay’s minimalist set and Geoff Korf’s lighting powerfully reinforce mood, as does Dominic CodyKramers sound. The costumes (Joycelyne Fowler) are lush. What I found disappointing was George Mount’s portrayal of Richard throughout the first act. Perhaps the intent was to create the image of a martyr but it just didn’t work for me. In the second act where Richard is stripped of power, Mount’s acting soars as he exposes Richard’s pitiable failure

This is one of the more complex of the history plays. It’s unlikely you’ll get another opportunity to see it again any time soon. If you like Shakespeare and want to see the whole canon, make an effort to introduce yourself to Richard and his friends and enemies as presented here.

Through Feb. 2 at Center Theatre in The Armory at Seattle Center, (206 733-8222 or www.seattleshakespeare.org)