Archive for March 2014

“In the Book of” at Taproot Theatre

John Walch’s new play, seen for the first time in the Northwest, raises questions about love, friendship, family, and intolerance. Somewhat indirectly it also asks just what are we fighting for in Afghanistan. We like to think it’s for those good American values we hold dear—equality, kindness to others, freedom, but are those really our values?

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Carolyn Marie Monroe and Alison Strickland in In the Book Of at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

Newly married Lieutenant Naomi Watkins (Allison Strickland) returns from Afghanistan a widow. She illegally brings with her Anisah (Carolyn Marie Monroe), the Afghani translator who would be tortured then murdered if she returned to her own home. Working for “the enemy” is not taken lightly in a war-torn country.

Naomi’s neighbor Gail who is also the mother of Naomi’s dead soldier husband, is a big-haired, southern belle who decides to run for town mayor on a platform centered on routing out illegals, those community members who degrade the town by their very presence. It doesn’t take much for Gail to capitalize on the existing prejudices of the townspeople.

As Gail’s fervor grows, so does the townspeople’s hatred of illegal Anisah, the not quite white woman who wears a hijab to cover her head. Unfortunately for Gail, the only son she has left is falling in love with Anisah.

The entire cast, under the direction of Scott Nolte, deserves praise. Each one nails his or her part, but Pam Nolte is stunning in the role of Gail. Her mannerisms, her body language, her furies create a character we both hate and have compassion for. She bosses people around and aggressively pushes her agenda, yet she, like so many others, is trapped by ignorance, prejudice, and the fear of “the others” who are bringing about unwanted changes in hometown and country.

The play carries on a bit too long. It needed a tighter ending, and there were a number of opportunities to provide it. But it is rich with thought provoking concepts. The dialog is mostly crisp, managing to incorporate some humor within this tough subject. You’ll find no subtlety here, but you’ll have much to think about when you leave the theatre.

Through April 26 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85 St., Seattle, (206 781-9707 or www.taproottheatre.org).

“Royal Blood” presented by Onward Ho! Productions at West of Lenin

Family dysfunction, it’s been a theatrical staple from ancient Greek theatre to modern times. And so comes the world premiere of Sonya Schneider’s wrenching new play about a very dysfunctional family.

Grouchy old Father, brilliantly played by Todd Jefferson Moore, is sinking into old age, awaiting death from cancer. Deb, the daughter who lives with him, has the mind of a child, doesn’t know her brother has recently committed suicide, and certainly can’t live on her own. Dorothy, the other daughter, a highly successful journalist, has come home from Europe, to face the various family crises including a terrible relationship with her daughter Cassiopeia and the assumption that she will give up her dreams and take care of simpleminded Deb.

Each character is portrayed with finesse and exactness. Amy Love as dim-witted Deb will break your heart. Mari Nelson as the competent, successful Dorothy captures all the anguish of one trying to meet both the demands of self as well as those of family. Nicole Merat as daughter Cassiopeia combines arrogance with insecurity as she struggles with her identity and adolescence.

The characters use words as knives, slicing and cutting; yet embedded within the wounding diatribes, beneath the jealousies and misunderstandings are wonderful flashes of humor. At the bottom of all this are references to the dead mother who imagined they were the perfect family and cousins of Princess Di.

Director Laurel Pilar Garcia and set designer Jennifer Zeyl have created an atmosphere that places you, the audience, as if you are neighbors spying on this unfortunate family next door. The set is the back yard of a California house with its porch, grass, and flowers. Instead of sitting in raked theatre seats, the audience members are in lawn chairs and benches on the same level as the stage.

Two minor carps. If the reference to an early haircutting and the actual happening later were meant to symbolize Dorothy as powerful Samson, it’s a bit much. And the Adam character, the Japanese neighbor played by David Hsieh isn’t well integrated into the drama. The father’s prejudice against him, Adam’s obsequious persona seemed an intrusion from a whole other story. But other than that, this is a powerful work you won’t easily forget.

Through April 4 at West of Lenin, 203 N. 36 St., Seattle, 206 352-1777.

“The Importance of Being Earnest” at Seattle Shakespeare Company

Oh the droll, the witty, the absolutely marvelous Oscar Wilde, and what could be better than a terrific production of one of Wilde’s best plays? Seattle Shakespeare’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” is just that—wonderful from beginning to end!

Carey Wong’s sets are grand, in that upper class, late 19th Century way. There’s an interior with brocaded furniture, marbled wall panels, vases of flowers, and a grand chaise for reclining and postulating. In the second act the country home has trellised rose bushes, a spacious stone veranda beyond which are verdant green trees and manicured grounds. It’s all perfectly evocative of a time and a social class. And Melanie Burgess’s costumes are designed to broadcast wealth, pride, and snobbery.image010

We first meet man-about-town, the oh so swishy Algernon Moncrieff, played to perfection by Quinn Franzen. Enter his friend Jack, given just the right class by Connor Toms, and so the fun begins. Both men, to advance their romantic interests, assume the name of Earnest. What follows is the comic tale of confusions, deceits, thwarted romance, bizarre pedigree, and finally love triumphant, all presented in Wilde’s clever prose.

The entire cast deserves praise. Emily Grogan and Hana Lass, play the sweet young things who are the objects of desire. They are not above a bit of manipulation to get what they want in the end. Not so easy given the oversight of snobbish Lady Bracknell played with stern might by Kimberly King.

Even the minor characters are praiseworthy: Michael Patten as both officious butlers, Kate Wisniewski as the not so reliable nanny then tutor, and Charles R. Leggett as the doddering man of the cloth.

There is so much to like about this production. For me, Wilde never grows stale. Though I’ve seen this play a number of times, it thrills me to see a production as good as this one directed by Victor Pappas.

Through April 13 at Seattle Shakespeare Company, Center Stage in The Armory at Seattle Center, (206 733-8222 or www.seattleshakespeare.org)

“The Tutor” A New Musical Debuts at Village Theatre

Whoever said it was easy to raise a teenager? Teenage Sweetie’s rich, Manhattan parents find out it’s even harder than they expected. Sweetie isn’t doing well in school, but they can afford a tutor, the best, a Princeton graduate at $200 an hour. Surely he’ll straighten her out. All they hope for is that she aces the SATs and gets good grades so she can become a Princeton student herself, just like dear old Dad who seems unable to let go of his collegiate enthusiasm.9997-sm

Of course, it doesn’t go as planned. The tutor, an aspiring author, is actually a community college grad who happened on an easy way to support himself while working on his novel. But in some mysterious way, he and Sweetie click. In equally mysterious fashion she almost instantaneously discards her aggravating behavior and becomes his muse. Through her he loses his writer’s block and writes magnificent prose. She develops a crush on him; he breaks her adolescent heart; she runs away; and it all ends happily by final curtain.

The Village staging is quite effective. Issaquah High School senior Katie Griffith as Sweetie transitions from angst-ridden, moody teenager to maturing young adult. Eric Ankrim, who is back in Seattle after a Broadway run, does well as Edmund, the erstwhile tutor, and Hugh Hastings and Beth DeVries as Sweetie’s parents are equally effective in their roles. Kirsten Delohr Helland and Matthew Kacergis make spritely and charming characters from Edmund’s novel.

It’s the story line that is problematic here. I found myself asking how all the elements of this play fit together. How could the teenaged problem child be so perceptive about Edmund’s novel? Why a long encounter with a lesbian vegan? And what did Sweetie’s father’s extended plaintive lament on his decreasing sexual potency have to do with this tale of adolescent angst?

Book and lyrics are by Maryrose Wood and music by Andrew Gerle. David Ira Goldstein directs. Almost ten years in the making, “The Tutor” is a homegrown product developed collaboratively by the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center in Waterford, Connecticut and as part of the Village Originals Series of New Musicals. For me it still needs more work.

Through April 27 at Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah, (425 392-2202, www.villagetheatre.org)
May 2 to 25 at Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett, (425 257-8600)

“The Suit” at Seattle Rep produced in association with Seattle Theatre Group

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(l to r) Nonhlanhla Kheswa and Ivanno Jeremiah in Peter Brook’s The Suit. Photo: Pascal Victor, ArtcomArt.

Peter Brook, like 30-year-old Scotch is an acquired taste. He’s to theatre what John Cage is to music—great but not to everyone’s liking. Those who’ve sampled and adore his productions will find much to love in “The Suit.” For the neophyte it may be a bit bewildering.

The acting is superb. Nonhlanhla Kheswa is heartbreakingly trapped and demeaned. Some adulterers are whipped, some killed outright. She is, instead, slowly, cruelly worn away, not allowed to forget her sin. Ivanno Jeremiah, as the so gentle and loving husband at play’s opening, masterminds her destruction as the play progresses. He shrouds his vindictiveness in bonhomie. Ever polite but ever ready to remind her of her sin.

The music reinforces mood, gently fills your soul with sadness here, with joy there. The set is haunting, typical of the way Brook reduces theatre to its essence. The open stage reveals but a few straight-back, wooden chairs painted in primary colors, a table, a few metal clothes racks, and, of course, a man’s suit on a hanger. They are moved and moved again to create the illusion of many sets, and to make sure that the man who shouldn’t be there is indeed ever present. The back wall, stark, bare is lit to match mood. Sometimes it’s blood red, sometime midnight blue, sometimes not lit at all.

Brook might be seen as a philosopher whose explorations take place on stage. He sees theatre as a place to defy rules, build and shatter illusions, but also to create lasting memories. This presentation contains some of the cast members and makes use of the production team from the play’s worldwide tour. Marie-Hélène Estienne and Franck Krawczyk collaborated with Brook in this theatre work based on a story by South African writer Canodoise Daniel “Can” Themba.

You won’t forget it if you go. The question is, will you enjoy the sensation?

Through April 6 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, (206 443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org).