Archive for April 2014

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at Seattle Rep

Fifty-two years ago Edward Albee electrified theatre audiences with a play that exploded the myth of the happy marriage. No June Cleavers or Robert Young fathers here! And now Seattle audiences have an opportunity to revisit this groundbreaking American play in a stunning production at Seattle Rep directed by Braden Abraham, and it’s as powerful now as it was then

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(l to r) Amy Hill, Aaron Blakely, Pamela Reed and R. Hamilton Wright in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Photo: Alabastro Photography.

George and Martha, a middle-aged faculty couple at a small college, have invited a young, new professor and his naive wife over for a post-party nightcap. In the liquor binge that follows, a venomous no-holds-barred free-for-all strips off the masks behind which they hide, revealing the sad, unfulfilled expectations that have rotted their marriage.

It’s heart breaking; it’s horrifying, and it’s incredibly funny. Albee, astute observer of unsuccessful marriages won both a Tony and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for the play. It was also chosen for a Pulitzer Prize by the drama jury, but rejected by the advisory committee because of profanity and sexual themes. (Some things do change over time.)

In this electrifying production, Pamela Reed as Martha burns up the stage. She’s a braying, harridan, filled with rancor, explosive with anger. Watch her leg twitch back and forth as she readies her next demeaning salvo. Listen to her harsh laugh. Watch her cruel facial expressions.

R. Hamilton Wright as George gives almost as good as he gets. He wounds with a little more grace, but his cruelty is equally noxious. He stalks before attacking. She demeans. He snipes and knows exactly how to hurt her the most.

Meanwhile Aaron Blakely and Amy Hill as the young couple trapped in this snake pit move from bewildered horror to their own form of dysfunction. I loved the fact that Ms. Hill, was dressed in powder blue, a color for innocent babies. Turns out neither she nor her husband are true innocents, but they have a long way to go to equal Martha and George.

You’ll laugh a lot at this show. Albee is brilliant at inserting really funny dialog within a really horrifying examination of marriage, a marriage where husband and wife try to destroy each other even as they realize they can’t live without one another. This is a production that shouldn’t be missed.

Through May 18 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, (206 443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org)

“Impenetrable” Presented by SIS at West of Lenin

If you think beauty is only skin deep, this play suggests you think again. It’s a hard biting examination of the negative fallout from the obsession with beauty that pervades our society. Where beauty is all, it’s impossible for any woman to live up to the concept of perfection that is demanded.

Smartly directed by Charles Waxberg, we see how this obsession impacts four females: a pre-teenager, her mother facing the changes in appearance wrought by age, a truly beautiful young med school student, and a chunky Starbucks manager. All are riddled with the inevitable insecurities the beauty quest engenders.

What propels the play’s action is a billboard featuring the med school beauty who had earlier modeled for a friend. There she is in all her exposed lusciousness, but arrows point to various parts of her body pointing out flaws that can be fixed at a local spa. She didn’t know her photo would wind up as a billboard and is horrified. That billboard is backdrop to the action and works wonderfully throughout the production as a statement about the issue.

The middle aged mother is angry. She’s going to fight this societal sickness. Her daughter and all in her generation should be allowed to live in a world where beauty doesn’t define a woman’s worth, and where the self-loathing and insecurity it engenders are gone. Her campaign to get rid of the billboard works—but with negative unanticipated consequences. Of interest is the fact that playwright Mia McCullough based this play on a true incident in Chicago’s suburbs.

The acting here is generally moving. Each actress fulfills her role as a symbol of one aspect of womanhood. Erwin Galan as the male spa proprietor who commissioned the billboard is especially compelling. He’s promulgating the beauty message, making his living on it, yet he’s just a nice man, filling a need, totally unaware of the issues and their impact.

The subject here is an important one, one that demands more attention than it usually receives. With that in mind, SIS encourages the audience to remain after the performance to discuss the topic with the cast.

I only wish that the play itself was a little less strident, a little less over-the-top with the revelations near its conclusion. Sometimes less is more. But it’s still a thought-provoking and worthwhile night at the theatre.

Through May 3, at West of Lenin, 203 N. 36th St., Fremont, Seattle, (206 323-9443 or brownpapertickets.com/event/589187)

“Bethany” by Laura Marks at ACT

Here’s a play about the grievous impact that the recent recession had, specifically on many middle class Americans, especially the single moms. It focuses on lives of not so quiet desperation, lives where loss of dignity can be accompanied by loss of integrity, where loss of financial security often equals loss of civility. It’s a powerful subject in a not entirely successful play.

The Bethany of the title is the child never seen, the daughter taken away by the state from Crystal (Emily Chisholm), the homeless central character who is trying desperately to prove to the authorities that she can be entrusted with the welfare of her little girl. She works unsuccessfully as a car salesman in a dealership for the equally doomed Saturn and squats in a repossessed home already occupied by a clearly deranged man with violent tendencies (played with ferocious intensity by Darragh Kennan).

Into the agency comes Charlie, a New Age Elmer Gantry, offering motivational pap instead of Christian rhetoric. Richard Ziman plays him with a smarmy smile and a booming voice that commands the stage the way old-time preachers commanded the tent revivals. He toys with her, convincing her that he will buy the car, but wait not today. Back he comes again and again, reeling her in, raising her hopes.

Director John Langs and his production team have incorporated a number of clever staging devices here. This is not an easy play to perform in the round, but with startling musical and lighting effects they make it work.

What didn’t work for me were some of the assumptions of the play. Would even the most desperate woman move into a house inhabited by a psychotic, and live there alone with him? And how can Crystal be so dumb as not to recognize that it isn’t a car Charlie wants. He recognizes her vulnerability and takes advantage of it. The playwright doesn’t present Crystal as stupid. Or is she saying that any woman will sell her body if she has a good enough reason? I don’t buy that.

The impact of the recession was devastating for many, and many are still suffering economically. Noble intent here, less than successful vehicle for its presentation.

Through May 4 at ACT, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or acttheatre.org)

“Tails of Wasps” presented by new Century Theatre Company.

If you love plays with exquisite acting, acting where every member of the cast is so polished, where every nuance of every character is finely honed, then you have a lot to like in “Tales of Wasps” directed by Darragh Kennan.. The company is relatively new. Its first thought provoking, ingeniously staged play, “The Adding Machine” by Elmer Rice, appeared in 2008. It was greeted by raves and set a standard that each of the following six plays has lived up to.

Of course, even the best actors can’t make a stunning evening out of a mediocre play, and New Century has been very careful to select plays that capture our attention from the first moment and then reel us deeper and deeper into the moral issues, dilemmas, or tragedies that unfold.

In this world premiere production of Stephanie Timm’s play we have all the elements for an astonishingly good night at the theatre. The story is one we all know. A politician, a handsome, family man who is on the side of justice and equity, a man with a terrific future ahead of him is caught in a compromising situation. His world unravels.

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Hannah Mootz and Paul Morgan Stetler in TAILS OF WASPS by Stephanie Timm. Photo by Chris Bennion

What makes him do it? How could he do it? Why can’t he control his sexual urges? Paul Morgan Stetler plays the politician Frank, the man who planned his misdemeanors so well he thought he’d never be caught. Stetler makes Frank a likeable guy, a guy you respect, a guy who tries to protect his wife and family from hurt, a man who is destined to accomplish good things for his constituency. Yet he risks all, and Stetler helps you to understand both his passion and his pain.

Equally mesmerizing are the women who come in and out of his life. Brenda Joyce, Sylvie Davidson, Betsy Schwartz, and Hannah Mootz are each breathtaking. Each brings something different to Frank sometimes to her own misfortune or disappointment.

NCTC has a history of creating unexpectedly excellent settings for each of its play. For this one you’ll be seated in a “hotel room.” Get your tickets early. There are only about 70 seats, and you don’t want to miss this production.

Through April 27, Thurs.-Sun., at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or www.wearenctc.org).

“The Edge of Our Bodies” presented by Washington Ensemble Theatre

“The Edge of Our Bodies” presented by Washington Ensemble Theatre

Author Adam Rapp. a writer of young adult novels, is known for his insight into the adolescent mind. Here we meet Holden Caulfield’s modern-day female counterpart. Sixteen-year-old Bernadette has snuck out of her boarding school to take an Amtrak train from New Haven to Manhattan. It’s not that school is so awful, it’s just that she’s pregnant and must talk to boyfriend Michael who doesn’t know.

And so begins “The Edge of Our Bodies” where Sami Spring Detzer as Bernadette for about 90 minutes will tease, sadden, arouse, and puzzle you as she relates in the most precise detail you can imagine, incidents on her journey. It’s a journey of enlightenment as well as experience.

But this is an adolescent whose ambition is to be a short story writer. How can we tell what is true and what is imaginary in these revelations she acts out for us? What one does understand is that she’s on the cusp of womanhood, a rickety perch with the safety of childhood on one side and the uncertainty of maturity on the other.

Dressed in her school uniform of plaid skirt, white knee socks and blue blazer, her hair back in a pony tale, she’s an adolescent. When she lets down her hair . . . well that’s another story. Just as the costume works well, so too does the set placed on long planks of uneven length, another uneven edge. The few pieces of furniture give it structure, but they are almost unneeded. It’s Bernadette we mustn’t take our eyes off.

Periodically Bernadette, who likes theatre as well as literature, is bathed in red light, as she assumes the role of a sadistic maid in Jean Genet’s 1940s play “The Maids, thus revealing another aspect of her search to find herself. (Interestingly “The Maids starring Cate Blanchette, Isabelle Huppert, and Elizabeth Debicki will play in Manhattan this summer).

This is an unusually demanding role. Director David Bannon and Ms. Detzer decided to play Bernadette more subdued than I think the part demands. If, as the playwright and director suggest, women need an audience, that they must act if they are to make sense of the circumstances of their lives, more of that drama was needed here.

Through April 14 by Washington Ensemble Theatre, 608 19th Ave. E., (206-325-5105 or washingtonensemble.org)