Archive for May 2014

“Terre Haute” in ACT’s Eulalie Scandiuzzi Space Presented by Bridges Stage Company

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Robert Bergin as Harrison and Norman Newkirk as James.
Photo by Ian Johnson

The catastrophic consequences of patriotism gone wrong! That’s what “Terra Haute” is all about. Powerfully written by Edmund White and well directed by Aaron Levin, this two-person play will leave you a little dazed and probably a lot troubled

It’s a fictionalized account of the relationship between Timothy McVeigh (here Harrison) and Gore Vidal (here James). McVeigh corresponded for three years with Vidal while in Terre Haute Federal Penitentiary awaiting execution. The two never met. Vidal destroyed their letters, but did write a 2001 article for “Vanity Fair.” There he suggested that McVeigh’s heinous destruction of the Murrah Federal Building and the accompanying deaths of 157 people and wounding of more than 500 was a response to McVeigh’s belief that our government was murdering its own people and eroding the liberties guaranteed in our Bill of Rights (think about the Waco incident). This was not the act of a crazed mad man, Vidal averred. It was a political statement.

Mr. White has imagined a series of meetings at the penitentiary between the two in the last week of McVeigh’s life. The writer character is a sophisticated, well-dressed, older member of the upper class. the prisoner in an orange jump suit who enters in shackles each time he meets with the writer is a highly intelligent member of the lower class. Their conversations explore many issues about which they share concern and that are still troubling in our country today.

It is played without an intermission, on a stage that approximates what I think a penitentiary’s visitor’s rooms might look like—ever present guards, an observation catwalk above, inch thick see-through partition separating guest from prisoner, bleak grey and white cinder block walls, thick locked doors. Sobering prison noises reinforce the visual effect.

And visit after visit, McVeigh, a former Gulf War soldier trained by ours government to “excel at killing people,” tells why he believes ours government has become immoral. He quotes Jefferson, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

The acting is superb. Robert Bergin as the McVeigh character is a master at the subtle gesture and facial expression. Yet he can be frighteningly explosive too. Norman Newkirk embodies the patrician. Mr. Elegance personified, but a man struggling with his own mortality and existence.

Democracy is fragile, threatened by self-serving or ignorant politicians, an ill-informed public, lunatics, big money and misguided decisions. This play and production are a timely reminder.

Through June 15 at Act Theatre’s Eulalie Scandiuzzi Space, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or acttheatre.org).

“Funny Girl” at Village Theatre

Fanny Brice may not have been a beauty, but she was a talent of enormous appeal, a star in the days of vaudeville and Ziegfeld’s Follies. “Funny Girl” tracks a brief period in her life when her professional career was booming and her love life was doomed. Village Theatre’s revival of this 50 year-old musical, here directed by Steve Tomkins,” lights up the stage with its clever set, lively dance numbers, and extravagant costumes, just as it fills the theatre with its memorable sound.

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Sarah Rose Davis as Fanny Brice and Logan Benedict as Nick Arnstein.
© 2014 Tracy Martin.

Written by Isobel Lennart with music and lyrics by Julie Styne and Bob Merrill it first opened on Broadway in 1964 starring Barbra Streisand, and was an instant hit. Tim Symons and Bruce Monroe are the music directors in this Village production, and Sarah Rose Davis as Fannie belts out the songs with gusto. She is equally capable of wringing poignancy from the lyrics as in her rendition of the all-time favorite “People.” This is a show with quite a few memorable musical numbers—”You Are Woman I am Man,” “Sadie, Sadie,” and “”Don’t Rain on My Parade.”

Logan Benedict as Nick Arnstein, the man she never should have married, the man with a seedy past and an unsavory future, is so suave, so convincing, you understand immediately how she couldn’t resist him.

Don Collins as Florenz Ziegfeld captures his stature and grace. In a company of outstanding dancers, John David Scott as Eddie Ryan, Fannie’s friend and supporter, is remarkable. And if you have any affection for old fashioned, elderly Jewish and Irish New York women, you’re in for a treat with the four in this production.

Through July 6 at Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah, (425 392-2202 or www.VillageTheatre.org

July 11-Aug. 3 at Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett, (425 257-8600 or www.VillageTheatre.org

“Don Juan in Chicago” produced by Arouet

Arouet is one of those local theatre companies that excels at finding absolutely delightful offbeat works. “Don Juan in Chicago” proves my point. Written in 1995 by the witty David Ives (his “Venus in Fur” and “All in the Timing” have also been produced in Seattle within the year), it’s a reimagined tale of the 16th C. fictional libertine.

"Don Juan in Chicago" produced by Arouet

Dylan Smith (Don Juan), Amanda Falcone (Dona Elvira), and Zach Sanders (Leporello)
Photo by Michael Brunk

In this version of the many-times-told tale, Don Juan (well played by Dylan Smith) at 30 is a virgin (no time for wastrel activities, he alleges) living in Seville in 1599. He desires immortality and makes a deal with an attractive and utterly self-confident devil (Caitlin Frances). She’s honored to be dealing with an intelligent man, says this she-devil who has a wicked sense of humor. Of course he can exchange his soul for perpetual life, but only as long as he beds a woman every night but never the same woman twice. And so begins 400 years of fornication.

The devil also dooms Don Juan’s poor servant Leporello (Zach Sanders) to the same longevity but without the sex, and together they move through the centuries occasionally encountering Dona Elvira (Amanda Falcone) who loves Don Juan and has also made a pact with the devil. She doesn’t want eternal life, but she must have sex with Don Juan twice if ever she is to be released from her earthly cares. Oh that impish devil!

When the play moves to Chicago in contemporary time, Leporello continues to keep track of his master’s bedmates, making sure no one gets a second chance with the now weary womanizer. Of course there are unexpected plot twists as new women and new complications present themselves.

Joshua Jon has directed this farce with flair. There’s not a weak member in the cast, and though the space offers many challenges, the company makes it work.

The actors speak in verse. And almost all of the couplets are wry, clever and marvelously funny. Listen carefully; you don’t want to miss any of the humor or the cultural references. The author, who manages to give new erudition to the word lecherous, offers literary sophistication wrapped in bawdy humor.

This is closing on Sat. so get your tickets now.

May 29-May 31at The Ballard Underground, 2220 NW Market St., Seattle, (425 298-3852 or arouet.us/tickets)

“Diana of Dobson’s” at Taproot

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Olivia Hartshorn Helen Harvester in Diana of Dobson’s at Taproot Theatre.
Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

Like a delectable cream puff, Taproot’s “Diana of Dobson’s” has a light exterior covering a substantial interior. This early 20th C. romantic comedy by Cicely Hamilton, and directed here by Karen Lund, addresses the plight of England’s poor working women in a society where the wealthy luxuriate in their privilege with little compassion for or understanding of those below them. As our middle class disappears and the gap between rich and poor increases, this is timely social commentary wrapped up in frothy drollery.

Our heroine Diana (played with just the right combination of spunk and coy flirtatiousness by Helen Harvester) is an orphan, reduced to serving as a clerk in a department store. She lives in the store’s dreary dormitory with her fellow shop girls, subject to the demeaning rules laid down by her superiors but dreaming of a better life. When she inherits £300 from a distant relative, her new life begins. She’ll blow it all on one month of elegant living, beautiful clothes, a vacation in Switzerland, and crowded hours of a glorious life. Then when it’s over, she’ll cherish the memories as she returns to her dismal reality.

And so she does have her month! In magnificent costumes by Sarah Burch Gordon, she encounters the snobbish Mrs. Cantelupe who mistakes her for a wealthy widow, a perfect match for her spendthrift nephew Victor (Ian Bond). Of course there are charming misunderstandings as the masquerade continues, and love blooms in more places than one.

Mark Lund’s clever set transforms a dreary, mostly grey dormitory into a lovely public room in a Swiss hotel with windows looking out on the mountains. It then takes us into a mean London Street where we meet Diana after her magical month. The scenes are effective and the transitions work with remarkable ease.

The entire cast deserves kudos, from shop girls to the bewhiskered shop owner, the pompous and conniving Mrs. Cantelupe, and her profligate nephew. The accents that reinforce class differences are spot on. The only question I had with the play was: would Diana, born in a rural town, daughter of a doctor, be able to capture the speech patterns of England’s snobby upper class sufficiently to fool them. But that’s a carp. This is a delightful production, a charming romp with an important reminder to all of us in a society where the distribution of wealth becomes more skewed with every passing year.

Through June 14 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, (206-781-9707 or www.taproottheatre.org)

“Hair” at Arts West

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Cast of HAIR
photo by Michael Brunk

Welcome to the ’60s, when youth reigned supreme, or at least a good segment of that population believed they had answers to many of society’s problems and set about to make some changes. Their ideas about sex, drugs, militarism, race, and misuse of the environment challenged the status quo.

“Hair” the rock musical that first opened in 1967 brought all these provocative concepts to the stage where they outraged some segments of the population but generally delighted reviewers. The musical moved from one small stage in New York to another and then in 1968 to one of the large Broadway houses where it ran for four years. It has been produced again and again ever since. Certainly it was groundbreaking theatre with its bold nudity, its glorification of the drug culture, its commitment to the antiwar movement, and its disdain for tradition and puritanical sexual mores.

The Arts West production, directed by David Gassner, has an energetic cast that brings zest to the rousing rock music and accompanies it with vigorous dancing. Mathew Wright’s five-piece band makes a big, big sound, and Burton Yuen’s clever set with its arches is evocative of Washington Square Park in the Village in downtown Manhattan. After all, Greenwich Village was an epicenter for hippiedom.

This is lively entertainment where the musical performances cause the theatre to vibrate with energy. The night I was there, younger audience members responded with exceptional enthusiasm to this bit of history that they have read about but did not experience. For older audience members, those who lived through the period, it’s a reminder of how different our culture was some 45 years ago.

In some ways, the show is like an excavated fossil. So many of the ’60’s attitudes that were railed against by the youth culture are no longer an issue. We have legalized marijuana here in Washington. Sexual attitudes are more realistic now. Draft cards haven’t been around for decades.

Maybe it’s time for another fresh, dynamic musical that pays attention to the unresolved racial and environmental issues and the problem of gun misuse in our country. After all, “Hair” reminds us that when the disaffected truly take on the establishment, some real change is possible.

Through June 7 at Arts West, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle, (206 938-0339 or www.artswest.org).