Archive for June 2014

“The Price” by Arthur Miller at ACT Theatre

“The Price” is a less than perfect play, but it’s by Arthur Miller, and less-than-perfect Miller is better than the vast majority of other plays written in the last 50 years. So the opportunity to see a good production of any of his works is something to relish.

Here Miller is dissecting the illusions around which we build our lives. Be prepared for overlong monologues (as well as overlong play), relatively little action, and a work that’s almost as musty as the attic in which it takes place. Yet you can also expect emotional dynamism as it explores imperfect family relations, morality, and the illusions that destroy us.

THE PRICE (c) Chris Bennion - Pointing back - Charles Leggett and Peter Silbert and Peter Lohnes

Charles Leggett and Peter Silbert and Peter Lohnes
Photo by Chris Bennion

Set in a long-ignored attic filled with the material goods of their deceased parents, two brothers meet after 16 years and replay the angst, disappointments, misunderstandings, and false assumptions that have ruled their adult lives. They came of age during the Great Depression when their father lost everything. One son, the one with more promise, gave up his dreams, became a policeman, supported his depressed father, and scrimped to get by from then on. The other son continued school, became a surgeon, and lives very well.

Charles Leggett as Victor, the policeman, plays the role as an emotionally deadened survivor existing with his disappointments. Anne Allgood as his wife wants more. Her stoic acceptance of doing without throughout her married life is used up. She’s taut with her need for Victor to buck up, start a new career, and begin the new life with the money all the old furniture in the attic will bring. Peter Lohnes as the brother enters the stage broadcasting his success in manner, dress, and vocabulary. Before the end he’s a compassionate truth-teller, a transition that seemed a bit at odds with his earlier incarnation, but was obviously Director Victor Pappas’s choice.

The comic relief, and the voice of wisdom in this hotbed of resentments is Peter Silbert as Gregory Solomon, the old Jewish appraiser Walter has brought in. Silbert is exquisite in the role. Every element of the New York Lower East Side Yiddish accent, every nuance of his gestures, his manner of moving, or mopping his brow, all are definitive. Solomon, a man near 90, a man willing to strike out again, take up a new challenge is a brilliant foil that Miller has created against which to compare Walter.

So, lesser Miller, but still lots of meat to chew on after the show.

Through June 22 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or acttheatre.org)

Sandbox One-Act Play Festival at West of Lenin

Seattle is a mecca that attracts extraordinarily talented theatre people—actors, production experts, and writers. For the next few days (through June 8) you can sample creative work by all three categories of theatre talent at the Sandbox One-Act Play Festival.

Sandbox Artists Collective issued a call for submissions for one-act plays last year, and in January of this year, four plays were selected from a pool of anonymous submissions. Directors were then chosen. These pieces couldn’t be more different from one another. After months of work involving playwrights, directors, and cast, they are now being offered to the public for the first time.

The result is a fascinating, and truly satisfying night at the theatre. The performance begins with “The Tyrant” by Yussef El Guindi and featuring G. Valmont Thomas as a former Middle East president now imprisoned by the United States. He’s a man who has a great deal to say about the necessities of his form of government as opposed to those of a democracy. Thomas ensnares his audience with his gracious manner, the lift of his eyebrows, his unctuous smile. The playwright captures the audience with his powerful reasoning. (Directed by Anita Montgomery)

In “Cumulus” by Juliet Waller Pruzan, Leslie Law is a super-efficient flight attendant with four passengers, two of whom can’t resist talking to their seatmates. The secrets revealed, the coincidences, and the shocking, and I do mean shocking, on-board surprise are marvelously funny and heartbreaking at the same time. (Directed by Rachel Katz Carey)

 

“il” by K. Brian Neel puts three young programmers in a timed hackathon trying to outdo their own and anyone else’s genius. This is a sci-fi lovers delight, with its references to the greats, its riffs on computer nerds’ tribulations and accomplishments, and its slapstick. Here Sam Hagen, Ben D. McFadden and Nik Doner excel as the comic, hyper-energetic wonks. (Directed by Annie Lareau)

“Things to Say When It’s Too Late to Say Them, aka Proof You Were Here” by Brendon Healy will cause you to turn to your loved ones and apologize for your wrongs and reaffirm your devotion. It’s poignantly played, yet red-blooded, and a very clever reminder that human life is fragile. (Directed by Peter Dylan O’Connor)

Tonight through Sat. June 7 at 8:00 p.m. and Sun. June 8 at 2:00 p.m. West of Lenin, 203 N. 36th St., Seattle, (http://soapfest.brownpapertickets.com/. or tickets at the door, but seating is limited so check to make sure it’s available).

“Arcadia” by Tom Stoppard at Seattle Public Theatre

2.SPT_ARCADIA_Marston_Mar_PHOTO_Paul Bestock copy

Trevor Young Marston and Izabel Mar in Arcadia
Photo by Paul Bestock

Considered by many to be one of the finest, if not the finest play of the last 20 years, Arcadia is witty, wordy, erudite, clever, carnal, intellectual, funny, and sometimes baffling. It combines human lust with obtuse scholarship, and when one of the characters mentions the “actions of bodies in heat” we know it’s not only physics that he’s talking about.

This production, smartly directed by Kelly Kitchens, and played out on Craig Wollam’s marvelous set, captures the play’s philosophical ruminations as well as its humor. One set serves the play’s two time periods—1809-1812 and the present day. As a salon in an English country estate, it’s an early 19th C. classroom for tutor (Septimus Hodge played with proper hauteur and virility by Trevor Young Marston) and his charming but far too intelligent student Thomasina Cloverly (the simply delicious Izabel Mar), and it also serves as the battleground for a contemporary scholar and a writer who wish to reconstruct the past, but don’t see it the same way.

Throughout, the play switches between the time periods; the only character who appears in both is a live tortoise whose performance is more than adequate. An important conceit upon which the play revolves is that Lord Byron spent time here in the early 19th C. Stoppard offers sportive slaps at the pretentions of scholars, and their ability to misinterpret the “historical” record while they stubbornly defend their positions against all naysayers. Alyson Scadron Branner and Evan Whitfield as the contemporary researchers are worthy opponents in this battle of the minds.

Some of the characters had problems with the accents. I found it difficult to understand all that the lovely Thomasina had to say. But the large cast and production team, overall, bring us an intellectual and visual treat that’s here in Seattle only until June 8. If you enjoy cerebral challenges within a coating of humor, you should enjoy this.

The whole play is a mind game in fancy dress. From the Second Law of Thermodynamics to the characteristics of classical architecture, mathematical, literary, and physics, theories swirl through the air. I didn’t follow every one of them, but I don’t think that’s a problem. Who among us has the agility or breadth of mind that Stoppard has?

Wed.-Sun., through June 8, at Seattle Public Theater in the Bathhouse 7312 W. Green Lake Drive N. (206 524-1300 or www.seattlepublictheater.org).

“A Small Fire” by Adam Bock, produced by Sound Theatre Company

Emily was what my father would call “a Pistol.” She owned a construction company and ran it with a foul mouth and a demand for excellence. She has a loving husband and what they consider a good marriage. Their beloved daughter, Jenny is about to get married. Yes, there are frustrations and occasional anger. What relationships don’t have those aspects?Gordon Carpenter, Teri Lazzara photo by Ken Holmes A Small Fire

But suddenly Emily becomes ill. In too many ways she’s robbed bit by bit of her full participation in the world. Teri Lazzara is a spellbinding Emily in a play that demands superb acting. Each actor here brings to the production passion, compassion and a touch a humor. Gordon Carpenter as the husband provides a model for coping and loving when the one we love is diminished. Sarah Coates as the daughter shows with excruciating poignancy the ups and downs of mother/daughter relationships, the vexations that are merely surface tensions above a deep well of love. Ray Tagavilla as Billy, Emily’s foreman, her right-hand man, has just the right brusque flippancy and understanding to spar with Emily when she’s well and to sustain the entire family as she deteriorates.

Director Julie Beckman and Sound Theatre artistic director Teresa Thuman selected the tiny New City Theatre because of the intimacy it allows between cast and audience. One of the wonders of this production is the manner in which they’ve used the small stage. Set designer Montana Tippett has created five totally different sets ranging from construction site to wedding reception, from indoors to outdoors. They are amazing and effective transformations.

In this play, the characters are challenged to learn more about themselves and their loved ones. They must search within themselves for the resources necessary to cope with physical and emotional change. Their experiences cause us to leave the theatre questioning our own capacities.

There’s lots of really good theatre in Seattle right now. Put this one up there with the best.

Thurs.-Sat., through June 21 at New City Theatre, 1406 18th Ave., Seattle, (206 856-5520 or www.brownpapertickets.com/event/634765 or www.SoundTheatreCompany.org)