Archive for September 2014

“The Invisible Hand” at ACT Theatre

The Playbill for this production includes this quote from Abraham Lincoln: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” “The Invisible Hand” is a morality play about shifting power, power and money. The issues it presents will haunt you long after you leave the theatre.

In a cell block controlled by militant Islamists in Pakistan, Nick, an American stock market wizard, is subject to the indignities of captivity. His shackles are rarely removed and physical abuse is common fare. It’s a bleak future for Nick until he comes up with the idea of paying his own ransom. He’s convinced that his brilliance in playing the stock market will allow him to raise the millions of dollars necessary to assure his freedom, and he convinces his captors to allow him to try.

Nick, like so many market gurus, is very successful. As the monies roll in, little by little life gets better for him. The shackles are removed; his cell is better equipped; his new guard and he form a strong bond. Maybe soon, he’ll be able to return to his wife and child.

ACT-The Invisible Hand - Elijah Alexander and Connor Toms and comics  (c) Chris Bennion_thumb

Elijah Alexander and Connor Toms and comics
Photo: Chris Bennion

As Nick works his financial magic, playwright Ayad Akhtar works some magic of his own. Below the story of captive Nick are serious issues. What is the nature of friendship? What is the fallout of greed, of self interest? Exactly what is the nature and role of faith in contemporary life? Do you really understand the power of money or the subtleties of history? And perhaps you should review your interpretation of international politics? These are all issues considered in the play, but it’s never didactic or preachy. It would benefit from some judicious cutting in the first act, however.

Director Allen Nause reinforces the suspense of this tale with taut direction. Connor Toms as Nick and Elijah Alexander as Bashir, his main guard, are well-matched foils for one another, navigating the dangerous quagmire between buddy and enemy with finesse. William Ontiveros brings gravitas to his role as Imam Saleen.

This is a play for the thinking man and woman. Yet it’s so tightly wound, it’s also a treat for the aficionado of suspense. Will Nick succeed? At what cost?

Through Sept. 28 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206-292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org).

“Sandbox Radio”

Five! Four! Three! Two! One! And at that point the orchestra bursts into lively music, production director and emcee Leslie Law announces “Welcome to Sandbox Radio,” the audience erupts with cheers and applause, and the crowd-pleasing show begins. This treasure box of delightful surprises offers short plays, comedy sketches, and musical interludes. Not quite like anything else in Seattle, it’s one of the most creative local theatrical experiences currently on offer.

Some of the finest Seattle actors line up in front of microphones, and, just as their forebears did in the 1930s and ’40s, they create magic with their voices. Yet Sandbox’s old-timey radio variety show (very much geared to contemporary audiences) is as interesting to see as it is to hear.

On stage are a number of tables containing an enormous variety of objects used to create the sound effects. The sound effects “engineers” are the actors who don’t have speaking roles at that moment. Yet they must carefully follow the scripts to synch the sounds of footsteps, bells, traffic, flowing water, and whatever else is called for. It’s fascinating to watch the wizardry of fabricated sound.

Musical director Jose “Jucy” Gonzales gets big sound out of his small orchestra. There are also guest musical artists. The night I was there “Modern Angels” (an oh-so-sweet female trio) transported me to a bygone era with their ethereal renditions of Johnny Mercer’s “Dream” and Harline/Washington’s “When You Wish Upon a Star.

Because the show is being transcribed for a podcast, when a flub or unexpected sound interrupts the flow, everything stops to correct the problem. An unruly bell began clanging inappropriately during the performance I attended. Instead of treating it like a calamity, it was turned into extemporaneous humor reinforcing the spontaneity and verve of the whole evening.

Sandbox Radio offers one-night shows performed at ACT Theatre, and only two more of them are on the calendar this year. On Oct. 13 there will be an encore performance of Beckett on the Radio (with a four-star cast). The final 2014 show (topic to be announced) plays Dec. 29. But you can subscribe to the podcasts in iTunes and Stitcher.

Sandbox Radio at ACT, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206-292-7676 or tickets@acttheatre.org) for information: www.sandboxradio.org.

“Angels in America Part 2: Perestroika” produced by Intiman Theatre Festival

Amidst the outpouring of praise being heaped upon Intiman’s offering of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America: Part 2” I am registering a negative response. I cannot, however write a review because, for the first time in my life, I walked out before the play was over. So, I can only say that I lasted about three hours, and then with strong encouragement from my companion, agreed to give up on this overlong theatrical piece. I recognize that the two parts were a watershed theatrical experience in the ’90s when the politics of the ’80s were still horrifying a vast segment of the society and AIDS, a disease for which there was no cure, was decimating the Gay community.

Kushner’s double bill was a catalyst for social change, thus the two plays are historically important.

Through Sept. 21 at Cornish Playhouse, 201 Mercer St., Seattle, (206-315-5838 or boxoffice@intiman.org).

Seattle Shakespeare’s “Waiting for Godot”

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Jim Hamerlinck, Darragh Kennan, Chris Ensweiler, and Todd Jefferson Moore. Photo by John Ulman

Seattle Shakespeare’s production of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” is a gift to Seattle, a gift of memorable theatre. Here superb acting coupled with slick production values is a good match for Beckett’s genius with words and his marvelous sense of humor. One can’t leave the theatre without asking how he managed to make such lamentable characters so funny.

In this absurdist comedy, Vladimir and Estragon, two vagabonds wait near a tree for someone named Godot. Theirs is a hollow existence; daily life empties rather than fills them. They talk to avoid the nothingness, to convince themselves that they are alive, somber conversations filled with wit and humor.

As they wait, in comes the merchant Pozzo, snapping his whip at his luckless servant Lucky who is leashed around his neck with a heavy rope and carrying Pozzo’s goods. Lucky is commanded to dance and then to think. Out comes a torrent of words that devolve into mindless gibberish. With a crack of Pozzo’s whip and a shouted command, Lucky picks up his load and off the two go.

The next day Pozzo returns; most memories of the previous encounter are lost. After he and Lucky leave, Vladimir and Estragon continue to wait for Godot instead of killing themselves. As we learned early on, “Nothing to be done!” even as life goes round and round repeating itself in its own tragic way.

Since it was first performed in 1953, “…Godot” has been considered one of the most important theatrical works of the Twentieth Century. Within it are explorations of love, honor, religion, horror, philosophy, and so much more, all presented in comical garb. In 1969 Beckett received the Nobel Prize for Literature, and this play was a significant factor in that award.

Here Director George Mount and his cast and crew present it with finesse. The large bare stage has within it a smaller stage, one that reminded me of an appropriate backdrop for commedia dell’arte (scenic design by Craig Wollam). This is the location for nearly all the action. The costumes by Doris Black have the perfect seedy/clownish quality.

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Darragh Kennan and Todd Jefferson Moore. Photo by John Ulman

Darragh Kennan and Todd Jefferson Moore bring the two vagabonds to life with bold actions and subtle gestures. Watch Kennan’s eyes. They say almost as much as do the words. Watch Moore’s body language. This, too, provides a wealth of meaning. The swaggering Chris Ensweiler captures the arrogance and cruelty of Pozzo with his movements as well as his words. And Jim Hamerlinck the tragic slave bends low as he carries the cares of the world in Pozzo’s bags.

There is so much here! When this play is performed with such √©lan, it’s a theatre event to be cherished.

Through Sept. 21 presented by Seattle Shakespeare Company at ACT Theatre, 700 Union Street, Seattle, (206-292-7676 or seattleshakespeare.org).