Archive for April 2015

“Little Bee” at Book-It

Myra Platt, Co-Artistic Director of Book-It couldn’t have known when she began adapting Chris Cleave’s heart wrenching novel “Little Bee” for Book-It’s stage how incredibly timely this production would be.

The travails of an undocumented Nigerian immigrant girl in England takes on a much wider perspective today when bodies float in the Mediterranean, innocent children seeking safe haven are preyed upon as they attempt illegal entry to the United States, and when bright young people brought to the United States as babies or youngsters are denied college and a future because they lack “papers.” With each passing year, the number of the world’s endangered and repressed who seek relief in a developed nation grows. And no humane resolution to the problem has yet been proposed. Book-It with this production reminds us of what most of us are ignoring.

In Cleave’s book and on this stage the life of Little Bee in her native Nigeria is endangered. She has witnessed unspeakable horrors but miraculously finds her way to England . . . where she’s not wanted. Lacking papers, she spends years in a dismal detention center, manages to get out and make contact with the English family she met under horrifying circumstances on a Nigerian beach.

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Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako; photo by John Ulman

Little Bee’s sad story is heart wrenching, and this adaptation, played on Will Abrahamse’ spare yet so evocative stage, captures the emotional and too often the deadly cost of this issue.

The gifted cast members led by Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako and Sydney Andrews bring intense feeling and multiple accents to their roles. In addition to the Nigerian voices, we hear the speech patterns of many of England’s class and regional groups. The dialects seemed incredibly authentic. That’s an enormous achievement for Gin Hammond, Dialect Coach. But the downside is that I, and perhaps others, had trouble understanding some of what was said.

It’s a tragic tale, one that can easily sink into melodrama, and I’m afraid this production does that at times. Yet the issues are potent. Through it’s characters and the talented actors who present them, we are forced to address questions of conscience that we ignore to our own peril and dignity.

Through May 17 at Center Theatre in the Armory in Seattle Center, (206 216-0833 or www.book-it.org)

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at ACT

Since its debut in 1955, “Cat…” has been thrilling, troubling, and intellectually stimulating audiences worldwide. And, if you adore fine acting, you don’t want to miss this production of one of the greatest of Tennessee Williams’ plays. Williams never backs off deep emotion, never soft pedals intra-family jealousies, is unafraid of foul language. When astute directors work with superb actors on his incendiary scripts . . . well magic happens on stage. We have magic here.

The production runs three hours. I hesitate to admit my own limitations, but too often I find myself at two and a half hours looking at my watch and impatiently waiting for whatever is on the stage to be over. I could have watched this production for another hour. Williams’ words and plot brought to life by consummate actors is a gift. It epitomizes the best in theatre.

ACT - CAT - Brandon ONeill and Laura Griffith on bed (c) Chris Bennion

Brandon ONeill and Laura Griffith on bed Photo: Chris Bennion

Here, under the direction of Kurt Beattie, the staging works, as do all the other element of the production—lighting, costumes, sound, and set. They provide a fine background for the  actors.

Laura Griffith is exquisite as Maggie the Cat. She epitomizes repressed sexuality. She slithers around the stage like the serpent in Eden, enticing her wounded husband Brick (Brandon O’Neill) to partake of her fruit. Yet in the flash of an eye she becomes a harridan. She rails at him, attacks him, picks away at his sore spots, and all the while her longing, her neediness sweep the stage, the stage that she completely owns throughout the first act.

ACT - CAT - John Aylward intimidates (c) Chris Bennion

John Aylward as Big Daddy. Photo: Chris Bennion

Then there’s John Aylward as Big Daddy, scared of the future, demanding to be in control of the present. Oh he’s a powerful force! What he’s gained in wealth and land, he’s lost in human kindness. He rules his kingdom and its indentured family members with snarls, insults, and hurtful words. Aylward manages to make him both monster and pitiable creature.

These two, supported by the fine cast make this one of Seattle’s top productions this year.

Through May 17 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org).

“No Way to Treat a Lady” at Village Theatre

It’s awfully hard to be disappointed in a production if it stars Jessica Skerritt and includes actors with the talent of Dane Stokinger and Nick DeSantis, but I’m afraid “No Way to Treat a Lady” isn’t a tour de force. It’s predictable and a little musty, an old tale animated by the terrific cast.

Adapted by Douglas J. Cohen from William Goldman’s novel of the same name, this was work-shopped at Village back in 1999. From there it went on to Off-Broadway success and a long life in regional theatre. Here it is back at Village and finally a main stage production.

A psychiatrist might wonder what kind of relationship Goldman had with his mother. In this work, he presents two mothers, both creepy. One is the overbearing Jewish mother (Jayne Muirhead) who both coddles her son Moe and constantly reminds him of his failures. Moe (Dane Stokinger) is a hard working, affable guy, not a world-beater, but a good detective. Stokinger plays the role as a bit of a sad-sack, but a well meaning one.

The other mother (Bobbi Kotala who, by the way plays three other roles in this production, all with aplomb) is a cold and demanding recently deceased actress. Her son Kit (Nick DeSantis) is also an actor but one who hasn’t lived up to her ambitions and one who can never do enough to please her, so she haunts him after she’s dead. He may not be as successful on stage as she would like, but he’s enormously successful strangling women, and, of course, it’s Moe’s job to put an end to his evil ways.

DeSantis reminded me in some ways of the villain in those old time melodramas. All that is missing is a waxed mustache to twirl.

Meanwhile, the beautiful Sarah Stone (Jessica Skerritt), a potential victim of Kit’s and the love interest of Moe’s is caught right in the middle. As noted, she’s glorious to look at, has a wonderful voice, and plays her part with just the right sang-froid.

Director Steve Tomkins hasn’t quite succeeded in turning this minor work into a major production, and the orchestra, under the direction of Chris Ranney, does as well as can be expected from a score that seemed mighty repetitive to me. But, oh, you will like the acting.

Through April 26 at Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St., N., Issaquah (425 392-2202 or villagetheatre.org), and May 1-24, Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett (425 257-8600).

“LIVE! From the Last Night of My Life” at 12 Ave. Arts

Don’t do it Doug! You seem to be such a nice guy. Don’t kill yourself tonight. Yeah you’re in a dead end job now, but most of us have those periods. You’re smart! You’re young. You have potential! Don’t do it!

And that’s the conundrum around which “LIVE! From the Last Night of My Life” is built. Affable Doug Sample, so poignantly played by Ryan Higgins, is stuck on the late night shift (i.e. “the graveyard shift”) in a 24-hour convenience store. He’s the guy who hasn’t made it in the dot.com gold rush, the one who left too early. So the gun in his backpack is loaded, and he says he’s going to shoot his brains out at the end of his shift.

We can almost understand his angst as we watch the parade of characters march or float through the store. Weird ones, sad and lonely ones, frighteningly aggressive ones, deliberately annoying ones, and even some old friends—it’s a long night, and when the parade of human diversity lets up for a few moments, Doug talks to the security camera, spilling his angst to the boss who may find his body in the morning . . . if indeed he does kill himself.

It all plays out in Michael Mowery’s set that meticulously recreates every such store in every city in the entire country. It’s got walls of different refrigerated foods, every sort of high carb snack and junk food imaginable, a few rolls of toilet paper and personal hygiene products, gas pumps outside, and the sense of a dead end within.

Written and directed by Wayne Rawley and produced by Theatre22 this is a revival of the well-received Seattle production mounted by Theater Schmeater in 2011. The current version includes almost entirely the same cast and crew that created the original.

Lugubrious though the plot might sound, this is thought provoking and very funny. The sharp dialog is loaded with keen humor. There’s a full-cast dance number you won’t soon forget. There are touching intimate moments and spine chilling encounters. It’s a slice of late-night life offering us the opportunity to determine what makes success and what makes failure.

Through April 18, 2015 offered by Theatre Twenty-Two at 12th Ave. Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, (206 257-2203 or www.theatre22.org).

“Lizard Boy” at Seattle Rep

One of the most multi-talented performer/artists in town is the not-yet-30 Justin Huertas. He’s a cellist, guitar player, actor, singer, dancer, artist, composer, and now playwright. This, his first musical theatre piece, “Lizard Boy” now playing at Seattle Rep under the direction of Brandon Ivie has been gestating for almost five years.

Its evolution began when the Rep’s artistic director, Jerry Manning, recognized Justin’s talent and wanted to stimulate its development. At that time Justin was touring with “Spring Awakening” but both Manning and the Rep’s Education Director Andrea Allen encouraged him, “Keep diaries of your experiences; write about your life.” Over the years Manning and Allen continued their encouragement until tragically both died, but not the spark they lit within Justin, and from it came “Lizard Boy,” a story of an unlikely hero with the green, scaly skin of a lizard.

Lizard boy is an ambitious, bright, talented, very lonely, gay guy, like so many others. Summoning up all his nerve, he goes to a gay dating web site and arranges a hook up.

All the awkwardness and hesitations of a first date are exaggerated by the fact that he has that lizard-like skin. But in some strange way the date works. Two somewhat awkward and somewhat shy men go out and have themselves a late night experience where the music soars, the theatre rocks, and Lizard Boy is on his way, helped along by his date Cary (William A. Williams) and a gorgeous but dangerous blonde named Siren (Kirsten deLohr Helland).

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Kirsten deLohr Helland, Justin Huertas and William A. Williams. Photo: Alabastro Photography.

All three are musicians as well as actors. Huertas announced that he wanted the music to feel like it’s coming from a garage band that’s having a really good time. And it does that and more. His fellow actor/musicians both play piano, guitar and other instruments, and together the trio causes the theatre to vibrate.

The backdrop is a series of Huertas’ manga-like cartoons that follow the action. The drop-dead costume that is Siren’s body suit leaves nothing to the imagination. Or, should I say it encourages all types of imagination among male audience members?

You don’t come here for the plot. I’m still trying to get all the comic book parts in order, and I don’t think either Huertas or the Rep have quite figured that out yet. What you get instead is a happening! A stage experience that is an explosion of young talent, one of those presentations that reminds you of what a splendid theatre community Seattle is. Oh, and if money is tight, you can get front row seats to every performance for $5.00 in person. Available one-hour before performance (subject to availability) at the box office.

Through April 26 at Seattle Rep, 155 Mercer St., Seattle Center, (206 443-2222 or seattlerep.org).