Archive for May 2015

Jeeves Intervenes at Taproot Theatre

See my review in The Seattle Times

“Talley’s Folly” presented by Seattle Public Theatre

The pier of the Talley’s old boathouse in rural Missouri is a romantic venue and Matt Friedman paces it nervously and talks to the audience as he waits for Sally Talley to meet him . . . hopes Sally will come to meet him. It’s 1944. The war drags on; the nation is still mired in bigotry. Matt hasn’t seen Sally in a while, but he knows what love is, and he loves Sally. So what if he’s a Jew and she’s the daughter of the Christian family once the wealthiest in this bigoted county?

Matt is erudite, funny, sincere, head-over-heels in love, and he simply won’t take no for an answer. Practical Sally who does show up sees no future in their relationship. He’s like a mosquito that won’t buzz off despite all her efforts to shoo him away. “Didn’t you find my letters funny, Sally?” “I’m not going to give up Sally.”

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Photo by Paul Bestock

And he doesn’t. Mike Dooly as the tenacious Matt brings a sweetness to the role that is captivating. His verbal pursuit of her is so charming, so affecting, so endearing that you root for him all the way. How, you wonder, can she hold out?

But both have their secrets. Both have pasts that left scars. Rebecca Olson portrays all of Sally’s vulnerabilities and thus her hesitation to succumb to Matt’s charms. If she takes no chances, she won’t get hurt.

There in the exquisitely rendered boathouse with the water lapping at its piers, and its white latticework entwined with vines the wounds from the past are gradually revealed. Craig Wollam’s set is simply beautiful. The whole production is beautiful. Kudos to Director Shana Bestock and her whole production crew

This lyrical, one act, love story cum comedy by Lanford Wilson won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Drama Critics Circle Award in 1980 and was nominated for three other major awards. Now 35 years later it’s just as meaningful and just as lovely.

Through June 7 at the Bathhouse Theatre on Green Lake, 7312W. Greenlake Dr. N., Seattle, (206 524-1300 or www.seattlepublictheater.org)

“Cabaret” at Village Theatre

“Cabaret” smash hit musical! Opened on Broadway in 1966. Marvelous success in London and elsewhere. Revived many times since its original production. And now here it is at the Village, directed by Brian Yorkey, and it’s just OK, not great. So what happened? All the songs are there. Tim Symons’ musicians are hot. Kathryn Van Meter’s dances are snappy. The singers are in good voice. The opening set with its detritus, destruction, just plain mess is powerful and sets a mood. Yet for some reason the production lacks verve. I think this is a case where the chemistry just isn’t right. Individual elements work well, but put them all together and they don’t sparkle.

You all know the story. It’s 1931 in Berlin at the Kit Kat Club, a seedy, somewhat risqué establishment with a creepy emcee (Jason Collins). Lead player Sally Bowles (Billie Wildrick) is pretty and sexy, and, of course when the visiting American Cliff Bradshaw (Brian David Earp) wanders in, he falls in love with her. Things are great at the Kit Kat Club where customers are expected to lap up the lascivious atmosphere, throw cares away, and revel in the lewd and wild. Meanwhile, the increasingly evident Nazi presence outside the club is ignored—until it can’t be.

The impact of that presence is most evident in the thwarted love affair between the boarding house owner, Fräulein Schneider (marvelously played by Anne Allgood) and Herr Schultz, the Jew, equally well played by Peter Crook. Their relationship is one of the best things about this production. Sadly the love affair between Sally and Cliff never takes off. There just isn’t any chemistry between them.

If it’s the music you are after, this will please you.

Through July 3, Francis Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St., Issaquah, (425 392-2202 or villagetheatre.org).

“The Children’s Hour” Presented by Arouet

As we all know, power in the wrong hands can be very dangerous. And in Lillian Hellman’s 1934 play “The Children’s Hour” badly placed power has devastating effects. Arouet’s gripping production captures all the emotion, tension, and heartbreak contained in this play that dared to address lesbianism at a time when it was illegal to even mention homosexuality on New York stages.

The story takes place in a girls boarding school established by two young women (Martha and Karen) with a dream. They’ve worked hard to make it a success, and by all measures it seems to be doing well. They do have one troublesome student, however. Young Mary is a vindictive, manipulative monster who after one punishment too many, runs home to her grandmother and accuses Martha and Karen of lesbianism. Of course they are not lesbians, but rumor and small mindedness destroy them.

Kayla Lian (Karen) and Lindsay W. Evans (Martha)

Kayla Lian (Karen) and Lindsay W. Evans (Martha) Photo by Michael Brunk

Director Daniel Wood has assembled a fine cast for this production that plays out on Robin Macartney’s subtle but effective set. Rachel Sedwick as the bad seed, Mary, is stunning. Evil exudes from her pretty little face and every inch of her body. She’s positively frightening. And the young actresses who play her classmates capture both the verve of youth and the helplessness and despair of those caught in the clutches of a monster.

Kila Lian and Lindsay W. Evans as the accused bring passion, hope, and then utter despair to their roles. They see that they are going to lose not only the school they have worked so hard to create, but also whatever joy they had hoped to achieve in the future. The vicious lie set loose in a homophobic society will work its evil.

Lillian Hellman has gone down in history as a potent though often controversial writer. When she adapted this play for the movies, she had to rid it of its references to lesbianism. Instead one of the school founders had sex with the other’s fiancé. Oh how interesting are society’s attitudes about appropriate sexual behavior.

There’s so much to like about this play and this production. It’s not easy to find the Ballard Underground, but it’s well worth the effort for this little gem.

Through May 31 at The Ballard Underground, 2220 NW Market St., Ballard, produced by Arouet, (425 298-3852 or http://arouet.us).

“The Tall Girls” produced by Washington Ensemble Theatre

UnknownAt a desolate railroad stop in a no-hope prairie town during the dry days of the Dust Bowl, young Jean waits in loneliness for someone to pick her up. Almeda at whose house Jean will live shows up late, dirty and unpleasant. She never asked for this visitor. Things don’t bode well for either of them, or for anyone else in this godforsaken prairie town.

But then a basketball enters the picture along with a new male teacher (well played by Ali Mohamed El-Gasseir) who agrees to be the basketball coach for a group of girls in love with the game. They form a team and, because they are short one player, they strong arm Jean into joining it.

Directed by Kelly Kitchins, the acting and staging work well to capture the deadening reality of life in the town of Poor Prairie as laid out by playwright Meg Mioshnik. But the play is about much more than life in the 1930s and girls’ basketball. It raises numerous issues about women’s place in society and the roles they must assume or are forced to assume. These issues continue to have relevance.

Leah Salcido Pfenning as Jean captures well the despondency of a girl discarded by her mother and forced to face her own tragedy alone. Competitive Almeda (Bailie Breaux) morphs from self centered brat to team player. Pretty Hannah Ruwe as Lurlene preens about the stage with certainty that beauty guarantees success and without it she’s nothing.

Chelsea Callahan as Inez accepts the limited future life offers a young farm woman, and Adria Lamorticella is Puppy, a sweet thing dominated by a mother who, lacking real power in society, manipulates and destroys opportunities for others. Through basketball these dead-end girls learn teamwork and dare to believe that they can achieve, that they can get good enough to be invited to the state championships.

Basketball offers hope in a place and at a time when optimism is almost impossible, especially for girls. It teaches good sportsmanship, offers the thrill of the win, and most of all it allows for dreams. But these are women, and this is the Depression on the prairie. Here such dreams rarely come true.

Through May 18, produced by Washington Ensemble Theatre at 12th Avenue Arts Theatre, 1620 12th Ave., (206 325-5105 or www.washingtonensemble.org).