Archive for September 2015

“99 Ways to Fuck a Swan” Presented by Washington Ensemble Theatre

Oh Leda! What allures you must have had. You remember Leda, don’t you? She was the Greek woman for whom Zeus transformed himself into a swan and then had his way with her. Depictions of their coupling are in museums around the world. Leonardo, Michelangelo, Correggio, Rubens, and many others including Cézanne have recorded their tryst, and now Washington Ensemble Theatre brings you an up-to-date stage version where Greek mythology tumbles into Renaissance history and winds up in oh-so contemporary American society.

If that sounds like a bit too much, it is . . . perhaps more than a bit too much, but within this all-encompassing jumble are some memorable elements. Some are funny, some touching, some intellectually rewarding. There’s a terrific take on a group therapy session, a tender opening up of two somewhat troubled individuals, more than one bizarre fetish, one of the most magnificent bodies you are likely ever to see, and a hilarious job interview with the managers of a website named “DVEnt.com”. I’ll leave it to you to determine what their mission was.

Written by Kim Rosenstock and directed by Ali Mohamed El-Gasseir, this encompassing exploration of deviance doesn’t include any sheep, but it has a whole lot more. Don’t come expecting smut, however. This is an erudite work performed by skilled actors.

The play announces itself as one that offers: frank discussions, hardcore honesty, scary reality, everyday ineptitude, nudity, and explicit sexual content. I think that pretty well sums it up. The play would, however, benefit from some judicious cutting, and though not all the elements fit together to create a seamless whole, this is fresh, risk taking theatre. You may well be offended by some of it. It is, after all an exploration of deviance with some sublime “normal” sex thrown in, but I guarantee there will be lots to think about after it’s over.

Through Oct. 12 at !2th Ave. Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, (206 325-1505 or washingtonensemble.org).

“Dracula” at Taproot Theatre

Everyone knows the name “Dracula ” and the fact that it bespeaks horror! Some of us have even dressed as vampires à la Mr. Dracula on Halloween. But few of us have actually read the Gothic horror novel by Bram Stoker that was first published in 1897.

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Photo by John Ulman

Taproot offers an adaptation of the Bram Stoker story. But be aware, this is an adaptation of the original story, not the campy popular version that’s part of popular culture. Here, the deeper story is one of good versus evil. The moral is clear, but in the telling it loses none of its macabre quality.

In this version, directed by Scott Nolte, Count Dracula, the vampire, is played with bloodthirsty passion by Aaron Lamb. His quest for blood leaves a trail of depleted corpses. It all takes place on Mark Lund’s stark and eerie stage of grey stonewalls and stone floor and the most minimal props. Brian Engel has bathed this grey set in low lighting that reinforces the dark mood most effectively.

The story centers on a group of innocent English gentlemen of various professionals who have business with the lurid Count. There are also two sweet young things who plan to wed two of the gentlemen . . . or who both should have been their brides were it not for Dracula. Melanie Hampton as Wilhelmina is a superb narrator, and pretty Anastasia Higham as Lucy is a captivating innocent, so much so that you know there’s trouble ahead for that character.

The acting overall is skillful. Special mention must be made of Pam Nolte who plays three small roles and is marvelous as a madwoman who has her own little bloody games.

Screams, tombs, blood, and corpses build the tension. Garlic as well as crosses and the Christian host are used to ward off the evil vampire, and eventually to destroy his power.

This adaptation by Nathan Jeffrey, captures the terror of the novel but in reworking it for the stage the story becomes a bit confusing. There’s no question about Dracula’s evil. The machinations to destroy him, however, are less well delineated.

Through Oct. 24 at Taproot Theatre 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, (206 781-9707 or www.taproottheatre.org).

“What we Talk About When We Talk About Love” at Book-It

When short-story master Raymond Carver wrote about love, he exposed raw nerves, emotional highs, and painful realities. This Book-It adaptation of four of his stories captures all the brilliance of this master storyteller who was so good at depicting the humor and documenting the gut-wrenching actuality of so many marriages in middle class America.

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Andrew DeRycke. Tracey Hyland, Carol Roscow, and Kevin McKeon in “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” Photo by John Ulman

This is not the first time Book-It has tackled Carver’s work. In this 2015 presentation adapted and directed by Jane Jones, one new story has been substituted to give a fuller flavor of the author’s work. In addition, the entire production has been fine-tuned. What we now have is a little gem that speaks broadly yet resonates on a personal level. Andrew DeRycke, Tracey Hyland, Kevin McKeon, and Carol Roscoe play the various roles with consummate skill.

All four appear in “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” a piece that sets the tone for the entire evening. The jolly little group sits around drinking and chatting, chatting often about love, a topic that has a dark underside. Light banter gives way to false gaiety. We watch the cast move through the stages of graciousness to drunken revelry, to lurid revelations. Subtle body language and pregnant pauses reveal a realty we’d rather not face but know exists.

My favorite piece was “The Student’s Wife.” It’s a bedroom scene. He reads Rilke to her as she falls asleep. Then he can’t stay awake. She gains a second wind, has much to discuss. I defy anyone who sleeps in a bed with a partner not to relate to and be delightfully amused but then saddened by the interchange. Tracy Hyland plays the wide-awake wife on just the right emotional roller coaster.

Carol Roscoe as the divorced wife in “Intimacy” brings a level of sustained anger and mania to her encounter with her ex-husband that brilliantly connects funny with tragic. Kevin McKeon gives silence a whole new intensity in “Intimacy” and then turns into a marvelously bizarre visitor in “Cathedral.” In “Cathedral” Andrew DeRycke is outstanding as the bemused and somewhat peeved husband who gradually gains control of the situation.

Raymond Carver is one of the Northwest’s most esteemed writers. Were he alive today, he’d be most pleased with Book-It’s take on four of his exquisite short stories.

Through Oct. 18 at Center Theatre in the Armory at Seattle Center, Seattle, (206 216-0833or www.book-it.org).

“Knocking Bird” at West of Lenin

Do you love Edgar Allen Poe? Do you wish Rod Serling were still alive to create more creepy TV shows? Have you any interest in psychological dramas? If so make every effort to get over to West of Lenin Oct. 1-3 to catch the world premiere of “Knocking Bird” before it closes.

Three talented actors (Angela DiMarco, Sam Hagen, and Alex Matthews) take on a script that’s as psychologically taut as any I’ve seen recently. Each one offers a nuanced performance, with just the right mix of placidity and tension for the role.589364-250-1

I don’t want to say more about the plot than to tell you that a young couple, after the wife’s serious automobile crash, move into the woods where life includes trips to a not too distant 7-11 and an intense interest in the local bird life, especially the woodpeckers. The husband takes up woodworking, and his ever so realistic and ever so significant birdhouse hangs over the audience. A former colleague who had been an extremely special friend comes to visit. Secrets are out. Life as they knew it is no more.

This is a first class production of Emily Conbere’s psychological thriller. Director Paul Budraitis and his entire production crew deserve raves. The special effects are intense. There are amazing video projections. DeMarco’s costume transformation is shocking yet perfect. The birds are ingenious. And the optical illusion created by the last set is awesome.

And then, when the play is over, and you think back on it, it gains in richness as you realize how all the lines, all the bits fit together so neatly to create a whole that has revealed itself to you oh so slyly.

Through Oct 3, at West of Lenin, 203 N. 36th St., Seattle, (206 352-1777 or http://westoflenin.com).

“Green Whales” Presented by Foreward Flux Productions

Straight from New York to resettle in Seattle, is Forward Flux whose first two productions “Green Whales” and “Still Life” are currently being offered in rotation on Capital Hill in the theatre in Kaladi Brothers Coffee Shop/Gay City.

The space is small, and the production resources are limited, but the play I saw, “Green Whales,” was funny, smart, well acted, and well worth a visit. Director Wesley Frugé has pulled together a fine cast and selected a zany vehicle to show off their talents. Since I didn’t see “Still Life” this review is based just on “Green Whales.”

Playwright Lia Romeo opens her work as two sisters remember the bad and look for the good of the mother they just buried. Joanna (played with gusto by Leslie Wisdom), the tall, voluptuous, sexpot sister commiserates with her tiny, flat chested older sister Karen (winsomely played by Rachel Anne Godbe). Poor Karen has a genetic disorder (Turner Syndrome) that causes her to look like a pre or early teen, makes it almost impossible for her to reproduce, and pretty well rules out any romance in her life.

When the sisters decide that only a pedophile would be interested in Karen, Joanna sets out to find one for her sister. What happens next is filled with misunderstandings, mistaken assumptions, bizarre coincidences, and even a little police action. Clayton Michael as the suspected pedophile who maintains his dignity and appeal throughout and Joanna’s boyfriend Roy who also happens to be a ham-handed, not very bright policeman make a very odd and very funny pair.

The play has the charm and laughs of a good sitcom. You probably won’t remember it six months from now, but my guess is that you will thoroughly enjoy it when you see it.

Through Oct. 3, Kaladi Brothers Coffee Shop/Gay City, 517 E. Pike, Seattle, (800-838-3006 or www.forward-flux.com). Check website for production calendar.