Archive for September 2015

“Bloomsday” at ACT

Simply delicious! Zesty! Sweet! “Bloomsday” by Stephen Dietz is a frothy confection minus anything that suggests saccharine. It’s notable because of the clever script and the classy production.

And, it’s historic. It marks Dietz’ 11th mainstage play at ACT, his third world premiere here, and Kurt Beattie’s final directing assignment as Artistic Director of ACT. Put all that talent together with a topnotch cast, and you’ve got a real winner.

The play is, of course, set in Dublin, when an American man hooks up with a tour of James Joyce’s Dublin that is led by a most attractive Irish lass. Such tours have become a mainstay of Dublin sight seeing. Though few people have actually read Joyce’s “Ulysses,” considered by many to be the greatest novel in the English language, it’s the rare person who hasn’t heard of it and its complexity. So Dublin tours of the places mentioned by Joyce are exceptionally popular.

Here we have an older man, looking back on his experience 35 years ago when he, too, took the tour with a knowledgeable but feisty young woman and fell just a little bit in love. It’s impossible to go back in time, but that’s exactly what he does here. The dialog is clever, and the production captures the essence of the Irish as the two eras meld together. It is both tender and funny.

The cast is remarkable. Peter Crook, the old guy making his nostalgic return to Dublin revisits the streets and their memories with a longing that’s palpable. Sydney Andrews as Kathleen the young tour guide is as spunky and charming as the role demands, and her facility with Irish dialogue is incredibly good. The whole cast have the accent down pat.

Marianne Owen and Sydney Andrews Photo by Chris Benin

Marianne Owen and Sydney Andrews
Photo by Chris Benin

Erik Ankrim captures the impetuousness and awkwardness of youth as well as it’s lost chances. Marianne Owen is brilliant as the older woman who comes alive to observe these two foolish young people. She’s a font of wisdom, infuriated to be reminded of how they let a chance at love go. In one way she blames her younger self, after all it’s women, not men, who know the future.

This is beautiful dialog performed by master actors under the leadership of a superb director. And it is a poignant reminder to all of us to make sure we don’t live our lives without taking chances.

Through Oct. 11 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org)

“The Children’s Hour” presented by Intiman Theatre Festival

The power of a lie—that’s what this play, written in1934 and revised in 1952, is all about, and the issue is as significant today as it was in the midst of the Great Depression and in the era of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Lies are powerful! Think Vietnam and McNamara assuring the President that an unwinnable war was winnable. Think Iraq and Colin Powell asserting there was proof of weapons of mass destruction. Think of false accusations, of false testimony that leads some to prison and even execution. Think about the lies of contemporary politicians and the deceits we tell ourselves about our own society, about ourselves.

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Photo by Chris Bennion

“The Children’s Hour” is built around a lie promulgated by one of the students in an all girls school. It’s a lie to protect the girl from a situation she doesn’t want. She accuses the two women who operate the school of lesbian behavior in the dark of the night. With each telling she adds more details, provides “facts” to back up her story, and the adoring grandmother with whom she lives accepts her words as truth and acts upon them with horrible consequences for innocent people.

Director Sheila Daniels gives this play a 1980s setting. Her production staff has created a splendid set with good lighting and sound. Daniels assembled a good group of actors, but encouraged some of them to bring just a little too much emotion to their parts. There’s an overwrought quality that creeps in here and there in the scenes with the schoolgirls and with an Aunt who appears early and late in the play.

Jasmine Jean Sim is Mary the liar, the manipulator who can bend other girls to her will. It’s a tough role. Sim is powerful in it, but at times she appears to be simply evil and at other times her hysteria seems to be the result of mental illness. For me, the part demands one or the other, not both interpretations. In this presentation the director just hasn’t made clear which it is.

That said, there are some stellar performances here. Suzanne Bouchard as the grandmother too willing to believe her troubled granddaughter brings just the right compassion, horror, and determination to the role. Hannah Mootz and Tiffany Yvonne Cox as the two schoolteachers who are slandered move quite effectively from competent and upbeat women to destroyed individuals.

If you enjoy being challenged by issues of morality, Lillian Hellman has a lot to say to you. Overall, this is a very good production.

Through Sept. 27, (check website for exact dates) ay Cornish Playhouse, Seattle Center, Seattle, (206 315-5838 or www.intiman.org)

“Brechtfest” presented by The Horse in Motion at Can Can in Pike Place Market

This fall theatre season has included a variety of offerings that experiment with new formulations and new production techniques. Among them is “Brechtfest” that plays Monday nights and tests the idea of breakfast theatre. That’s right, come at 11:00 am on Sat. or Sun. mornings for a three course breakfast served before the performance and between intermissions of an original work (directed by Bobbin Ramsey) that combines elements of three Bertolt Brecht plays: “The Good Person of Szechwan,” “Baal,” and “The Threepenny Opera.”

It all begins when Nathan Brockett as a very suave Macheath, welcomes us with “Mac the Knife,” one of Kurt Weill’s (Brecht’s collaborator) most popular songs—a perfect beginning to set the scene. Brockett’s in good voice as are the other players, all accompanied by a well-tuned four-piece orchestra. There’s a tiny stage up front, but the action also takes place on the “runways” between tables where the audience eats and drinks. This is indeed up-close and personal theatre.

Soon on stage is Shen Te (elegantly played by Shaudi Bianca Vahdat), the good person of Szechwan. Throughout the play she acts in generous fashion, and, of course, it never works well for her. Meanwhile, the treacherous and cruel Baal (played with a sinister bravado by Liza Curtiss) swaggers about doing no good.

In a society where the game is rigged, is it possible to have morals and survive? Where poverty is all around us, can we maintain compassion? Is selfishness a necessary protection? These are just a few of the questions that Brecht and this production address.

This is an ambitious stage project, perhaps too ambitious. It’s a little too long (three hours), and the integration of the three works is a bit uneven.

But I liked it. I loved the ingenuity. I loved the audacity of it. And the performances and music deserve praise. Order your tickets in advance. The house is small and was filled the morning I was there.

Through Oct. 4 at Can Can downstairs at the south end of Pike Place Market, (www.thehorseinmotion.org)

“Green Day’s American Idiot” at Arts West

The music rocks; the large cast is dynamic; the story is a parable for our time. Arts West playhouse offers the Northwest premiere of the award-winning electric-rock opera “Green Day’s American Idiot.” It’s a loud, chaotic, energizing exploration of coming of age in the post 9/11 world, a time that has, in many ways, reordered life in America.

And Arts West has chosen an unorthodox method to present this work. There are seats on two sides of the stage for those who wish to view this presentation in a traditional fashion. Anyone who has mobility problems or would find it difficult to sit on the floor, get up quickly, or negotiate stairs, would probably be happier requesting one of these seats.

For those more agile audience members who want to immerse themselves in the musical, there’s a whole different experience to be had. This adventurous group is divided into three subgroups that follow the action around the theatre: on the stage; from the rafters; next to the orchestra; in front of, behind, and among the actors.

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

It sounds like sheer chaos, and, yes, it has that quality to it. But, and this is a big “but,” that immersive theatre experience is powerful. Just imagine the sound, lighting, and action swirling through and around you. It makes you part of the theatrical event in a totally new and exciting way.

The story at the center of the production concerns three disenchanted suburban young men, stepping away from their restrictive lives. Seeking more, they find sex, love, drugs, war, and rock and roll. Not all ends well. Reality, as it so often does, disappoints. While the story is nice glue tying together the many strands of this play, it’s the music and action that really define the production and a generation.

Director Eric Ankrim has pulled together an all-star production team and a large, talented and energetic cast. Chris Ranney and R.J. Tancioco get credit for the power of the award-winning music. It speaks to today’s generation and reminds baby-boomers of their era as well.

Through Oct. 11 at Arts West, 4711 California Ave., SW, Seattle, (206 938-0338 or www.artswest.org).

“Sound” Produced by Azeotrope

Among the core values of Azeotrope is the belief that theatre can and should draw together disparate communities. This, its newest production does just that. “Sound” is a bilingual play presented in spoken English and American Sign Language. Through clever use of unobtrusive live translators on stage and written translations in superscript, the entire play is accessible to both hearing and Deaf audiences.

Written by Dan Nguyen, directed by Desdemona Chiang and Howie Seago, and played by a talented cast, it turns out to be a remarkable, and, probably for most people, an unforgettable theatrical experience.

Two stories are woven within the work. The one that takes place in the late 19th C concerns Alexander Graham Bell (Richard Nguyan Sloniker), the man who sought to cure deafness, and his wife Mabel (Elizabeth Ayers Gibson) who sought a husband who gave equal attention to his family as to his work.

The other story concerns a contemporary divorced couple who have a Deaf daughter, now a teenager. The hearing mother (Lindsay Evans) agrees to allow their child to have a cochlear implant so that she can hear and fully appreciate life. The Deaf father (Ryan Schlecht) is outraged. To him, the life of a Deaf person is full and rich. Daughter Allison (Cheyenna Clearbrook) shouldn’t have that “normal” taken away from her in exchange for the greater society’s “normal.”

This is a sophisticated exploration of broken families, modern teens, and, of course, the many conflicting concepts about deafness and the treatment of Deaf people within the lager society.

Ryan Schlcht, as the outraged father who so wants to protect his daughter, seethes with emotion. Lindsay W. Evans as the mother who is also committed to doing the right thing for Allison brings equal passion and love to her role. They are supported by a strong cast.

This modest production has no bells and whistles, just incredibly good acting in a powerful play on a subject that is rarely ever addressed in theatre, and is accessible to both hearing and Deaf audiences. Don’t miss it.

Through Oct. 4 in The Bullitt Cabaret at ACT, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org)