Archive for October 2015

“Water by the Spoonful” By theatre twenty-two

In all lives come periods of crisis. The crises for the characters in “Water by the Spoonful” are now and have been for some time. The recovering crack addicts and the soldier returned from Iraq find equilibrium on a narrow ledge. And, as in real life, it’s friends or family who can steady them.

Theatre twenty-two’s deeply moving production of Quiara Algeria Hudes’ 2012 Pulitzer Prize winning play scores a hit on many levels. Its staging is creative. The actors are in top form, and obviously director Julie Beckman knew just what she was doing.

This is a story of interconnections. Many of the characters are members of the same Puerto Rican family, tied together by bonds of love and the strains of anger. Four characters, including one of the family members, are participants in an on-line support group for crack heads trying to stay clean. What they make very clear is that even after years away from it, crack still exerts a pull that is nearly irresistible.

Monica Tippett’s stage is cleverly built, almost like a construction site with different levels and different zones. On it actors can be together or thousands of miles apart. The members of the support group are located all over the country, have different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, are of different ages. Though the audience can see them and watch them interact, the characters know nothing about one another, only that they are recovering addicts in a particular chat room, and they desperately need the courage they provide each other.

The Puerto Rican family members know lots about each other. They too need comfort. The relatives who share a history could provide that, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Yazmin as played by Yesina Iglesias combines beauty of body and spirit as she tries to help her cousin Elliot, the returned Iraq vet. Jany Bacallao plays Elliot with a thin layer of sweetness not quite able to hold back his repressed anger and frightful memories.

Haikumom.com, known by her family as Odessa, a major player in both the support group and the Puerto Rican family, is stunning in her ability to bring righteous anger, compassion, strength of character, and fragility to her role.

This is powerful theatre reminding us of the potent impact of family forgiveness, the importance of community support, and the possibility of redemption.

Through Nov. 14 at West of Lenin, 203 N. 36th St., Seattle, (206 257-2203 or www.theatre22.org).

“Mr. Burns, a post electric play” at ACT

This is a “dark comedy” especially apt for English majors who like to sit around, smoke a little dope, and search out every cultural reference and deep significance embedded within the text. There is plenty here for those discussions—allusions to cave men, to the 14th C classic “The Decameron,” to the 1962 movie “Cape Fear” and its remake, and so much in between and after. The odd thing is that it’s all wrapped around “The Simpsons” of contemporary TV fame. It’s pop culture as cultural icon.

As the ambitious play begins, a small cadre of survivors of an unnamed apocalyptic event act out scenes from one of the Simpson shows, passionately act them out. They are really into it when suddenly a stranger walks in on their weird gathering. After the initial distrust, and a comparison of lists of survivors, they form a bond based on their love of “The Simpsons.” Some years later they are a travelling band of players (à la the middle ages) and, over time, roam the countryside performing Simpson episodes. The only thing missing in this post apocalyptic world is religion, and by the end of the play, they even create that.

Since its first production in 2012 in Washington, D.C., “Mr. Burns . . .” has received incredibly different reviews. It has been called one of the most significant plays of our time, and it was even nominated for a Drama Critics Award in New York. Other reviewers have been considerably more negative. I’m with that latter group. I found it trying too hard to be too clever.

I’m not a regular watcher of “The Simpsons” so had no references for many of the non-family Simpson characters portrayed here. Though I did know that Mr. Burns was head of the nuclear plant in the TV show. Thus he serves well as the villain. Some say that you don’t have to be a Simpson fan to appreciate this play by Anne Washburn, but it didn’t work for me. I couldn’t wait until it was over.

I can say that this production, directed by John Langs, has especially good lighting by Geoff Korf. It emphasizes the “post electric” element of this imagined world, and uses candles marvelously. The players wear ingenious masks and costumes by Deb Trout in the last act.

Adam Standley in the two roles of the stranger and Mr. Burns is a standout. All cast members play two roles, and do so with agility. Erik Gratton as Matt and Homer and Anne Allgood as Jenny and Marge are especially energetic.

Through Nov. 15 at ACT, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or acttheatre.org)

“Genius / 21 Century / Seattle” now at the Frye Museum

In recent years, the most avant-garde museum in Seattle has been the Frye. Its transformation from a relatively staid institution to one exploring the newest boundaries of contemporary art and the role of the museum in today’s dynamic society began under the leadership of Midge Bowman who took over in 2003 and has advanced significantly since Jo-Ann Birnie Danzker became Director in 2009.

Both women respect the Frye’s heritage and have capitalized on the original collection as they have united this rich legacy with Seattle’s and the nation’s changing art scene. “The Stranger” newspaper honored the Frye with one of its annual genius awards. And in response to that, the Frye has mounted a museum-wide exhibition celebrating Seattle’s artistic genius in the twenty-first century. The exhibition is a 16-week extravaganza, including more than 40 events, and showcasing the work of more than 60 artists—visual artists, filmmakers, writers, theatre artists, composers, musicians, choreographers, dancers, and arts organizations with special interest in multidisciplinary and collaborative work.

Their offerings highlight the social, political, and artistic modifications that are reworking Seattle and the world around it. Ours is indeed a society undergoing rapid change and growth. What the Frye hopes this exploration will do is stimulate conversation about the evolving environment and show the interconnections between the social factors and the arts that are developing. The Frye is also asking whether this effort to step beyond traditional boundaries is a new model for museums everywhere.

Jim-Woodring2

Jim Woodring. Still from Frank in the 3rd Dimension, 2015. 3D digital video. Pen drawings: Jim Woodring, 3D conversions: Charles Barnard. Courtesy of the artist and Fantagraphics Books

“Genius/21Century/Seattle” is a cornucopia. Its riches spill over gallery walls, the auditorium, the grounds, and into the community. It’s an ambitious undertaking chock full of happenings to challenge the mind and feast the eyes. To suggest the diversity of visual experiences I’ll mention just a few in the following paragraphs.

One of my favorite visual art pieces is the giant 3-D digital video, “Frank in the Third Dimension” by Jim Woodring. It began as a series of humorous depictions featuring Woodring’s anthropomorphic character, Frank. Charles Barnard, a 3-D wizard, fascinated by them, offered to turn the whole work into a 3-D extravaganza, and that’s what we have. Walk into the gallery and watch Frank carry on. Then put on the 3-D glasses the Museum provides and everything pops into dimension. I was mesmerized.

And don’t ask what that weird truck with the superstructure is out in the parking lot. It’s Alex Schweder’s “The Hotel Rehearsal.” It’s the artist’s rendition of a potential portable single room occupancy (SRO). More traditional SRO’s have a long history in Seattle, and given the plight of Seattle’s homeless, perhaps the concept is due a new incarnation.

zoe-juniper

zoe | juniper. We were., 2015. Installation and performances. Courtesy of the artists. Photo: Mark Woods

Victoria Haven offers “Studio X,” a two channel durational digital video that’s documenting the development, dissolution, and urban transformation in South Lake Union. The footage is taken from her studio windows, a studio that may be a victim of exactly that development.

There are on view a few of the Frye’s most beloved paintings, ones as diverse as “Moulting Ducks” and “Sin” each with a short poem by Maged Zaher. And don’t miss the earthwork that rises on the gravel lot behind the Frye. Called “Thereafter” and created by Lead Pencil Studio it evokes thoughts of Seattle’s regrades, and its landscape in perpetual alteration.

There’s a lot going on here, and the offerings are changing week by week. Check the Frye’s web site to find the activities that most interest you. And remember there is no admission charge and free parking at the Frye.

Through January 10, 2016, Frye Art Museum, 704 Terry Ave., Seattle, (206 622-9250 or www.fryemuseum.org)

“Cafe Nordo: Sauced”

Does “dinner theatre” bring to your mind some suburban venue where portly commuters and their overdressed wives take in a night of roast beef and “The Music Man”? Think again. “Sauced” is dinner served with in-your-face noir theatre around and among the audience at Nordo’s Culinarium in Pioneer Square.

Seattle’s first incarnation of “Sauced” took place some five years ago in, of all places, the back warehouse of Theo Chocolate where it played to sold-out crowds. This new incarnation brings the verisimilitude of a vintage venue.

Sauced - Siano and Wildrick and the mic (c) Bruce Clayton Tom

Siano and Wildrick and the mic (c) Bruce Clayton Tom

Patrons dine on oysters Rockefeller, stuffed quail and other such gourmet treats. They sip a variety of specially prepared cocktails paired with each of the five courses, and find themselves immersed in the 1930s after prohibition where jealous women vie for the love of impresario Mike Binnet, played with a slippery sophistication by Mark Siano. There’s an all-wise bartender, a history spouting trumpet player, and a dialog that’s a blend of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler with just a dash of Hemingway.

Billie Wildrick as Charlotte provides the smoldering sex. Never has a form fitting red gown been better placed. And Wildrick knows just how to make the most out of its revealing bodice and side-slit skirt. She moves her hips like she’s had a lot of practice. Her competitor for the wily Mike Binnet is Opal Peachey who you might think hasn’t a chance given her role as demurely dressed hostess, but Opal has a few surprises to offer.

The band, under the direction of Anastasia Workman, plays all the tunes of the era along with original music (by Workman) that suits the mood. Siano, Wildrick, and Peachey provide fine vocals. Meanwhile the Culinarium itself offers the ’30s ambiance. The only thing missing are mobsters with machine guns.

“Sauced” is above all just great fun. Its script will win no prizes, just as film noir B-movies don’t. But you don’t go here for literary excellence. What you get is good acting, good music, good food, and an experience like no other in Seattle. Check it out.

Through Dec. 20 at Nordo’s Culinarium, 109 S. Main St., Seattle, (www.cafenordo.com or 1 800 838-3006).

Endangered Species Project

For those of you who haven’t yet discovered the riches of the Endangered Species Project (ESP), read on! You’ll thank me for introducing you to this group that one Monday night each month presents a staged reading of one of yester year’s great plays, one that’s unlikely to be produced today because of the large cast and high costs of production. These are plays by such greats as O’Neil, O’Casey, Wilde, Shaw, Anderson, Wodehouse, Foote; the list goes on and on.

Now in its fifth season, the group has attracted a devoted audience for its performances. It’s not surprising considering the company has brought to its stage many of Seattle’s most esteemed actors led by some of Seattle’s most gifted directors. Many of them are core members of ESP

The October 12, 2015 offering was the 1918 fairytale for grownups “Dear Brutus” by J. M. Barrie (remember, he’s the man best known for “Peter Pan”). The “Dear Brutus” cast included Suzanne Bouchard, Larry Paulsen, Jen Taylor, and nine other top-notch performers whose characters in the course of the evening learned a great deal about themselves and their partners, much to the glee of the audience.

Next month (November) it will be Brecht’s 1941 play, “The Resistible Rise of Arturo UI,” a parody of 1930s gangster movies. It traces the career of a cheap Chicago hoodlum and his gang. R. Hamilton Wright takes on the main role, that of a thug who bears a striking resemblance to Hitler. One is meant to make the connection between the Chicago goons and all the evil leaders of the Third Reich in this satirical allegory. Brecht has much to say about the role government and corporations played in their rise to power. A timely subject don’t you think?

Richard Ziman, one of the founders and leaders of ESP, notes that it’s a parody “as high minded as ‘Julius Caesar’ and as deep as ‘King Lear’.” ACT actually produced this play some 30 years ago, so ESP views its production, in some ways, as homage to ACT, now the company’s home.

Offered but once a month, always on a Monday night when most theatres are dark, the Endangered Species Project is a jewel in Seattle’s theatrical treasure chest.

Endangered Species Project.org,
Tickets at: www.acttheatre.org/Tickets/OnStage/EndangeredSpeciesProject