Archive for October 2015

“Bad Jews” at Seattle Public Theater

No sooner does the family bury their beloved grandfather, Holocaust survivor Poppy, than his grandchildren bring on World War III. The stage explodes with ferocious vitriol as Diana (call her Daphna because she’s more Jewish than Moses) and her cousin Liam (don’t call him Shlomo because that’s just a bit too Jewish for him) go at it. Watching this combat from the sidelines is Liam’s brother Jonah who just wishes those two and Liam’s shiksa girlfriend, Melody, would call a truce or get out of his tiny apartment.

But no, there’s a little matter of an inheritance. It’s not money. It’s the dead man’s chai, a Hebrew talisman of religious significance that Poppy hid in his mouth throughout his years in the camps. Super Jew Daphna believes it is rightfully hers. Liam has other ideas.

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Ben Phillips (Jonah) and Anna Kasabyan (Daphna). Photo by Paul Bestock.

In this play written by Joshua Harmon and directed by Shana Bestock, the dialog and its delivery is electric. Sparks fly; sentences are coated with venom. The two combatants use words as the knights of old used lances. Poor Jonah who just wants a little peace and time to mourn is caught in the middle, and Melody is way, way in over her head.

The plot is more than a bit like that of a sit com, but the language is fiery and the humor is savage. Anna Kasabyan as Daphna is stupendous. (Yes, that sounds like hyperbole, but I assure you it fits). She has a head of hair that makes Angela Davis’s ’60s-do look like a crew cut. As she flings her head about, the hair takes up the stage, and reinforces her point. She flounces. She struts. She uses her body like a seasoned prizefighter.

Liam (cum Shlomo) is well played by Ian Bond who tries to be Mr. Smooth against the whirlwind of Daphna. It’s a good effort, and he is not without his tricks, but she’s a mighty opponent Meanwhile Ben Phillips as poor Jonah manages to be a bewildered noncombatant as his apartment is turned into a battlefield.

Taking all this in is the goy girl Melody. Molli Corcoran plays her with a certain slow-witted sweetness. I’m not sure if it’s the way the part was written or the way Ms. Corcoran was directed to play it, but she seemed a bit too sweet and simple minded for me. Though in some Jewish circles it is believed that shiksas are inappropriate love interests and that’s just another reason that Shlomo is a bad Jew. But note—all these bad Jews make a great theatrical experience on this stage.

Through Oct. 25 at Seattle Public Theater in the Bathhouse, 7312 W. Greenlake Dr. N., Seattle, (206-524-1300 or boxoffice@seattlepublictheater.org).

The Art of Bad Men

See my review in The Seattle Times

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Ben Burris and Benjamin McFadden in “The Art of Bad Men.”

 

“A View From the Bridge” at Seattle Repertory Theatre

Smoldering with sexuality, tense with jealousy and anger, poignant with hope and innocent love, “A View From the Bridge” is not easily forgotten. Arthur Miller was master at delineating the moral dilemmas of modern man, and this production, directed by Braden Abraham, gets just about everything right.

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(L-R) Kirsten Potter, Amy Danneker, Brandon O’Neill, Frank Boyd, Mark Zeisler in A View from the Bridge(2015). Photo: Alabastro Photography

At its center is burly longshoreman Eddie Carbone played with consummate skill by Mark Zeisler. Hardworking Eddie considers himself a good man. He pays the bills, cares for his wife, and with her has raised the orphaned Catherine, the nubile niece who is blossoming into lovely womanhood.

Yes Eddie has some sexual inadequacies, and yes he has more than avuncular feeling for his niece, but he is a good man, so good he’s agreed to let two illegal Italian immigrants live in his house. It’s the 1950s. The Italian economy is in disarray. The two young men are desperate for work. One needs the money for his wife and children back in Italy. The other just wants a better life.

Good intentions are never enough in Miller’s world. The theatre crackles with quashed emotion. It sizzles with sexuality, and it steamrolls toward disaster. All the while playing out in Miller’s glorious language spoken by masters.

The set nicely recreates a 1950s working class living room along the docks in Red Hook. And it seeks to establish locale with a backdrop that suggests the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge. That’s effective too, but somehow, the two don’t work together as gracefully as one would hope. But that’s a minor gripe.

The acting is spellbinding. In addition to Mark Zeisler, there’s Amy Donneker as Catherine, a girl on the cusp of womanhood, naive, looking for romance, thrilled that the world is opening up to her. Kirsten Potter as Eddie’s wife, Bea, never had high expectations, and so she accepts what life has handed her, its disappointments and all. The two illegals, played by Frank Boyd and Brandon O’Neill offer contrasting performances delineating two quite separate personalities, each one meticulously developed.

Miller forces us to ask what determines one’s success or failure? Is it the demons that reside within us? Is it the circumstances that limit or expand our lives? Miller is brilliant at providing good theatre that encourages his audience to consider some of life’s larger questions.

Seattle Rep is betting big on great productions to revitalize their finances. This is an excellent start.

Through Oct. 18, Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St. Seattle, (206 443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org).