Archive for December 2015

“Emma” at Book-It

Oh that Jane Austen! There are few writers who command such a devoted following, and fewer still who wrote in the early 19th Century. If you’re one of those Austen fans, Book-It has a great treat for you with their remounting of the classic “Emma.” And for those who are not Austen fans, this is a pretty production with good acting, and a marvelous recreation of the period. Just remember, though, lives moved slowly in the early 1800s.

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Sylvie Davidson as Emma; photo by Adam Smith.

Emma, an extremely self-possessed young woman, lives with her widowed father in a small town outside of London. Although she and her friends are not gentry, they are well bred and class conscious. Manners are important, and women are the guardians of manners, hence of social graciousness. Moreover, they know that women have been put on earth to make good wives for their husbands. Despite the fact that Emma is unmarried herself, she’s consumed with the task of matchmaking for her friends . . . often with disastrous results.

This production, directed by Carol Roscoe, immerses the audience in Emma’s gentile and oh so polite life. It’s a life in which gossip plays a major role, and much of the play consists of the retelling and amplifying of rumors and speculations. Men are in formal control, but the sly woman gains informal power through manipulation, determination, control of information, and a gracious countenance. So it is with Emma, played with saucy merriment and charm by Sylvie Davidson. She’s a conniver. Her intentions are good; the results of her actions are often not.

The great strength of the production is the manner in which it captures the age and the place. There’s little for women of a certain class to do except gossip, and on this stage the secrets and assumptions are mostly shared in a minimalist but effective garden setting. Lovely English country dancing sequences enliven the production, and the costumes marvelously capture the period and the class of the characters.

In a world with slow and limited transportation options, no electronic gadgets to amuse one, and no career opportunities for women, conscribed lives move at a slow pace well captured in this production. It’s also a play that raises interesting questions about women’s lives then and now.

Through January 3, at the Center House Theatre, Seattle Center, (206 216-0833 or www.book-it.org).

“Christmas Theatricals: Old and New”

It’s that time of year again, time to revisit your favorite holiday shows, and maybe also find some new delights. Here are my thoughts on three of this year’s Christmas shows. One is the very traditional “Christmas Carol” at ACT, then there’s a new take on “It’s a Wonderful Life” at Arts West, and finally the outrageously funny annual Christmas “Ham for the Holidays,” this year “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Ham?” an ActLab production.

 

“Christmas Carol” at ACT

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Kurt Beattie as Scrooge Photo: John Ulman

ACT’s “Christmas Carol” is never exactly the same year to year, but the changes are minor. In this its 40th presentation, it varies only in small details from its predecessors. The Cratchit children are charming. Tiny Tim is adorable. The Spirits of Christmas are effective. And Kurt Beattie has a grand time making Scrooge the mean old man we expect him to be.

He’s abrupt. His “Bah Humbugs” echo through the theatre with an especially nasty tone. But then when the spirits of past, present and future take him on his Christmas pilgrimage, he’s properly delighted, awed, frightened, and remorseful at the sights revealed to him. Of course he’s transformed. The mean miser gives way to the generous fellow and we are all reminded of the meaning of Christmas.

The staging this year is a little less elaborate than in the past; the dancing a little more restrained; Marlow is a little less frightening, and throughout it all the Victorian essence is well captured. If this is your family tradition, if you expect the customary presentation, you’ll not be disappointed. If you’ve never seen it, and enjoy Christmas traditions, take your loved ones and immerse yourself in this beloved Dickens tale.

Through Dec. 30, ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or acttheatre.org).

 

“Wonderful Life” at Arts West

At Arts West you’re in for a different experience. Here the show, based on “It’s a Wonderful Life,” is a whole new take on Frank Capra’s popular 1946 film that inundates our TVs at this time of year. Instead of Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and the entire cast, Arts West offers a one-man production directed by Erin Murray.

The nimble Andrew Lee Creech plays every role from the beleaguered George Bailey to the nasty Mr. Potter. He’s also the angel Clarence, George’s wife, the townspeople of Bedford Falls, and various other characters. Creech manages all of these roles while on a marvelous facsimile of a bridge over the railroad track where he intends to commit suicide.CVV9bM2UwAA5SYx

The bridge, the fog, the lighting, and the sound of a passing train work together so well, you almost think you are on that bridge with him. It’s a terrific set and environment in which to stage the action.

You know the story. How could you possibly have missed it? George is a good man. He’s a loving father and husband, an honest worker, a good neighbor, and a person of compassion and concern for the less fortunate. It’s this last trait that gets him in trouble, and now on Christmas Eve he’s going to kill himself because his generous and good acts and his Uncle’s forgetfulness have gotten him in big trouble. But Christmas is about redemption, and, of course, George is redeemed.

This production, written by Helen Pafumi and E. Jason Lott, attempts a bit too much. Creech is forced to move from character to character at lightning speed with only a scarf as a prop. Some of the transitions aren’t as smooth as others, a fault more of the demanding script than of the actor.

So, we have an interesting but somewhat flawed adaptation.

Through Dec. 27 at Arts West, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle, (206 938-0339 or www.artswest.org)

 

Ham for the Holidays: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Ham?” at ACT

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comedian/musician/writers Peggy Platt and Lisa Koch

Those in the know, wait with high anticipation each year for the next installment of “Ham for the Holidays.” Put together by those unfaltering comedian/musician/writers Lisa Koch and Peggy Platt, it’s inevitably the funniest main-stage show of the year and probably also the raunchiest.

This year’s show, directed by David Hunter Koch, is composed of a series of hilarious sketches, some musical interludes, and a series of timely and witty video clips. First up is a scenic sightseeing cruise along that breathtaking (in more ways than one) Duwamish River. Among the sights (depicted on the video screen) that passengers are encouraged to marvel at are the polluted waters, the piles of dead fish, sludge, the sewer plant, and a used car lot. So much for environmentally sensitive Seattle.

The talented D.J. Gommels provides the music and participates in many of the skits. He’s a great foil for the leading ladies and a good ensemble player. With little more than a wig change, he assumes a wide range of characters and certainly makes sure that the Sequim Gay Men’s Chorus is up for their fun, games, and musical numbers. Michael Oaks, Joel Domenico and Abbey Drake round out the cast.

One of the highlights of the show is the appearance of three notable Americans, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump’s sister. As game show participants they test their wits against three audience members. I’ll leave it to you to guess which team wins.

Oh there’s so much more, and I hate to spoil the surprise by revealing more than I already have. If you like sidesplitting humor, much of it on the bawdy side, this is for you.

Through Dec. 20 in ACT’s Falls Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or acttheatre.org).