Archive for January 2016

“Really Really” at Arts West

“Davis got laid last night!” says his roommate Cooper, to their college friends the morning after a party that evidently equaled the most barbaric bacchanal of Roman times. That wouldn’t be unusual among this group of self-serving “generation me” lay-abouts except that Davis doesn’t usually score.

Ben Brantley in the New York Times calls this a “pitiless state-of-a-generation play.” It’s author Paul Downs Colaizzo who wrote it in his twenties knows his cohorts well, and if we are to believe him, there’s little hope for the future.

He depicts “generation me” most of whose members can be describes as obsessed with sex, not usually willing to work too hard to achieve anything, relying instead on deceit, manipulation, and selfishness. Most of them are not really nice people but they make fascinating material for a playwright as talented as Colaizzo.

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

The hung over guys tap the remains of the keg the morning after, as they horse around in their apartment and marvel at the fact that Davis got laid and did it with their buddy Jimmy’s fiancée, Leigh. When Jimmy finds out and confronts Leigh she claims it was rape, provides “evidence.” But are we to believe that it’s plausible evidence? Davis was so drunk he can’t remember what happened, but it matters not. He’s called to the Dean’s office and will probably be expelled. Leigh’s sister shows up and spreads lies to protect her sister.

Meanwhile Leigh’s roommate, Grace, who was also wasted at the party, pulls herself together so she can deliver a speech to “the future leaders of America” at a youth conference. She exhorts them to focus on “me,” recognize we can all get what we want.

At the same time Davis’ friends are backing away, don’t want to get involved, are fearful the taint of scandal might sully them, willing to lie to save themselves. Friendship be damned.

Makaela Pollock has directed this production with a deft hand. The acting is uniformly powerful. And kudos to Julia Welch for her clever set that allows us to be in the girls’ neat kitchen at the same time we’re in the disheveled mess of the party apartment.

The play is not a perfect piece. The playwright introduces social class issues that are not fully explored and seem tangential to his focus. There are inconsistencies. The ending is overwrought.
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But given these weaknesses, this is a play you wont forget. It’s a potent piece of writing, and this production drives home the issues it raises. You will want to talk about it afterwards. Arts West offers talkbacks after each performance. This is a theatre experience that demands it.

Through Feb. 14 at Arts West, 4711 California Ave., SW, Seattle, (206 938-0339 or www.artswest.org).

“Crimes of the Heart” at Village Theatre

Here we are in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, in the mid 1970s smack dab in a kitchen (well designed by Andrea Bryn Birch) where three dysfunctional southern sisters can’t quite get a grip on life. They’re not criminals (well one actually is by legal standards), rather their crimes are mostly self- imposed crimes of the heart.

Lenny, the oldest and dreariest, has been living here in Grandaddy’s house taking care of him. Unfortunately, he’s now in the hospital and things don’t look good. Youngest sister, Babe, is out of jail on bail for having shot her husband in the stomach. Meg, the most beautiful of the trio, arrives from California to give moral support to her sisters and love to her dying grandfather, but mostly she is also returning from an unsuccessful attempt to establish herself as a singer and hoping perhaps to re-establish a romantic relationship. Though not wealthy, these women are indeed southern belles with high-pitched voices, “men” problems (either longing for them or unable to get along with them), and deep family ties.

Rhonda J. Soikowski as Lenny creates a woman with a pitiable efficiency and loneliness, someone who has the saddest birthday you can imagine. The glamorous Brenda Joyner creates a winning and wanting Meg, and Sydney Andrews epitomizes the lonesome failure of her character, Babe.

Directed by Kathryn Van Meter, it’s a pleasant enough production but one that doesn’t soar—not quite tragic and not fully comic.

Given my choice of “three sisters” give me the Chekhov’s siblings any day. I do, however, realize that there are huge numbers of audience members who like folksy, somewhat banal tales. This Pulitzer Prize winning play has been a favorite among regional theatres for years, has seen a couple of revivals on Broadway, and was a 1996 movie (with Diane Keaton, Jessica Lang, and Sissy Spacek). Obviously it’s got enormous appeal…just not for me, or at least not this production.

Through Feb. 28 at Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah, 425 392-2202, and March 4 – 27 at Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett, 425 257-8600, (VillageTheatre.org).

“Titus Andronicus” Produced by Seattle Shakespeare

Seattle Shakespeare makes sure there’s no shortage of blood in this campy version of “Titus Andronicus” Shakespeare’s most violent and bloody play. Sex, mutilation, murder, and perfidy certainly were popular subjects in Elizabethan London when audiences flocked to see the ghastly suffering of poor Titus and his family. Audiences still hunger for viciousness and brutality in many forms. Look at the popularity of Quentin Tarantino, Wes Craven, and others of their ilk. So “Titus…” is well chosen for today’s society.

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Photo by John Ulman.

Director David Quicksall has managed to pack this production with as much gore as the most devoted horror fan could want, yet there’s a comic edge to most of it. You may not expect to laugh at cannibalism, but you will here.

Titus, the victorious general returns in glory to Rome after defeating the Goths and capturing their Queen Tamora and her three sons. In their party is Aaron, the Queen’s conniving secret lover, a man to be watched, a man capable of much mayhem (in the manner of Iago). The emperor Saturninus is seduced and marries Tamora. So begins the blood bath.

Brothers, sons, and husband-to-be are all dispatched leaving heartbroken loved ones determined to have their revenge. In their quest limbs are chopped off and a tongue cut out. A sweet young thing is raped. A mixed race baby is spirited away, and the whole gruesome tale culminates in a feast whose main course includes some of the dearly departed.

Believe me when I tell you this was in Shakespeare’s time, his most popular play. I can’t tell you if it was campy then, but this production’s great strength is the manner in which it’s played tongue -in-cheek with a slap-stick verve.

In addition to the really good acting, much of the credit for its success goes to the production team: set—Carol Wolfe Clay, lighting—Andrew D. Smith, Sound—Nathan Wade, and video designer—MJ Sieber. Director Quicksall has brilliantly drawn all this talent together to provide us with a horror story of enormous proportions that amuses rather than terrifies.

Through Feb. 7, at Center Theatre, in the Armory, Seattle Center, (206 733-8222 or www.seattleshakespeare.com).

“The Motherf–ker With the Hat” presented by Washington Ensemble Theatre

It all revolves around a badly located hat amidst some hypersexual drug addicts, alcoholics, and even an AA sponsor. None of these marginal people have much control of their emotions or ability to restrain their desires. Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis has given us a hilarious script and masterfully inserted within it an exploration of morality and values. What we have here is an uproarious romp that addresses some serious considerations. It’s about the boundaries of friendship, what we owe one another, what we demand of ourselves, and how we deal with our smashed hopes.

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Erwin Galán as Jackie and Anna Lamadrid as Veronica. Photos by Chris Bennion

Nominated for numerous awards when it was first produced in New York in 2011, this Seattle incarnation is defined by fine acting and clever staging. Director Valerie Curtis-Newton has drawn from the riches of The Hansberry Project and eSe Teatro as well as Washington Ensemble Theatre in this partnership production.

It begins in the apartment of the mercurial druggie Veronica (Anna Lamadrid) who is engaged in a long phone conversation with her addict mother. In comes boyfriend Jackie (marvelously played by Erwin Galán), straight out of prison. He’s loaded with presents and good news for the girl he left behind, and he’s more than ready to consummate his homecoming . . . until he notices a man’s hat on the table. This stranger’s hat changes the nature of his homecoming. Volatile people don’t settle disputes with rational conversations.

After that confrontation, Jackie pays a visit to his AA “sponsor,” Ralph D., the health-food aficionado whose body is clearly purer than his morality. Ralph is a firm believer in the fact that happiness is ignoring what stinks. Unfortunately there’s a lot that smells kind of funny here, and Jackie has a very perceptive sense of smell.

Jackie’s next step in his search for renewal is a visit to Cousin Julio. As I have said, the acting in this wild production is impeccable, but, of all the characters, it’s Cousin Julio played by Moises Castro who most delighted me. Every one of his many mannerisms is so right. Every gesture, every facial expression adds richness to the character.

The funny yet thought-provoking action takes place on Pete Rush’s versatile set that allows characters to move back and forth from apartment to apartment and be viewed from many angles.

For those who love good but edgy theatre, this production will be a treat.

Through Feb. 1 at 12th Ave. Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, (washingtonensemble.org).

“Disgraced” by Ayad Akhtar at Seattle Rep

A visceral and intellectual tour de force, this Pulitzer-Prize-winning play will not leave you unmoved as it addresses the question of identity, especially what it means to be a Muslim in today’s America. Beautifully directed here by Kimberly Senior, it’s a co-production of Seattle Rep with the Goodman Theatre of Chicago and the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Its main character, the all-American Amir, (powerfully played by Bernard White) gave up the Muslim religion in his youth. As an adult he abjures the concepts adhered to by strict Muslims and must be considered an anti-Muslim bigot. He’s a brilliant lawyer working for a prestigious New York firm and on his way to partner. Yet he was raised by Pakistani Muslims, and in the United States today there’s usually a price to be paid for that.

Emily his Anglo wife is an artist who appreciates things Muslim. She incorporates within her paintings patterning that is drawn from traditional Muslim art. She’s good, and is hoping to have her work represented in an upcoming show at the Whitney Museum. Meanwhile as Nisi Sturgis plays her, she’s as charming as she is driven, and she’s madly in love with her husband, despite their differences of opinion about the Muslim religion.

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Nisi Sturgis (Emily), Bernard White (Amir), J. Anthony Crane (Isaac) and Zakiya Young (Jory) in Disgraced Photo: Liz Lauren

She even takes a maternal interest in his young cousin Abe who Amir fears is getting too involved with questionable elements of the religion. Emi pleads with Amir to help Abe.

Emily and Amir have a happy marriage bolstered by the riches provided them by Amir’s success. They live in an upscale condo (we must assume upper East Side), and entertain with sophistication. Their guests in this play are Jory, Amir’s elegant African American female colleague and her partner Isaac who is one of the Whitney curators. The evening starts with good willed conviviality. These couples have much in common.

But all’s not well that begins well. By the end of the evening shocking revelations and actions take place. The friendships are irrevocably broken as are the bonds that tie Amir and Emily. And the audience is left with the feeling that it has received a carefully placed stomach punch.

The charming morphs into the shocking. The funny has become brutal. The power of it all is so great that, on the night I was there, one audience member rose, screamed his distaste, and slammed out of one of the exits. His loss!

This is weighty theatre. It’s overwhelming emotional effect is equaled by the intellectual issues it raises. This is theatre you don’t want to miss.

Through Jan. 31 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, (206-443-2222 or seattlerep.org).

BECAUSE OF POPULAR DEMAND THIS PLAY HAS BEEN EXTENDED THROUGH FEB. 6