Archive for February 2016

“Annapurna”

“Annapurna,” presented by Theatre22 is a gem. Written by Sharr White, it is equally rich in humor and poignancy, and Director Julie Beckman seems to have done everything right with it.

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Photo by Robert Falk

If you love brilliant acting embedded in a great production, “Annapurna” is for you. In this two-hander John Q. Smith as Ulysses, former poet and professor, and Terry Lazzara as his ex-wife, Emma, play off each other and individually with finesse and intensity. Every gesture has meaning; every word is given just the right tone.

Ulysses, first seen nearly naked and tethered to a breathing machine is clearly waiting out the inevitable. He lives in a squalid trailer high in the mountains. When his ex-wife stumbles into his sorry abode, laden with many suitcases, he can only expect the worst. They haven’t seen each other for the 20 years since she walked out on him with their son. He has no desire to rekindle a relationship with her. But she’s not one to be put off. Ignoring his hostility, she begins to unpack and clean up the place despite his wheezing protests.

She’s come to alert him to the fact that the son he hasn’t seen or heard from in all those years has tracked him down and is coming to visit. She fears a nasty confrontation, one that requires her intervention.

He wants her out! She needs to clean, something she does with a vengeance. All the while they gradually unpack and put away the emotional baggage that entered with her. As the filthy trailer submits to her cleansing, so too do their troubled lives.

This all plays out on Michael Mowery’s terrific set and Jennifer Ewing’s scenic backdrop. “Disgusting” is probably the best word to describe the initial condition of the trailer, and how well it suits the current state of Ulysses life. Yet out its windows soar the magnificent peaks of the mountain. Filth and squalor juxtaposed to glory and majesty. The contrast is stunning.

Love can sustain itself, and it does in this heartbreaking but redemptive play that somehow also manages to cloak the emotion in humor.

Through March 12 at 12th Ave. Arts, 1620 12th Ave., (206-257-2203 or Theatre22.org)

“Constellations” at Seattle Rep

If anyone ever told me that I’d swoon over a play that was built around string theory, relativity, and quantum mechanics, I’d have laughed. “Ugh,” I’d say, “I’m a total dolt when it comes to physics and don’t need a play about stuff I don’t understand.” Well I couldn’t have been more wrong.

This award-winning gem by young playwright Nick Payne is a total joy. It’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking. It plays with the brain and warms the soul as we follow Roland the beekeeper and Marianne the theoretical physicist as they meet, fall in love or fall out of love, and face the vicissitudes of life.

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(L-R) Alexandra Tavares and Max Gordon Moorein Constellations at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Photo by Alan Alabastro

Everything’s right about this production. Directed with a fine hand by Desdemona Chiang, acted with grace and exquisitely delivered emotion by Max Gordon Moore and Alexandra Tavares, it plays on L. B. Morse’s stark but beautiful stage. A large yellow wood square serves as floor. A deep blue backdrop surrounds it. No stage props are needed. Our two characters live in a small corner of an infinite universe as they explore and experience their love, and all we need to see is them.

In real life, our relationships do offer many possibilities, but we are stuck with the choices we make. The relationship between these two characters has many permutations, think of them taking place in co-existing universes. Marianne and Roland have an opportunity to do everything again, differently, just as if the first situation never existed at all. He’s in love with her. He’s not. He’s married. He’s not. They become a couple. They don’t. She makes dumb moves. Oh no she doesn’t! As these two quirky people experience all the different possibilities of their relationship, we see it through the prism of quantum multiverse theory.

Their love story is tender. It’s intense. Moore and Tavares move easily back and forth through the different realities. They are captivating. You want their love to prevail. But plays must end, and playwright Nick Payne has left you with a quantum reality of many of the things that might happen. The universe is multiverse for Roland and Marianne.

Through Feb. 27 at Seattle Rep, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, (206 443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org).

“Waiting for Lefty” by Clifford Odets at Theatre 9/12

While fortunes amass today in Seattle and elsewhere, this is also a time when those left out of the boom are even more busted than ever. For some it is indeed a return to the 1930s. “Waiting for Lefty” the Clifford Odets 1935 play about striking taxicab drivers in New York explores the fate of the working class in tough times. It is both dated yet remarkably pertinent today, and Theatre9/12’s powerful take on it is bound to move you and certainly cause you to question the system as it works in our time.

Odets, like so many other intellectuals, was a Communist during the Depression years. His hard-hitting social protest plays received much favorable attention and greatly influenced the playwrights who followed.

This production begins on a crowded dance floor where energetic couples are doing the Charleston. The mood is gay, enthusiastic. Then the lights go out. When they come back on only a few couples dance, well not really dance, simply move in an exhausted, almost crippled manner. You quickly understand that this is one of those marathons we read about in history books. Couples subject themselves to this debilitating and demoralizing exercise because there is prize money for the last couple standing, and they all desperately need the money. Jobs are few. Pay has been cut back. Life is hard. There’s no safety net. What better way to begin this thought provoking play?

Director Charles Waxberg has staged it in the round with action in front of, behind and above the audience members thus, immersing them in the goings-on. And by placing the corrupt leader of the taxi drivers union, Fatt (aptly named) and his gun-toting henchman above the rest of the players, their corrosive presence is inescapable.

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Theatre 9/12 is known for the quality of its acting and this production is no exception. But amazingly one of the most powerful performers is Michael C. Robinson as Fatt’s henchman. He never says a word. For most of the play he just sits next to Fatt, toothpick dangling from his mouth, eyes alert but veiled, a rifle hung on his shoulder. He personifies evil.

Odets created the play with vignettes that speak to the injustices of the difficult Depression years: impoverished married couples, unethical medical practices, corrupt union leaders, frustrated lovers who can’t afford marriage, soulless capitalism. There’s no subtlety here. The characters are stereotypes; the message is pounded home. It would be written with more nuance today, but this is a piece of theatre history. It’s fascinating to see the agitprop of the ’30s, especially when it is presented so successfully and is so pertinent to contemporary times

Through Feb. 20 at Trinity Parish Hall, 609 8th Ave. and James St., Seattle. For reservations 206 332-7905 or www.Theatre912.com. This show is offered as “pay what you can afford.

“Silent Sky” at Taproot

The powerful “Silent Sky” gives voice and credit to an unsung heroine who made a significant contribution to science but never received adequate recognition for it. The story of the accomplishments of astronomer Henrietta Leavitt (well played by Hana Lass) is also a story of her battle against sexism.

This brilliant Radcliffe graduate began working for Harvard’s astronomy department in the 1890s. Though as a female she was never allowed to go near the telescopes. We see her working with two other women as high-end administrative assistants. Their job was to record the brightness of the stars captured on the photographic glass plates that the “real” astronomers produced. But Henrietta’s curiosity couldn’t be contained. What was the meaning of these differences? Working independently after hours, she studied the variability and brightness of certain of the stars, discovering patterns, relationships that her male bosses had failed to note.

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Hana Lass in Silent Sky at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

Her findings were a building block that changed human understanding of the universe. Hubbell’s work built upon the scientific papers she published. Her data, served as a building block for his realization that our galaxy wasn’t the center of the universe.

All of this is revealed in “Silent Sky,” but the play is so much more than that.
Playwright Lauren Gunderson juxtaposes Henrietta life against that of her sister (Candace Vance), a gifted musician, who chose family rather than career. Throughout the play we see Henrietta trying to balance the needs of family with those of her career. Gunderson is extremely careful to avoid polemics. Yet Henrietta’s conflicts and compromises are heartbreaking as is the recognition that that she could have done so much more in her field were woman not suppressed.

The great success of this play is the manner in which it draws together both the scientific story and the personal one with all its ramifications. As directed by Karen Lund, it’s a thoughtful exploration of the sexism of the early 20th Century and the continuing compromises required of all women in our society. Career or marriage and family? Is it possible to be fully successful at both? At what cost?

Hana Lass as Henrietta brings all the intellectual brilliance as well as the needed emotional turmoil to the role. The supporting cast members nimbly support Henrietta as she experiences success, love, loss, and despair.

Especially noteworthy are Mark Lund’s scenic projections that provide a full stage backdrop. Magnificent celestial panoramas, pastoral scenes as well as cityscapes work wonderfully to enhance the action and set the mood in this finely honed production.

Through Feb. 27 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, (206 781-9707 or www.taproottheatre.org).