Archive for April 2016

“Sherlock Holmes and the American Problem”

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Alex Matthews (The Pinkerton), Andrew McGinn (Dr. John Watson), Darragh Kennan (Mr. Sherlock Holmes) and Christine Marie Brown (Miss Phoebe Anne Moses) in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Sherlock Holmes and The American Problem. Photo by Chris Bennion.

This delicious confection doesn’t come from the pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; rather it’s the inspired work of Seattle’s own R. Hamilton Wright who began enjoying Doyle’s books when he was but an adolescent. In this work, our Seattle Conan Doyle connects the mystique of the American West with the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. Off to England go Annie Oakley and the cowboys and Indians of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. Sure enough, soon after they arrive Annie is forced to call on Sherlock for his assistance.

Under the direction of Allison Narver, there’s never a slow moment in this audaciously staged production. Darrah Kennan makes an astute and oh so British Sherlock. He captures the wiliness and self-assurance that define the man. Andrew McGinn’s always helpful Dr. Watson is played very much in the manner of Nigel Bruce, the famed Watson of radio and film in the mid twentieth century—a bit dim perhaps but always there when Holmes needs him. Marianne Owen as Holmes’ housekeeper has exactly the right deference mixed with a will of iron. She will not allow anyone to underestimate her importance in this ménage.

And, of course, what would a Sherlock Holmes piece be without including his older brother, Mycroft? Here he’s the appropriately reserved Charles Leggett. Christine Marie Brown as Annie Oakley plays her with strength and subtlety. She’s the star of the Wild West Show, but her all-American vitality and verve are as important as her shooting ability.

The acting in this production is worthy of praise, but for me, the real star of the show is its brilliant scenic design created by L.B. Morse. Morse places you, the audience, into the posh quarters of Holmes looking out over the row houses and chimney pots across the street. But even more impressive are the dark streets of 19th C London. Through the combined use of stage-scaled period photographs, multiple moving images, and traditional props he creates magical stage effects. The projections are stupendous. There are waterfront fight scenes, eerie chases, murders, and of course a crime lord. The extraordinary multimedia effects took my breath away.

Even for those who have never been fans of the Sherlock Holmes stories, this production is a crowd pleaser. For Sherlock enthusiasts it’s a must see.

Through May 22, Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, (206 443-2222 or seattlerep.org).

 

“My Name is Asher Lev” produced by New Century Theatre Company

With “My Name is Asher Lev” New Century Theatre Company lives up to its reputation of consistently offering some of the best productions on Seattle stages. Based on the best-selling book by Chaim Potok, this adaptation by Aaron Posner thrusts audience members into the dilemma of self-actualization vs. community tradition. The conflict is especially well presented in this production directed by Sheila Daniels.

Asher was born to be a painter but sadly born in the wrong family. He’s a Hasidic Jew, son of deeply religious parents, member of a Brooklyn, NY, congregation. The Hasidic tradition views artistic aspirations as inappropriate. No matter Asher’s talent, an artist’s life is not allowed. But Asher can’t ignore his drive to create. Thus he steps beyond the mindset of his community and causes his parents excruciating anguish.

We first meet him as a precocious and artistically talented five-year-old who is not encouraged to draw but not punished for it. His family’s connection to the Synagogue is strong, however. His father is called by the Rebbe to take a leading part in the Congregation’s efforts to aid their Russian brethren who are being subjected to intense persecution. This, of course, convinces Asher’s father that he must firmly forbid his son to persist with his art. Both parents see Asher’s obsession with art as antithetical to their faith. Asher, in all other ways an obedient boy, can’t obey.

Throughout the play as Asher matures, the conflict between Hasidic values and Asher’s artistic imperative increases in intensity. Asher is a true and gifted artist, and, as such, he must fully explore the depth of his God-given talents.

As the dramatic tension builds, the audience has the opportunity to see three highly gifted actors in bravura performances. Connor Neddersen as Asher captures all the torment of a loving son who has no choice but to go against his beloved parent’s wishes, and in the process to break their hearts. Bradford Farwell powerfully plays three roles: Papa, the Rebbe, and Jacob Kann (the artist who guides Asher’s artistic growth). He loves his son, but his son is flouting the traditions, the rules, and he can’t let him do that. Farwell captures the anguish as well as the anger, Amy Thone (straight off her remarkable performance in “The Other Place” at Seattle Public Theatre) is heartbreaking as the mother, the mother who adores her son, agrees with her husband, and is emotionally brutalized by this heartbreaking dilemma. She too plays additional roles, though these are minor.

The conflict is unresolvable. The heartbreak is crushing. You will not leave this theatre unmoved.

Through May 21, 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, tickets at WEARENCTC.ORG

Cafe Nordo: “To Savor Tomorrow”

Among my favorite unexpected pleasures in today’s Seattle’s theatre world are productions presented at Cafe Nordo. Before I write about the current show, perhaps a little explanation is required.

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Photo by Bruce Clayton Tom

Cafe Nordo has for the past year occupied one of Pioneer Square’s marvelous historic buildings. Here great food is combined with the theatrical arts. “Dinner theatre? Oh, not for me,” you might say. “Forget traditional dinner theatre,” I say, because these productions are captivating experiences unlike anything you might see produced in old-style venues. The creative menu offers the delicious and unexpected, and the productions I’ve seen are cutting edge. The site is already appealing to in-the-know theatre buffs, but it’s also become a pleasure for the more adventurous souls who pretty much ignored traditional theatre in the past.

In the current show “To Savor Tomorrow” (directed by Keira McDonald) airline hostesses in their pillbox hats and very sexy uniforms welcome patrons into a 707 Stratocruiser for flight 892 which, you’ll soon realize, is a hotbed of intrigue and espionage. The fuselage of the aircraft rises on both sides of the cafe. Instead of rows of traditional airplane seats within it, dining tables follow the contour of the plane. Terry Podgorski gets credit for the script and set.

Passengers are welcomed with a Bloody Mary Jelly Shot as they take their seats and prepare for an evening of gluttony and adventure with a 1960s edge. The actors double as wait staff, so this is indeed an up-close and personal experience for all. Your captain (Mark Siano) will be serving as will Svetlana Romanova (Opal Peachy) and those leggy and charming stewardesses Alyssa Norling and Heather Refvem. Even agents Jiang Ping (Sara Porkalob) and AKA (Richard Sloniker) double as servers as does the mysterious scientist (Evan Mosher).

As passengers enjoy Head Chef Erin Brindley’s four-course gourmet meal pared with ’60s-inspired cocktails, intrigue swirls around them. Secret agents from the U.S., Russia, and China vie for the food and agricultural secrets that will be the hallmarks of the 21st Century. There are double agents, there’s a phone in a shoe, important briefcase capers, and it all spins out with the songs and musical accompaniment of a four-piece orchestra led by Anastasia Workman who wrote the music.

This is a show about the world in the verge of a “New Age,” “an age when nothing is impossible.” Today we can smile at that naiveté, but it certainly is fun to feast and see it play out on this stage. Don’t expect highbrow theatre here. Instead you’re immersed in a bygone milieu that’s replete with plenty of humor and great food.

Through June 5 at Cafe Nordo (www.cafenordo.com), 109 S. Main St., Seattle.

Grab It While You Can

I don’t usually do previews but I am going to make two exceptions this month because both of the productions listed below will be here for just a fleeting moment, and the work of both theatre groups has been so good in the past that you ought to be aware of their upcoming offerings.

Mirror Stage — “The Hampton Years” two performances only
If you’ve never heard of Mirror Stage and its “Feed Your Mind” series, this is a chance to get acquainted. Director Suzanne Cohen creates innovative staged readings of provocative literary works. It’s theatre that truly engages the intellect. In February they did Margaret Atwood’s “The Penelopiad,” a compelling retelling of the “Odyssey” from the perspective of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope.

This month they are presenting “The Hampton Years” by Jacqueline E. Lawton. Set in Virginia in the 1940s, it concerns the struggle of gifted African American artists to gain attention, to even have their work exhibited, at a time when racist views severely restricted their lives, no less their professional achievements.

April 16 and April 17, “The Hampton Years” will be playing at the Ethnic Cultural Theatre, 3940 Brooklyn Ave., NE, Seattle, (mirrorstage.org/hamptonyears)

 

Sandbox Radio — one performance only

Before TV was ubiquitous, among the most popular forms of home entertainment in the mid 20th C were the variety shows on radio. Today you can catch snatches of these oldies but goodies on U-Tube, shows like The Arthur Godfrey show, The Bing Crosby Show, the Texaco Star Theatre.

Thanks to the efforts of Seattle stage artists Leslie Law and Richard Ziman, Seattle has its own old time radio variety show, “Sandbox Radio,” and it’s gained quite a following. Perhaps you’ve heard bits and pieces of one of the shows on KUOW’s “Speakers Forum.”

The next full performance with take place at Town Hall on April 25 (8:00pm) bringing with it all the components that made the genre so popular in the past. It will be streamed live on KBFG 107.3, but attending in person is by far the best.

It’s a mix of music, poetry, short dramas, and comedy routines performed by Seattle professionals. And if you have any interest at all in sound effects, this is your opportunity to see the magic of how they are produced. The upcoming show is an ode to spring, and somewhere in the miscellany Nancy Pearl, Seattle’s most beloved librarian, will appear offering the patter and insights for which she’s so well known.

April 25, Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave., Seattle (206 652-4255) www.sandboxradio.org

“The Other Place” at Seattle Public Theater

We meet Juliana, the hard driving and brilliant neuroscientist, when she’s headed for a medical conference to explain a new drug her lab has developed for diseases of the brain. This is a woman you don’t want to mess with, a truly impressive individual. But early on you begin to suspect that something is wrong.

Sharr White wrote this gripping play. Kelly Kitchens directed it with finesse, and Amy Thone is superb portraying a woman losing her mind.

Juliana may have developed a drug for brain disease, but the horror, the irony, is that she’s got one. Imagine what it must be like to go through life with the brain of a genius and then suddenly realize it has become unreliable. Intelligence defined her, and now she hallucinates, can’t remember words, even forgets what comes next in her speech to the scientists.

Watching Thone capture the awfulness, the anger, and the fright of Juliana as she gradually realizes what is happening to her is a theatrical experience not to miss. She’s so in charge when the play opens. You see it in her posture, in her walk, in her speech. By the end, she’s just another dementia sufferer.

As we watch the decline of this highly successful scientist, we are also introduced to her less successful personal life where high IQ never worked to solve problems. Her only child has disappeared and has been gone for some years despite every effort to trace her. She and her husband are separating. And around these emotional issues her hallucinations gather.

White has cleverly structured the play so that you are in a vortex where past and present keep whirling past you as Juliana struggles against the dreaded brain disease that assails her. Ray Gonzalez does a fine job as her husband and Joycelyn Maher is good playing a number of subsidiary women. But this is Amy Thone’s show. And what a job she does!

Through April 17, Seattle Public Theatre, 7312 W. Green Lake Dr., N, Seattle (206-524-1300 or seattlepublictheater.org).