Archive for November 2016

“Peter and the Starcatcher” at Art West

We all know the story of Peter Pan, but do we know where he came from, what his background was? Arts West’s latest show provides that history. Based on a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, this Tony award-winning play by Rick Elice with music by Wayne Barker provides all the answers, and does so with élan.

The year is 1885, Peter and his fellow boys, having been sold to a merchant captain, are on their way to a sad end when their ship, the “Neverland,” encounters a terrible storm. Also on the ship is Molly, a remarkable young girl whose father, on another ship, is on a mission for the Queen involving a trunk filled with treasure and a decoy trunk filled with sand. Of course, the trunks get switched, the ship sinks, and the characters must swim to land.

If that sounds convoluted it is. There are a few too many plot complications in this play. They include pirates, double crosses, switched identities, magical amulets, unkind sailors, a cruel captain, heroic acts, mermaids, an enchanted grotto, magic dust, and so much more, but the cleverness of the production and the vitality of the cast make one forgive the surfeit and just let the details sail by.

It all plays out on a set created by Julia Welch that is itself enchanting, especially bathed in the clever lighting by Tristan Roberson. Huge numbers of ragged cloth streamers that appear to be tie-dyed are suspended from metal poles. “So what’s special about that?” you might ask. Let me tell you that at various times during the play the cast hoists those bedecked poles and attaches them overhead to create fantastical, magical effects as the cloths flutter above the players. It’s a clever theatrical devise.

The play is rich with other interesting features There’s delightful wordplay, lots of charming silliness, and physical humor. Yet there’s also a moral. Bonds of friendship and love are shown to triumph over greed.

The marvelous effects and charming music (directed here by Rob Scherzer and Eric Ankrim) makes it appropriate for both adults and children 10 and up.

Through Dec. 23, at Arts West, 4711 California Ave., SW, Seattle, (206-938-0963 or artswest.org)

“King Charles III” at Seattle Rep

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Robert Joy (King Charles III) in King Charles III. Photo by Michael Doucett.

A cold, interior stonewall reaches seemingly to the heavens at the back of the stage. In it are three niches with stained glass windows and larger than life statues honoring the past. In front of that wall (assume it’s Windsor Castle) England’s past will meet England’s future head on.

The Queen is dead. At long last Charles expects to assume the royal mantle. He’s a bit of a prig, but a well-meaning man. He’s also an idealist of a sort whose moral code demands that he challenge Parliament by not signing a newly written law restricting freedom of the press. Nothing will deter him; he simply won’t sign. He is, after all, about to be invested as king, and kings have power! Ah, but the world has moved forward, and Charles doesn’t understand that. His powers are not absolute. His is an outdated understanding of royal authority, an understanding fully supported by Camilla who doesn’t come off very well here.

Son William represents a more modern concept of royalty, and he’s married to a highly intelligent commoner, one who is as sophisticated as she is beautiful. She has ideas of her own. Poor Charles doesn’t stand a chance.

Meanwhile Harry, like his brother, is a modern man. But as he falls further and further behind in the accession line, he feels free to follow his urges. Part of the delight of this play is watching the ramifications of that behavior.

Mike Bartlett wrote this award-winning play in the blank verse used by Shakespeare, a conceit that no doubt delights English majors. But know this: it in no way restricts the enjoyment of everyone else. The language flows powerfully and beautifully, adding to the grace of the play.

The American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. and Seattle Rep partnered in this production. The excellent cast is predominantly from out-of-town, as is Director David Muse. Scenic Designer Daniel Ostling, creator of that magnificent back wall, works nationally, but has previously staged a number of productions in Seattle.

The play was originally produced in London in 2014 and later played on Broadway. My guess is that it will be mounted on stages around the country for many years to come.

Through Dec. 18, at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, (206 443-2222 or Seattlerep.org).

“The Habit – The Final Cut”, presented by Marxiano Productions at the Bathhouse Theatre

They’re back! That whacky, wonderful Seattle sketch comedy group, “The Habit,” is currently in residence at the Bathhouse Theatre. Sadly, they say this is their last gig. After 20 years of delighting Seattle audience with their brand of raucous, hilarious, humor, they are calling it quits.

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The Habit – jump shot by Cassandra Bell

What they offer is a mix of madcap mayhem with a sophisticated outer coating. Chicago has Second City. We have “The Habit.” Unlike the troupe at “Second City” this group performs only sporadically. And soon, as I’ve said, not at all.

The group formed in 1996 at the University of Washington. The writers/performers are Ryan Dubosh, John Osebold, Jeff Schell, Mark Siano, and David Swidler. Lucas Thayer is a writer. Today these long-time friends are raising families, pursuing various careers, and they are scattered around the country. It just isn’t possible for them to spend the time together to create and polish their shows.

Their humor is absurd, physical, intellectual and totally silly. It’s fresh, and presented with exquisite timing. So, if you’re a long time fan or have any interest in joining those legions, get over to the theatre (early because their shows generally sell out), settle in, and get ready to laugh.

Through Nov. 26 at Bathhouse Theatre, 7312 West Green Lake Dr. N., Seattle, (1 800-838-3006 or www.thehabitcomedy.com).

Theatre 22 presents “The Pride”

How much has homosexual life changed in the past half century? Enormously, and this award-winning play gives you chapter and verse. “The Pride” by Alexi Kaye Campbell, explores homosexual life in England first in the 1950s and then as it is today.

Most of Act I takes place in 1958. Here, the successful Philip is married to Sylvia, and their lives appear to be just as normal married heterosexual lives should be. But when Oliver, a writer of children’s books, comes to their London flat to confer with Sylvia who’s illustrating his book, the air is quickly charged with sexual energy, and it’s not between Sylvia and Oliver. Both men feel it; both appear to know that it will lead to secret assignations. “Secret” that’s the key word. In 1958 it could be no other way.

Most of Act II takes place in 2008. Here we have other Philips and other Olivers. No subterfuge here. One needn’t hide one’s sexual preference. There’s no need to sneak around, and, in effect, lead two lives. Sexual repression is, in much of western culture, for the most part a thing of the past. But, with all the newfound acceptance of homosexuality, the ability to be who you are openly, even flamboyantly, life is still not perfect. The Oliver in this Act participates in the new freedoms to the fullest extent possible. He nourishes himself on casual pickups. Yet something’s missing. The playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell suggests here that a life of casual sex lacking emotional commitment is really a rather empty life.

There’s a raw honesty in this play concerning gay life past and present. For the most part, freedom has replaced secrecy and shame. But, as in all lives, what you think will work too often doesn’t.

Director Corey McDaniel stages this production with the audience on three sides of the stage. So it’s a close encounter for all. Fine actors play the three main characters. Andre Nelson creates the Philips as successful men with all the reserve of the well-educated class who distance themselves, it would seem, in an effort of self-protection. Trevor Young Marston’s Oliver is both needy and brash. You sense his loneliness, his dislike of himself. And Angela DiMarco as the woman in a play about men, knows more than she lets on, hurts more than she admits.

Through Nov. 19, at 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, (206-257-2203 or theatre22.org).

“Medea” presented by Seattle Shakespeare

OK, I know it’s self-evident, but how can anyone writing about Medea be faulted for quoting, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”? We all know the story, Medea’s husband, Jason, abandons her to marry the Greek princess of Corinth. Not only must Medea be divorced from the man she loves, but the new bride’s father, Creon, banishes her from the kingdom. Out she must go, now, immediately. This is almost worse than a death sentence. Overcome with grief, anger, hatred she begs for one more day before the sentence is carried out. Oh foolish king, don’t you know how dangerous she is? In her 24 hours Medea manages to murder the new bride and kill her two young, beloved sons. Take that Jason! Take that for your perfidy!

Powerful stuff, this Euripides play written in 431 BCE and based on earlier versions of the story. In this production we have commanding staging under the direction of Kelly Kitchens. Andrea Bryn Bush’s set is spare but marvelously effective. There’s no need on stage for elaborate backdrops and scenery. It’s the acting you want to focus on. There’s little else but three benches and a swing. Above it all are stark, bare branches.

Kent Cubbage’s lighting subtly then boldly reinforces mood throughout. An interesting decision was to clothe all the characters in contemporary dress. The Greek Chorus is composed of women, dressed in different modern garb and representing various ethnicities and body builds. It’s an ancient world Euripides writes about, but the perfidy, the thirst for power, the jealousy, the parental love—all of these modern emotions— are here as well as there, thus a modern chorus.

And what an astounding performance Alexandra Tavares gives as Medea! She’s on stage for almost the entire play. Anger, heartbreak, disillusionment, fury, tender love of children, hopefulness, desolation, grief! She offers us all of that and more. Her scene where she tries to make up her mind whether she should really kill the children is mesmerizing. In Tavares’ hands, Medea becomes a more tragic figure than I have ever before seen.

My only carp concerns the opening scene when the nursemaid is on stage alone. She speaks in heavily accented English and also in Spanish. I’m still trying to figure out what that added to a production that otherwise is simply marvelous. Hurry and get your tickets. It closes Nov. 13.

Through Nov. 13, produced by Seattle Shakespeare, Center House Theatre, Seattle Center, (206-733-8222 or seattleshakespeare.org).