Archive for January 2017

“Six Degrees of Separation” Produced by Theatre 9/12

If you are not yet familiar with Theatre 9/12 you ought to be. This is a teaching theatre where professional actors go to hone their skills (think Stanislavski or Stella Adler). The group presents one, possibly two, plays a year, and inevitably they are brilliantly performed. The plays are always among the noteworthy of American theatre, such as “Speed the Plow,” “Doubt,” and “Waiting for Lefty.” This winter they are presenting “Six Degrees of Separation” by John Guare.

Director Charles Waxberg has mounted it in the round. Because the plays are performed in the Parish Hall of Trinity Church on 8th Ave., there are some limitations. The Hall has a raised stage, but the seats are not stepped for easy viewing. Generally, Waxberg seats the audience around the action, and that seems to work well. The sets are simple but most effective, and everyone in the audience has a splendid view.

“Six Degrees of Separation” won the Pulitzer in 1990 and was nominated for a Tony. It concerns a wealthy New York white couple into whose lives comes, unannounced, a young African American man who appears to have been mugged in Central Park and claims to be a friend of their children who are away at Harvard. Strange though his unexpected arrival is, the young man seems to know everything about the couple’s children. He’s gracious and suave. He says he’s Sidney Poitier’s son. On and on spins his tale, replete with details about their children and their own lives.

Meanwhile the couple is revealed to have big money, expensive paintings and lush living, but their lives seem somewhat hollow. Of course she wants to care for this poor wounded friend of her children. And, the fact that he is the son of a famous actor is almost too wonderful. The young man wants them to meet his father! The prospect of rubbing shoulders with celebrity is thrilling to them.

Ahh! Don’t they know that one must eschew false values, and certainly celebrity worship is one of them, Beware of con men. This one, this charming, well-spoken con man leaves a trail of broken lives behind him we learn as the play progresses.

Of course the acting is wonderful here. As I said, it always is. Theatre 9/12 quietly does its thing, and inevitably it delights its audiences. It has no set ticket price. Audience members are asked to make a donation when they walk in. It’s one of Seattle’s lovely little treasures.

Through Feb. 19 at the Parish Hall of Trinity Church, 609 8th Ave., Seattle, www.Theatre912.com.

The Thirty-Nine Steps at Village Theatre

“The Thirty-Nine Steps” began in 1915 as a serial spy story in an English magazine. Then came a book. This was followed by a Hitchcock movie in 1935, each version slightly or greatly altered. Over time it had evolved from serous adventure story to madcap farce, and that’s what we have on this stage. This current stage version was adapted by Patrick Barlow in 2005 and originally produced in England. It later became an award-winning Broadway show. It’s madcap farce involving myriad characters all played by the same four talented actors. Does it work? Well, if you love farce (or as the theatre calls it “creative meyhem”), indeed it does. If farce is not your thing, the show is labored and goes on too long.

Director Matt Walker has had his challenges. Imagine casting a play where all but one of your four actors must play a number of roles, each involving different costumes, sometimes different accents, always different persona. To add to the challenges, frequently the role changes must be accomplished in very few minutes.

Aaron Lamb, as our hero, evokes our pity and astonishment as he successfully evades disaster and comes up smiling. Emily Cawley has the versatility to play three roles with frequent interchanges. And Orion Bradshaw and Chris Ensweiler have too many roles to even recount—from gangster to cop, from farmer to shepherd. The roles demand enormous versatility and even acrobatic prowess.

Our hero is perhaps not as bright as he ought to be, but he’s bright enough to get entangled with a beautiful blonde. In this case their entanglement begins when they unwittingly are handcuffed to one another. One of the funniest scenes in the show is their effort to extricate themselves from that predicament.

There’s an extra special reward for Hitchcock fans here. Be on the lookout for sly references to famous Hitchcock films. What’s the crop dusting plane doing? And those birds? And is there a Bates Motel in this English countryside? There are others so see how many you recognize.

This is a skillful production, but I must repeat, if you are not a fan is this fast paced, deliberately silly genre, this may not be your fare.

Through Feb. 26 at the Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah, and from March 3 to March 26 at the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett, 425-257-8600 or VillageTheatre.org.

“Every Five Minutes” presented by Washington Ensemble Theatre

This production is disturbing and uncomfortable. It’s confusing and shocking, but it’s also unforgettable. Scottish playwright Linda McLean forces her audience to see just how torture impacts the individual subjected to it. Although her play doesn’t specifically call it “state supported” torture, you won’t be able to draw any other conclusion. And Director Ryan Purcell has made sure of that.

It begins with two couples enjoying a pleasant little dinner party. The party’s hardly begun when two thugs dressed in black break into the apartment and begin working over Mo, one of the men. The torture begins. Physical violence? Yes. Water immersion? Yes. Sleep deprivation? Yes.

We don’t know why Mo is being tortured or when. Is it that his memories of his ordeal are so real, the event might even be considered to be taking place all over again. Why is he subjected to this? Does he or did he have government secrets? Is he or was he a spy? Are we with him when the horrors are actually taking place or are we reliving with him the terrors and cruelties of the past? Is he insane or a political prisoner? Oh my God, is this what our country does to suspected terrorists or spies?

For 90 minutes the audience is caught in a whirlpool where reality and unreality collide. The torturers appear sometimes as clowns, at other times as vicious thugs. The interrogations are brutal. Loud noises fill the theatre. Lights flash on and off. And the dinner party goes on, a relatively quiet and oh so ordinary social evening.

The cast provides a powerful contrast between normal and horrific. Tim Gouran as Mo the tortured one becomes less and less alert as the time passes, one might say “less and less a fully functioning human being.” Nick Edwards and Tré Calhoun bring evil and horror to their roles as the torturers.

This is not an easy play to watch, yet in some horrific way it’s mesmerizing. And there’s no question that the playwright has a message, and it’s one we all need to consider carefully, especially at a time when state sanctioned torture is being reconsidered..

Through January 30, at 12th Ave. Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, 206 325-5105 Washingtonensemble.org.

“Mothers and Sons” at Arts West

The great thrill of this production, directed by Makaela Pollock, for me was getting a chance to see Suzy Hunt in action. She is simply astounding playing Katherine whose son, Andre, died of Aids 20 years before this play takes place. She comes unannounced to the West Side Manhattan apartment of her son’s former partner, Cal, who after a long period of mourning married Will. They’re a devoted couple both absolutely besotted with their young son, Bud.

Cal did indeed deeply love Andre, but just as American attitudes toward homosexuality have changed over the past 20 years, so too has he. He’s been able to move beyond his grief and now is able to enjoy the benefits of contemporary gay life and acceptance. He doesn’t have to hide his sexuality any more. He can fall in love again and does, but this time, he can be married. He can be a father. Life for him is so, so different.

Katherine’s unexpected visit is more than a little disconcerting. She never did and still doesn’t understand homosexuality. She suspects that it comes into being because of the bad influence of some perverted person. She’s still in deep mourning for her son, looking to blame someone for turning him into a homosexual, and, of course, it’s Cal she blames.

And so we have here an almost insurmountable generation gap. It pits his graciousness and happy new life against her anger and pain. Suzy Hunt as Katherine, the fur coated, incensed woman from Dallas commands the stage. It’s a tour de force performance. She fires her poison tipped arrows with panache. She’s haughty, nasty, rude, in pain. Watch her face. Its parts are in constant motion. She licks her lips, purses them, flashes her eyes, grimaces, sneers, scowls. She’s a wounded creature striking out as a trapped animal might.

And poor Cal, played with patience and frustration by Evan Whitfield, does his best to fend off her anger and try to educate her. The tension between the two of them is somewhat relieved when Jason Sanford as Will enters with their son, a preconscious little guy who in this production is just a little too cute, a bit too mannered.

Jason Sanford & Evan Whitfield. Photo by John McLellen

Scenic designer Christopher Mumaw’s set works well to create a Manhattan milieu. With its tight, multipurpose space and huge windows looking out over the West side, the Hudson River, New Jersey and the sunset, it is the perfect evocation of New York. It’s a tight space that works well to encompass the taut action.

Through Feb. 11 at Arts West Playhouse and Gallery, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle, (206 938-0339 or www.artswest.org)

 

“Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woodie Guthrie at Seattle Rep

Here four remarkably talented actor/musicians revive the music and era of Woody Guthrie in a charming, funny, yet sad but historically accurate portrait of mid-twentieth century America. Guthrie was the balladeer whose songs have never gone out of style. He’s the hard-times philosopher who captured the pathos, idealism, despair, and daily life of so many of his countrymen from the Depression era through the New Deal.

He was everyman, everyman who struggled to find work, who found it difficult to feed his family, who escaped the Dust Bowl, who loved his country, and was shaped by the misfortune of his times. He might well have given up all hope. Instead he composed songs and signed on to any New Deal project that would take him, including the Bonneville Dam project that offered promise and hope to those dispossessed and nearly destroyed by the depression.

The enormously talented David M. Lutken devised this musical homage with his fellow cast members and their director, Nick Corley. The four consummate musicians are Lutken, Darcie Deaville, David Finch, and Helen Jean Russell. They appear to have mastered every stringed instrument used in our society as well as spoons and jews harp.

With energetic movements they flit across the stage, as they sing and play and manage to incorporate some highly effective physical humor. It’s Woody’s tale of a very sad time in American history and the pluck and perseverance required to survive.

Scenic designer Luke Hegel-Cantarella fills the back of the stage with a photomontage of western lands, wide open skies and distressed buildings that capture the era. Lighting designed by Robert J. Aguilar, enriches the scene. Those wide-open skies change from rosy pink to rich maroon with a full array of blues to complement them.

We, the audience, can’t help but be affected by the history that’s laid before us, but Woody’s music performed with such vigor and élan by this cast make this an uplifting evening at the theatre. It’s also a timely reminder that ours is a country that believes in justice for all. After all as Woody sang, “This land is your land; this land is my land. . . . This land was made for you and me.” In this difficult age, here’s a good reminder that times can be much harder and that we can prevail.

Through January 29 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, (206-443-2222 or Seattlerep.org.