Archive for April 2017

“Here Lies Love” at Seattle Rep

Theatre for the twenty-first century! Theatre where technology meets tradition! Theatre like none other I’ve seen in Seattle. With “Here Lies Love” Seattle Rep has taken an enormous and very expensive risk, and I’m awfully glad they did.

The Rep has turned much of the theatre into a dance club, taken out the raked seats traditionally part of the orchestra, erected a series of platforms at the sides and in the middle of the now enormous central space, and created a sound and light show to equal that of the most amazing club or Key Arena concert. But know that this is not only a sound and light show. It’s the story of Imelda Marcos and her rise to power on the coattails of her perfidious husband.

There’s no “third wall” for the patrons who have floor tickets. Those ticket holders stand, move around the space, dance in place if they want, swivel their hips, and take in the staged action that surrounds them, swaying to the terrific music, immersed in the production and the story.

For those who choose to sit through the 90-minute show, balcony seats are available which of course provide the same high-energy drama, music and dazzling light show, but without the intimacy of the downstairs.

Amazingly, while all the glitz, light and sound effects overwhelm the theatre, the story of Imelda’s rise and its contrast to the poverty of most of the population of the Philippines provides the arc and ties the whole production together. There’s history here. Even President Richard Nixon makes an appearance.

This David Byrne and Fatboy Slim award-winning concoction first opened Off-Broadway in 2013. It then went on to great success in London in 2015. The Seattle production is under the direction of Alex Timbers who took on the same role in New York and London. Most of the cast is original as are the wonderful costumes, the lighting and sound.

Seattle Rep’s Artistic Director, Braden Abraham, and Managing Director, Jeffrey Herrmann, really stretched to bring this remarkable show to Seattle. It won’t be quickly forgotten.

Through May 28, at Seattle Repertory Theatre 155 Mercer St., Seattle, 206 443-2222 or Seattlerep.org.

“Nadeshiko” Presented by Sound Theatre Company

I left the theatre uplifted, thinking “Wow,” loving what I had seen but I couldn’t at that moment tell you exactly what it was about. It’s a great production, but the play needs a little work. It was only after some time for reflection and some research that it all made sense. So let me tell you “the plot” such as it is so you can fully appreciate the magic of this theatrical work.

“Nadeshiko” is a Japanese term that relates to the personification of an idealized Japanese female. It’s the epitome of pure feminine beauty. In this play we see examples from two generations of Japanese women. One of them lives in the time of WW II. Her job (as a Nadeshiko Unit girl) is to provide comfort to the Japanese pilots who will soon be flying to their death as they carry out their kamikaze mission. The other young woman is contemporary. She finds her work on Craig’s list. Men watch her perform and then can hire her to “visit” them. She does what she must to earn the money for her rent.

It’s interesting to note that a popular phenomenon in Japan today is indeed the “Cam girl.” She chats live from her home performing various acts to encourage men to enter her private screen and have some personal time with her. It’s kind of like reviewing a restaurant menu on-line and then ordering take-out.

So, playwright Keiko Green is opening a window on contemporary Japanese society and looking to its past. She wants to show her audience how two generations of Japanese women “discover the power within idealized Asian beauty.” Director Kaytlin McIntyre sees the play as a tool for broadening our understanding of what being a woman can mean.

Critical to that goal is the role of Nadeshiko played by Ina Chang. Dressed and made-up as an old woman, Chang pops out from behind the scenes periodically throughout the play. She’s wizened and wry, bent over with age, but she’s filled with wisdom and offers her good advice with delightful humor. All the acting is excellent here, but Chang has the best role and performance.

So . . . a lovely theatrical experience (good set, lighting, and acting) even though it is somewhat puzzling. Get to the theatre early enough to read the conversation with the playwright that appears in the program. I didn’t read it first so didn’t really get the playwright’s full message until after the play was over.

Through May 8 at Center Theatre, Seattle Center Armory, (SoundTheatreCompany.org, or 206 856-5520.)

“Evidence of Things Unseen” at Taproot Theatre

You can’t ignore this stage when you walk into the theatre. The simple set (by Amanda Sweger) is surrounded by what appears to be an abstract artwork composed of wood fragments joined together yet pierced throughout by streaks of light, many different colored lights. It’s stunning, compelling, but then as the play begins you wonder, “What does that magnificent background have to do with this story of a fractured family?”

Michael Winters, Christine Marie Brown & Jenny Vaughn Hall in Evidence of Things Unseen at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

Taproot’s dramaturg, Sonja Lowe got it right when she wrote in the playbill, “…there is something profoundly hopeful in the thought of beauty created from, not in spite of, brokenness.”

And the family we meet at the beginning of this play is certainly broken. Father, whose memory seems to be significantly impaired, is now in an old age home, and his two daughters have decisions to make about his future. Sadly, at this point in their lives, the only thing they have in common is their childhoods. One is a stay-at-home, born-again Christian with two children. The other is a hard driving journalist with little use for religion. Their mother has recently been killed in a car accident, though Dad doesn’t know about it and needs to be told.

Directed by Scott Nolte, the cast is uniformly good. Christine Marie Brown and Jenny Vaughn Hall are compelling as the sparring sisters. Michael Winters as the father conveys both the richness of who is was as well as the diminished man he is. Chip Wood as the AA member who has more than a little need to be in that group powerfully projects his hidden anguish.

Grief! Anger! Resentment! All of that and even more! Add alcoholism and a brother’s suicide to the mix, and you might think the playwright (Seattleite Katie Forgette) has larded this pudding with a few too many plot twists. She has, but she pulls off most of it.

It’s a story of human weakness, unfortunate mistakes, grief, and guilt. It reminds us to be kinder to others and to ourselves. This world premiere is well chosen for the season when Christian and Jewish holidays are at hand.

Through April 29, at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, (206-781-9705 or taproottheatre.org)

 

“A Proper Place” at Village Theatre

Oh we Americans do like those British drawing room comedies! In Village Theatre’s latest musical comedy, “A Proper Place,” directed by Jerry Dixon, the action moves from drawing room to deserted island in the midst of a tropical ocean, then back. It is, of course, during Victorian times, and the characters are members of the upper class along with their domestics. Among the later is the very proper butler, Crichton.

Those of you who read James Barrie’s classic play, “The Admirable Crichton” in high school will be familiar with this character. He’s an amazingly competent man born into the wrong class. Barrie’s stinging criticism of the British class system is somewhat muted here, though this musical by Leslie Becker and Curtis Rhodes does follow Barrie’s story line almost to the end.

Lord Loam has taken his family and two necessary servants on what is to be a delightful sea voyage, but it all goes wrong. Shipwreck! How can they survive? Away from the restrictions of their society, the most competent among them, Crichton, takes command. He’s not only competent. He’s creative. Love blooms under the hibiscus and palms, but of course it flouts all the social class rules prevalent at that time. Bliss! But then they are all rescued.

Due to an injury, the actor originally scheduled to play Crichton had to withdraw. In his place we have Kevin Vortmann who is absolutely marvelous in the role. He’s superb personifying the stuffy, class conscious Englishman of that period. As the head butler, he’s properly obsequious, totally competent, and never oversteps his role. On the island, he’s terrific as the leader who makes life not only possible, but actually very comfortable for them all.

The costumes by Melanie Taylor Burgess beautifully represent Victorian times, and then serve well to exemplify life on the island. And that island is delightfully evoked by Carey Wong’s clever set.

The orchestra sometimes overwhelms the voices in the first act. The songs, especially in Act II reinforce the plot nicely, but are not terribly memorable. I didn’t go home humming any of the tunes.

The Village participated in developing this world premiere, and I’m sure they are hoping it will be picked up nationally. With a bit of work, it might be.

Through April 23 at the Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah, and from April 28 to May 21 at the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett, 425-257-8600 or VillageTheatre.org.

“Grounded” at Seattle Public Theatre

On a somewhat stark set, a single actor (Mahria Zook), offers up a morality lesson that is hard to ignore. This is the story of a female fighter pilot, an Air Force aviator who has her perfect job. Soaring through the wide blue sky is the greatest joy of her life, and she’s superb at it.

She’s cocky, tough, and swears with the best of them. But her perfect life takes a tailspin when she meets and falls in love with a sweet civilian and winds up pregnant and grounded.

She loves her daughter dearly, just as she loves her husband. But she needs to fly, needs to soar among the clouds and in the blue. Sadly, when she returns to active service, she learns that she will no longer fly. Instead she’ll sit in a darkened room and pilot a drone.

She hates it! She’s a flyer not a desk jockey. Sure she does her new job with incredibly more skill than that of teenaged boys playing video games, but in a way it is a game she’s playing. She’s not killing people per se. She’s blowing up the targets on her screen. Even when she learns to identify the body parts blown asunder by her explosives, hers is warfare without blood and guts.

It’s computer images she’s blowing up. Playwright, George Brant, forces the audience to contrast her adoration of her own little family to her callousness about the families she’s destroying. And he demands that his audience think about the impact of electronic advances on modern warfare. No question there’s a powerful message in this drama.

The play, however, could have used a little judicious cutting. The audience gets it, gets it early.
It’s a case where less would have been more.

Production values on this stage are amazingly good and extraordinarily inventive. They work powerfully to enhance the play’s impact. Lighting (Thorn Michaels), set design (Julia Hayes Welch), sound design (Robertson Witmer), and projections (Ahren Buhmann) work together to create a reality one wouldn’t think possible to achieve.

Through April 16, at Seattle Public Theater, 7312 West Green Lake Drive N., Seattle (206 524-1300 or www.settlepublictheatre.org).