Archive for April 2017

“Chitrangada” Presented by ACTLab and Pratidhwani

A feast of color and movement! A tale of love! “Chitrangada” an Indian dance story is brought to Seattle audiences by the local South Asian cultural organization Pratidhwani. It’s an extraordinary performance featuring more than 40 dancers directed by Moumita Bhattacharya.

The tale originated as a minor story in the Mahabharata, the great Sanskrit epic of ancient India. It was revised and embellished in the late 19th Century by India’s most beloved poet and author, Rabindranath Tagore. It’s Tagore’s version we see on this stage. A love story about a princess, the only child and heir to her father’s kingdom. Thus it was necessary for her to learn martial arts, so she assumed the countenance of a man and became a great warrior. All would be well but she fell in love with another great warrior, Arjun. He, of course, didn’t know she was a woman. When that is finally revealed, true love ensues, and it’s a happily ever after story.

It’s a nice story, not terribly different from folktales of our own society. Ah! but it’s not just the story that’s the enticement of this production. What is so unforgettable about this is the dance in all its varieties, the music and costumes. “Spectacular color and movement” hardly do it justice.

The dancers utilize all parts of their body in a fashion unfamiliar to western audiences. Their hands are as significant as their feet and legs. Integral to most dances are gracious and elaborate finger movements that far exceed anything we see in western ballet. So too are the eyes used extensively as elements of the story telling.

The costumes are sumptuous. Golds, oranges, greens, shades of colors you’ve never seen before, all are integrated into glorious creations that not only look beautiful but allow the dancers a full range of motion.

If you have any interest in dance, this program is a must. So too for those who are interested in non-western cultures. And for anyone who just enjoys a great diversity of fast paced action this production is simply mesmerizing.

The wonder is that the enormous production crew, the large number of behind-the-scenes functionaries, and the huge number of highly skilled performers are all volunteers. How lucky we are to have them here in our region.

Through May 20 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206-292-7676 or acttheatre.org.

“Frozen” at Arts West

Anyone who is or has been a parent knows that the greatest fear, the most horrifying fear, is the fear that something terrible is going to happen to your child. Well, that fear is realized in “Frozen,” a taut play, so well produced here, that you’ll be mesmerized until the final words are spoken. Kudos to director Mathew Wright who has pulled it all together.

The stage is divided into three raised platforms. On each is a chair. There are three characters: Agnetha, a psychiatrist who is studying the criminal mind; Nancy, a mother whose ten-year-old daughter disappeared on the way to her nearby grandmother’s house; and Ralph a psychopath who abducts, abuses, and kills little girls.

Each is a “frozen” character. Nancy is frozen in grief. Ralph is frozen in his personality disorder, and Agnetha in her theories. We watch the thaw, such as it is. We watch three consummate actors weave a spell as tidy and strong as a spider’s web.

The acting here ranks among the best I’ve seen all year. Jonelle Jordon brings professionalism to her role as the psychiatrist who can’t help developing empathy for the murderer. She has her theories, and the main one suggests that a malfunctioning brain makes it impossible for someone like Ralph to have any guilt or sense of wrongdoing. Now that’s a concept that raises interesting moral issues!

Amy Thone personifies grief. First there’s hope her daughter is alive. Then rage comes and a deep hunger for revenge. Most of all there’s the nagging, excruciating pain that fills the space where her daughter should be. She is, of course infuriated yet at the same time unable to understand what has happened. Oh, poor tortured woman.

And then there’s Peter Crook! His is a performance of such power, subtlety and nuance that he’s spellbinding. He’s a sadistic killer with no conscience. At one point he says, “The only thing I’m sorry about is it’s not legal.” How could you not want to kill him? And yet there’s the scholar saying he can’t help himself.

If powerful, thought provoking theatre is what you want along with extraordinary acting, this show is for you.

Through May 14 at Arts West Playhouse and Gallery, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle, (206 938-0339 or www.artswest.org.

“Chitrangada” The Indian Dance Ballet Comes to Seattle

PREVIEW                                        PREVIEW

Every so often, Seattle theatre-goers have an opportunity to experience dance programs from non-western societies. Opening on Friday April 28 at ACT Theatre is “Chitrangada” an Indian dance ballet based on a story by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, India’s most cherished writer.

Tagore wrote the love story that is central to this dance in 1892. Yet the issues it addresses are probably more pertinent today than they were in his lifetime. He took a story from the great Sanskrit epic, “The Mahabharata,” and then added his own fiction. It’s a love story with a strong message against gender stereotyping. It’s a call for male/female equality, a saga of love and a woman’s struggle to attain the life she wants. The Pratidhwani dance group of greater Seattle presents it as a dance/drama with English narration.

The forty dancers are all volunteers but have a long history of Seattle performances. Their presentations are marked by elaborate costumes and scenery. If you like color and elegant dance forms you’ll find both in “Chitrangada”. The flowing costumes are vibrant. The dances feature the stylized movements typical of Indian classical dance as well as its folk dances. Their performances speak to issues of universal significance as portrayed within the culture of India.

April 28-May 20, ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, 206-292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org.

“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.)