Archive for April 2017

“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).