Archive for May 2017

“Busman’s Honeymoon” at Taproot Theatre

Trust Dorothy Sayers to come up with a delectable little murder mystery filled with humor as well as suspense. This one, written in 1937, concerns, of course, Lord Peter Wimsey the indefatigable gentleman detective.

In this confection, Lord Peter is on his honeymoon. He’s just arrived at the English country house he’s bought for his new bride. Mark Lund’s set works nicely to evoke the time period and the place. One can almost smell the slight mustiness that’s a hallmark of many such houses.

Naturally, the thought of solving a mystery is the last thing on Wimsy’s mind! But somehow, mysteries just seem to present themselves to him, and what’s a fellow to do but solve them? So he and his bride, she who writes mysteries, get to it. After conversations with the various assembled retainers and townspeople they learn exactly why the landlord is dead at the bottom of the cellar steps with his head cracked open.

Director Scott Nolte has assembled a fine cast, led by Terry Edward Moore as the wry but so wise Lord Peter. Alyson Scadron Branner is the not so simpering bride. She and Moore play off each other with wit and an obvious delight. Here’s a couple enchanted by their opportunity to start their marriage in collegial sleuthing. And lucky are they to be supported by a first class team of some of Seattle’s finest actors.

The play, itself is a bit dated, but it includes some lovely word play as well as a few surprises. Of course there’s a backstory, the details of which gradually leak out as the stage fills up with the large cast of characters. And you’ll not be surprised to learn that the Wimseys do identify the murderer.

The ending is interesting in that it reveals Lord Wimsey’s distaste for capital punishment, his discomfort at having a role in condemning a man to death. That’s an issue we are still wrestling with here in the United States. The last execution for murder in England occurred in 1964 just before such acts were outlawed.

Through June 24 Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, (206 781-9705 or taproottheatre.org.)

“Grand Concourse” at Seattle Public Theater

Faith Bennett Russell as Shelly. Photo by John Cornicello

Just as the Grand Concourse in The Bronx began as a magnificent boulevard and is now a distressed ribbon of concrete in a down and out part of that borough, the characters in “Grand Concourse” have fallen into bad times. Directed here by Annie Lareau, the play raises some interesting questions, most importantly, what are the limits of what we can do for others?

Shelley (well played by Faith Bennett Russell) is a nun who wears street clothes and lives a secular life. She runs the soup kitchen (designed by Jenny Littlefield) in which this entire play is situated and has begun to question the worth of her commitment. These doubts are something she talks to God about, limiting her discussions to timed intervals marked off by a microwave acting as an alarm clock.

Helping her is Oscar, the jivey, laid back, can-do Dominican young man who does the heavy lifting and chases away the neighborhood hoodlums. The captivating Tyler Trerise gives him loads of charm. He’s a good natured “Johnny on the spot” who lights up the set whenever he saunters in. Yet Oscar, too, is not without his moral quandary. For him it’s a question of love vs. lust.

Frog, the alcoholic, schizophrenic street person benefitting from the kitchen, helps out whenever he can. His is a complex character. He’s an educated man who hasn’t always been down-and-out, one who appears to be able to control his life but sadly can’t. Corey McDaniel plays him with subtlety.

These three have their little world in reasonable order when Emma (Hannah Ruwe) walks in. She’s sweet; she’s needy; she wants to help; she’s evidently undergoing cancer treatments. They bring her into their tight little circle. Sadly, in many ways she turns out to be the snake in the garden, such as it is. Hers is a role with many dimensions and she does it all well.

The acting here is noteworthy, and the set is effective. Yet the production seemed a bit static, in need of an emotional boost. That said, you will leave pondering the question of what are the limits of compassion?

Through June 11 at Seattle Public Theater, 7312 West Green Lake Dr. N, Seattle, (206) 524-1300 or seattlepublictheatre.org.

Two Exhibitions at the Frye Museum

Some art is an experience that speaks to one’s aesthetic sense. Other art calls more to one’s intellect. It speaks more to the mind than the eye. The Frye offers both types currently. “AMIE SIEGEL Interiors” is for the mind, a cerebral excursion (Through Sept. 3). “Between the Frames” offers far more aesthetic appeal (Through July 23). Together, the shows offer an interesting juxtaposition, but also an appropriate commentary on the Museum’s development since its founding in 1952.

Siegel’s work investigates what the curator calls “ideas about objects and their perceived cultural value, and the power systems that evolve from connoisseurship, collecting, and image making.” Using film, slides and video she explores our relationship to things. Through examination of the things in London’s Freud Museum she points out parallels between the scrupulous care given to Freud’s collection of archeological objects and his conscientious process of analysis—removing the dross to reveal the essence.

Another work consists of two black and white 16mm films simultaneously projecting a sequence of shots of Le Corbusier’s white Villa Savoye outside of Paris and a black copy of the building in Canberra, Australia. Each film is printed in a manner that reverses dark and light. Here too the artist is mapping out “the interior mechanisms of the mind as well as the museum . . . that define aesthetic and social worth.” It’s food for the intellect more than delight for the eye.

The other current exhibition, “Between the Frames,” consists of art that speaks directly to one’s aesthetic sense. It features works acquired under each of the directors of the Museum since its founding in 1952.

The Frye’s had a vision. They wanted to create a free, public art museum for the people of Seattle. We are still enjoying the benefits of their generosity. This exhibit offers a retrospective of the growth and change in the collection since the Museum was established. It highlights the development of the Museum’s collection from the original 200 representational works donated by Charles and Emma Frye to today’s much expanded collection that includes cutting-edge contemporary works.

Wheat Gatherer by Winslow Homer, acquired in 1958.

“Between the Frames” showcases examples of the acquisitions made by each of the six directors. Through their oversight and vision, the museum has, decade by decade, reframed the past, informed the present, and speculated on the future.

The first Director, Walser Sly Greathouse, maintained the focus on representational art,  as did his wife Ida Kay who succeeded him after his death.  Interest in local artists and those from the Pacific Northwest, including women artists were hallmarks of her tenure.

Girl in Striped Robe by Philip Pearlstein

The next director, Richard V. West oversaw the major remodel in 1997 that resulted in the building we have today. Under his direction the collection continued to grow with representational works like Philip Pearlstein’s “Girl in Striped Robe.”

In 2003, Elsa “Midge” Bowman assumed leadership and soon brought in Robin Held as head curator. Together they reinvented the exhibition program. Video and performance art were presented. The whole question of how to define representational art was examined and the museum’s mission statement was revised to more adequately reflect both the intentions of the Fryes and the vision of its board.

When Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker was appointed director in 2009 new collaborations and further expansion of the exhibitions program were initiated with a continued focus on contemporary art. Her tenure set the stage for current director Joseph Rosa who will build the collection, just as the Fryes built their collection—on the contemporary art of the time. “Between the Frames” offers a splendid summary of how the Frye has broadened its collections since its inception.

Frye Art Museum, 704 Terry Ave., Seattle, fryemuseum.org, 206 622-9250, free admission and parking.

“Dreamgirls” at Village Theatre

Just what do you have to do to make your R&B all-girls group stand out among the rest? You need lots of talent…yes, of course, but also fantastic good luck, probably that most of all. “Dreamgirls” is the story of a female trio that entered a talent show at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre. They didn’t win, but given their talent, and after lots of conflicts, double crosses and heartbreaks, success was theirs.

It has been assumed that this is the story of the Supremes and Diana Ross, though no one will verify that. The musical first opened on Broadway in 1981, won six Tony’s and was made into a movie in 2006. Now Director Steve Tompkins’ extravaganza bursts forth on the Village Theatre’s stage.

Lauren Du Pree (Deena Jones), Charles Simmons (C.C. White), Alexandria Henderson (Lorrell Robinson), Angela Birchett (Effie White), and John Devereaux (Curtis Taylor, Jr.). Dreamgirls Production photo. © 2017 Mark Kitaoka

If you like R&B music, this show offers lots of it. It’s a concert wrapped around a story. The voices are big, and the orchestra, directed by R.J. Tancioco, is booming. Salvo after salvo of sound waves blast through the theatre, and almost every number is accompanied by a dazzling light show. Featuring mostly red, white, and blue lights, the beams shoot out from all sides of the stage as well as the ceiling. This lighting (created by Tom Sturge) also provides a mood that is equally effective for those tender numbers that speak to the anguish that sometimes accompanies love.

Meanwhile, the three girls who try to make it big (Angela Birchett as Effie, Lauren Du Pree as Deena, and Alexandria Henderson as Lorrell) belt out the numbers and astound us with their range, and evocation of deep emotions. The route to stardom isn’t equally successful for this threesome. Their relations with men aren’t always to their advantage. But the women are determined.

Their stage costumes are noteworthy (thanks to Karen Ann Ledger’s creativity). Most of the numerous outfits they wear are spectacular. They glitter; they shine; they flounce; they miraculously transform into something wholly different before your very eyes.

I repeat: this is a concert wrapped around a story. The story is almost too convoluted, too secondary to the music. What you have in this production are remarkable visual effects and a potpourri of R&B music well presented.

Through July 2 at the Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah, and from July 7 to July 30 at the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett, 425-257-8600 or VillageTheatre.org.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Presented by Seattle Shakespeare

This is not Shakespeare as you’ve come to expect it. Oh no, this is Shakespeare as a Broadway musical, and what better of his plays to present in this fashion than “Midsummer Night’s Dream” where mortals meet fairies and magic is in the air? Director George Mount has created a lollapalooza, crowd-pleasing delight that he suggests is “a celebration of all things theatre.” And it’s a celebration you won’t want to miss.

You’ll find wonderful physical humor incorporated throughout. Do pay special attention to MJ Sieber who seems born for the role of Bottom, a role that gives him ample opportunities to be the clown with exquisite timing. His scenes with the Queen of the fairies (Vanessa Miller) are by themselves worth the price of admission.

But there’s so much more including dancing, from tap to tango, and lots of it. Do you like acrobatics? Here you’ll find some amazing stunts, and most of them are performed to music provided by an orchestra above and behind the actors that is directed by Dayton Allemann.

What can I say? I, who love to laugh, loved this production. It features a remarkably skilled cast, marvelous stagecraft, a clever set, lovely costumes, and surprising special effects. The ending is so ridiculous, so over the top that I still giggle thinking about it.

Shakespeare wrote for the masses, for simple people as well as highly literate ones. He would give two thumbs up to this production.

Through May 21 at Cornish Playhouse, 201Mercer Street, Seattle, 206 733-8222 or seattleshakespeare.org.