Archive for October 2017

“63 Trillion” at West of Lenin, Produced by Sandbox Radio in association with Mud Pay Partners

This is a witty, wonderful, wildly funny play about greedy, somewhat whacko “big money” men who the wealthy trust to husband their resources, and make their portfolios grow. Director Richard Ziman has drawn together some of Seattle’s top male performers to delight us with this insane comedy by John Bunzel. If any of you are worried about your investments as you watch the Dow Jones go up, up, up, this reminder of 2008 may not remove your fears, but it will certainly make you laugh and laugh uproariously.

Here we find ourselves in the inner offices of a major wealth management company where a bunch of jealous, back biting, portfolio managers snarl and snipe at each other like male tigers confined to a small cage. They may officially be partners, but each would as soon castrate any one of the others as invite him to dinner. They reveal themselves in Bunzel’s brilliantly funny dialog.

David Pichette and Charles Leggett

There are no women in this elegant office. This is an all boys’ playing field. The only woman on this stage comes in from the legal department late in the game. Amontine Aurore plays this lawyer with total command, and much as the male partners would like to dismiss her, it appears that she’s actually got the winning hand and winning is what it’s all about.

Playing the partners are David Gehrman, Peter Jacobs, Charles Leggett, Terry Edward Moore, and David Pichette. Their underling, Jonah, (Jason Marr) listens and learns, even more than his mentors can imagine. Each actor is terrific. Pichette plays the guru of the bunch despite the fact that he’s as nutty as the proverbial fruitcake. Perhaps that explains why he’s the oasis of calm as the other money managers are panicking while the Dow Jones falls lower and lower.

It’s a marvelous cast on this stage, and they have been given the most original comedy lines to play with. Congratulations to Ziman and his entire crew (the set is quite wonderful too) for bringing us this truly funny production.

Through Nov. 19 at West of Lenin, 203 N 36 St., Seattle
https://www.63trillionseattle.com or
brownpapertickets.com/event/3081294

“The Crucible” by Arthur Miller at ACT

Brilliant! The best production I’ve seen in months! And, no, that’s not hyperbole, but let me put it in perspective. I love Arthur Miller’s work; I love this play; ACT’s production under the direction of John Langs is wonderful, and timely.

Most readers know the story that takes place in Puritan New England. You know—Cotton Mather, John Winthrop, Ann Hutchinson, religious extremism, witch trials. Indeed in the l690s a wave of hysteria afflicted the settlement of Salem, Massachusetts. Teen aged girls claimed to be possessed and began identifying neighbors as witches who were working as the devil’s aides and set on destroying the sanctity of the community. Before sanity was restored 20 people, mostly women, were condemned as witches and hung, and, in at least one case, pressed to death by heavy stones. And not surprisingly, some of their most vociferous neighbor/accusers benefited from their demise?

Miller’s play was written and produced during the McCarthy era, a time when the Senator from Wisconsin carried out a witch-hunt against supposed communists, the “witches” who were out to destroy our democracy. Colleagues were forced to testify against colleagues. Innuendo, served as proof. Hysteria prevailed. Innocents, fearful of being accused, failed to speak against this insanity. Hundreds of careers were destroyed. Yet in the process, some careers (McCarthy’s and Roy Cohn’s for example) were enhanced and personal agendas were boosted before being brought down.

It’s all here on this stage, a sparse stage designed by Matthew Smucker that works wonderfully to enhance the story. The cast is an all-star extravaganza. Director Langs has involved many of the most highly regarded actors in the city. There’s Paul Morgan Stetler as John Proctor, the voice of reason in a society gone mad. Anne Allgood, Kurt Beattie, William Hall, Jr., Michael Patten, Marianne Owen, MJ Sieber, Ray Tagavilla and many others whose names you would recognize all offer fine performances.

The special richness of this production is achieved, in good part, by these subtle yet emotionally taught performances. Stetler’s John Proctor is a flawed man of conscience. The intensity of his internal struggles is mesmerizing. Avery Clark and MJ Sieber as the self-satisfied champions of the lord make one squirm. Khanh Doan as Mrs. Proctor creates a victim for whom we must weep. And so it goes, a cast without a single weak member.

This is a play that has been periodically revived as existing social and political circumstances in the United States make it particularly relevant. I would say its messages are always worth remembering, and when the production is as good as this one is, it shouldn’t be missed.

Through Nov. 12 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, 206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org.

“The World of Extreme Happiness” at Seattle Public Theatre, Produced in Association with SIS

I’m an enormous fan of Desdemona Chiang who directed this play. And, over the years, I’ve been impressed with the acting of a number of members of this cast. In addition, I’ve come to expect really good productions from this theatre company and from SIS. I found little to like in “The World of Extreme Happiness,” an exploration of the costs of modernization in today’s China by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig. Production values are weak, and the play is more than a bit polemical.

Historically girls haven’t fared as well as boys in China, and, as this play points out, they still don’t. It begins with the pains of labor that result in the birth of a baby girl in a contemporary rural village. Her father, who has little use for daughters, tosses her into a slop bucket from which she is rescued. The play follows her to maturity.

As a young adult full of hope she heads to a big city to forge her career. It begins in a public bathroom where she cleans the toilets and washes the floors. Depressing! Dead end! Ah, but all is not lost. A colleague takes her to a self-help guru who introduces her and others to the power of positive thinking.

Of course she sets about to rebuild her life. But she encounters so many of the inequities that are inherent in China’s effort to reimagine itself. Poor factory girls aren’t sharing in the economic boom that has enriched the educated men and women who revitalize the nation. No, the factory girls live in depressing dormitories far from their homes. They carry out mind-numbing tasks for relatively little recompense.

Our heroine’s life like that of the other village girls stuck in the huge cities is miserable. These women are exploited, unhappy, and suicidal. The play successfully portrays the human cost of societal transformation, and it identifies the early losers in the revolution. It’s an important story and has elements that could make it fascinating, if only it weren’t so preachy.

Sadly this choppy production is also flawed. Few stage props or sets are used. Much of the action plays out on an almost bare stage, sometimes on the floor and out of sight of some audience members. The highly creative lighting (Emily Leong) doesn’t compensate for the paucity of stagecraft. This isn’t “Waiting for Godot” where stark staging works perfectly.

As China has engineered its astounding transition, there have been casualties. We see it on this stage.

Through November 5 at Seattle Public Theatre, 7312 West Green Lake Drive N., Seattle, 206-524-1300, SeattlePublicTheatre.org.

Kate Hamill’s “Pride and Prejudice” at Seattle Rep

Don’t come to this performance expecting a traditional outing with Jane Austen and her charming cast of characters. Oh, all the main players are there, but they are inserted into Kate Hamill’s madcap, zany, and farcical adaptation of this highly revered Austen favorite. If you are a traditionalist, this probably won’t be for you. If you love clowns, circuses, farce, and ridiculous situations this is a variation of Ms. Austen’s work like none you have ever seen before.

Ms. Hamill is a highly regarded playwright who has been lauded for her whacky adaptations of the classics: “Vanity Fair” (Thackeray), “The Seagull” (Chekov), “Sense and Sensibility” (Austen), among others. “Pride and Prejudice is the latest of her inventions to be staged, and Seattle Rep’s production is it’s second outing.

Emily Chisholm (Jane), Kjerstine Anderson (Lizzy), Hana Lass (Lydia), Rajeev Varma (Mr. Bennet), and Cheyenne Casebier (Mrs. Bennet) in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s production of Pride and Prejudice. Photo by Alan Alabastro.

Upon entering the theatre, you’ll suspect that something different is going on here. The stage is fully revealed. No curtains or backdrop create an illusion. Instead, Scenic Designer John McDermott has filled the cavernous space with the oddest assortment of “things”. There’s a ship’s bell, an old Victrola, costumes hanging all over the place, a massive pianoforte from another era, a row of mirrors of the sort used by actors to apply makeup. If you wonder why they and all the other things are there, keep wondering. There’s little to explain their significance and there’s little need for that as the play progresses.

From the opening moments, chaos reigns. Actors run about, emotions are oversized, lots of noise, cross dressing, etc. The only thing you won’t find is subtlety. Director Amanda Dehnert has made sure of all of that.

If you like the Three Stooges or the Marx Brothers with a bit of Monte Python thrown in, you’ll find plenty to like here. There’s lots of action; there appears to be little coordination. But that’s not a flaw. It’s a carefully contrived mechanism to reinforce the humor. So too is the outsized emotion. This is broad humor…very broad. If insanity on stage is not your thing, skip this. Otherwise, enjoy the romp.

Through October 29 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, 206 443-2222 or SEATTLEREP.ORG.