Archive for November 2017

“A Civil War Christmas” at Taproot

Each year when planning their December offering, theatre’s must decide whether they should go with a well loved standard featuring Charlie Brown, Scrooge or some other icon of the season, or should they offer something new, something that captures the season but does so in a fresh fashion. Taproot this year went for the new, “A Civil War Christmas” by the esteemed playwright Paula Vogel.

Hazel Rose Gibson, Tré Calhoun, Dedra D. Woods, Maya Burton and Jelani Kee. Photo by Robert Wade.

For me, it wasn’t the wisest choice. Despite a fine, well-integrated cast and the well-chosen and well-presented musical numbers that enrich the production, it moved slowly and was far more historical than holiday. The characters range from young slave children to such significant historical persons as Lincoln himself, his wife, Mary, Robert E. Lee, and even John Wilkes Booth. They exist side-by-side with the slaves, weary Union soldiers and civilians.

It’s a cold December 1864, in Washington, D.C., as Christmas draws near. Peace is longed for though it seems only a distant possibility. It’s a time of scarcity. Even Christmas trees are in short supply since many have been chopped down for firewood. Soldiers long for their families. The country longs for peace.

But there is the promise that Christmas brings along with its carols and festivities, muted though they are in wartime. There’s lots of music here including Negro spirituals, songs from the Civil War period, and yes, a few Christmas Carols too. Music Director Ed Key and Co-Directors Karen Lund and Faith Bennett Russell have integrated it all very nicely.

This is a play that offers good historical information, and the production provides a compelling sense of the privations and sadness of a period where there is no peace and little good will. If, however, you are looking for a rousing Christmas festivity you won’t find it on this stage.

Through Dec. 30, at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, 206 781-9707 or

“The Nance” at Arts West

Welcome to Manhattan in the 1930s. Despite the efforts of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, burlesque is big business in New York, and among its most popular forms is the nance. The main attractions of nance are the male performers who amuse the audience with their caricatures of homosexuals. Oh how audiences laughed at those campy gays. Yes clubs offering the nance also have sexy women performing, but it’s the guys playing gays who draw the audiences.

Most of the nance performers were straight, but in this production the nightclub’s nance, Chauncey Miles, is indeed gay, though that’s his deep secret. Richard Gray as Chauncey provides all the verve and brilliant showmanship Chauncey’s audiences expect, but below that jovial exterior is a sad man who can’t be himself except surreptitiously. Off stage he frequents places where quick and furtive liaisons are possible, and he tries to make himself believe that that’s a reasonable life. Gray is brilliant portraying the nance performing on stage and heartbreaking as the real man who society has deemed unacceptable.

Richard Gray as Chauncey Miles in The Nance. Photo by John McLellan.

When Ned, a needy young man enters his life (wonderfully played by Drew Highlands), there’s almost a chance of real happiness for Chauncey. Sadly, he lives in a world where that’s not to be.

Performing at the club with Chauncey is Efram. Jeff Steitzer excels inthe role. Sprightly and silly, he wows us with his verve, his costumes, and patter. And we learn that underneath the grease paint, he’s a compassionate individual.

The three excellent actresses, who dance, sing, strut, sashay, and perform for the club’s audiences (and, of course, us), are excellent in their routines. These buxom females bump and grind in low-cut satin dresses and back-seamed stockings held up by garter belts. Each of them (Ann Cornelius, Jasmine Jean Sims and Diana Cameron McQueen) is also quite moving as a caring friend of Chauncey.

Nance shows were wildly popular in an age when homosexuality was reviled. Arts West has masterfully recreated the ambiance of that era with its voyeurism. The theatre itself has been transformed into a nightclub. Strings of white lights hang from the rafters and form patterns on the walls. Cabaret tables (at which audience members can pay to sit) surround the two stages within the main stage where the performers dance and sing. The carpeting has a ’30s quality, and as the performers come and go, one is indeed thrust into a previous era.

Director Mathew Wright has done it again! He’s establishing a record of hit after hit at Arts West. This one is an especially powerful show that captures all our emotions. Funny? Oh indeed, it’s full of laughs and gaiety, but you may also find yourself wiping away a tear or two.

Through Nov. 19 at Arts West, 4711 California Ave., SW, Seattle,

“Burn This” Presented by theatre|twenty-two (T22) at 12th Ave. Arts

Anna (Carolyn Marie Monroe), the lithe and lovely dancer/choreographer is grief stricken. Robbie, her dance partner and housemate has been killed in a freaky boating accident. She’s heartbroken, too, that his family never knew the brilliant Robbie, Robbie the dancer/choreographer. The Robbie they knew was gay. That was sufficient.

Photo by Margaret Toomey

Her other housemate, gay Larry, played sensitively and with fine humor by Alex Garnett, is also devastated by this senseless death. He uses wry comments to conceal his grief. Clearly this downtown loft is a house of deeply felt but restrained mourning.

All restraint is lost, however, when Robbie’s cokehead brother, Pale, played by Tim Gouran, slams his way into the apartment and spews forth his rage. Of course he’s devastated by his brother’s death, but for him grief isn’t a quiet or contained emotion. He’s a madman, has the emotional control of a tiger in heat. He thrashes and crashes through the apartment. Inevitably, Anna’s straight boyfriend, Burton (Jason Sanford) has his encounter with the wild-eyed, half-mad Pale. The contrast between the two types (archetypical males) is one of the fascinating elements of the play.

Director Corey McDaniel knows how to get the best from his actors. All four masterfully deliver the marvelous dialog provided by playwright Lanford Wilson and bring a shattering physicality to each of their roles.

It all plays out on Margaret Toomey’s set that captures the essence of a downtown New York loft apartment. It has floor to ceiling windows made up of blocks of glass, some colored, some not; an open upper room, and the locks and padlocks that New Yorkers know they need.

By the way, when this play opened in New York in 1987, Steppenwolf’s John Malkovitch played Pale and its Joan Allen played Anna to rave reviews. This cast deserves similar praise.

Through Nov. 18 at 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave., or 206-257-2203.

“The Government Inspector” Presented by Seattle Shakespeare

If you love farce, you are going to love this classy production of “The Government Inspector.”
This is the version adapted in 2009 by Jeffrey Hatcher from Nikolai Gogol’s early 19th Century comedy, and it couldn’t be more hilarious or better staged.

From the opening moment when a series of doors and then chairs overrun the stage in balletic fashion, all propelled by cast members, you know that creativity reigns here. Director Allison Narver has assembled a remarkable cast and stage crew to delight us with this tale of corruption, greed, lust and lascivious behavior.

It’s a story many of us have read or seen on screen. The citizens of a small town in Russia learn that an incognito government inspector is coming to perform an audit. Horrified, fearful that their deceits and misdeeds will be discovered, they vow to dupe this emissary from the Czar. Unfortunately for them, they mistake a lowly civil servant for the real government inspector and overwhelm him with an experience he couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams.

R. Hamilton Wright, the faux inspector, excels in his role. He’s a man who is not averse to chicanery, especially when it benefits him, so why on earth would he admit that he wasn’t the man they expected? This uniformly good cast is in top form and knows how to make the most out of the deception. The physical humor is uproarious. Timing is everything, and cast members have it down!

The production crew deserves as much attention as the actors. Peter Rush’s costuming defines social class and offers its own humor. The wigs are remarkable, and they too are indispensible to the humor. Julia Welch’s ever-moveable set creates a ballet of its own as cast members dance the doors and panels across the stage while Andrew D. Smith’s lighting enhances comic effect.

Kudos to Director Allison Narver for putting together this delicious treat.

Through Nov. 19 at Center Theatre, in the Armory, Seattle Center, (206 733-8222 or