Author Archive

“Tribes” at ACT

“Tribes,” by Nina Raine now playing at ACT closes on March 26, and, if you haven’t already seen it, do yourself a favor and get tickets. It’s funny, deeply moving, and thought provoking.

This is an award-winning play, well produced here under the direction of John Langs, and featuring a splendid cast. It’s all about communication, how we hear or understand the people who are talking to us. Most of us listen. Some of us read lips or sign. In the hearing family on this stage there is one deaf member, Billy (brilliantly played by Joshua Castille, himself a member of the deaf community).

When Billy was an infant, his parents decided that they would do everything they could to overcome the limitations of his condition, so they made sure that he could read lips. They refused to have him taught sign language, believing that it would mark him as different, handicapped, not quite as good as hearing people.

Billy, became an accomplished lip reader and was never part of the deaf community. He “passed,” kind of like a light skinned child of parents of African American descent. His well-meaning parents removed him from what might have been his own community and inserted him into the hearing community. But then, a deaf sign-speaker enters their lives. The impact on Billy and his family is enormous.

This is a thought provoking and intense exploration of family, values, prejudices, and community. Yet it is also marvelously funny and performed by a splendid cast, including some of the best actors in Seattle. And, by the way, you’ll never hear a more beautiful and moving rendition of “Clair de Lune.”

Through March 26 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206-292-7676 or acttheatre.org).

“Milk Like Sugar” at Arts West

Choices! We all want the ability to make our own choices, sadly, not all of us have the experience to do so wisely. “Milk Like Sugar” powerfully explores a choice made by three teen aged, low-income, African American girls. These are vivacious young women, full of giggles, smart-aleck comments, pent up energy, and, unfortunately, a narrow worldview.

Their choice is to get pregnant. They love the idea of having a shower, of people giving them presents, of being the center of attention. Their thinking doesn’t go beyond the presents. Their environment and its institutions don’t offer them a larger dreamscape. Since their lives have been limited, so too must be their dreams.

Annie (Allyson Lee Brown), the protagonist, lives with an angry, defensive single mother who has a dead-end job that offers little pay and few rewards. Annie learns few valuable life lessons this overworked, disappointed woman.

This award-winning play raises issues that we ignore at our peril. There’s an entire cohort of young people in our society whom we are failing. Playwright Kirsten Greenidge inserts into her play potential escape routes from the inevitable, but she shows how difficult it would be for Annie and her friends to follow them.

One of the charming elements in the play is the inclusion of a sweet, innocent boy who has gained the ability to look beyond the ghetto. He’s interested in the universe, the stars that light up the dark sky. It’s a lovely metaphor and a shrewd inclusion within the script, cleverly brought to fruition on stage.

Nastacia Guimont (Margie), Allyson Lee Brown (Annie), Jay O’Leary (Talisha), and Lindsay Zae Summers (Keera)

Under the direction of Malika Oyetimein, the actors capture all the jive and speech patterns of the ghetto. Verisimilitude fully achieved! I did, however, have some difficulty understanding all the dialog. Perhaps it was my hearing, or perhaps it was because the ghetto vernacular was foreign to me. I found it interesting to read on-line that when the play was performed in D.C. the dialog was projected above the actors to make sure it was decipherable to all in the audience.

That aside, this is an interesting and timely exploration of what poverty and the lack of hope do to the human soul.

Through March 25 at Arts West Playhouse and Gallery, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle, (206 938-0339 or www.artswest.org)

“Well” at Seattle Rep

This is a play that received rave reviews in New York. Here in Seattle some in the audience on the night I attended walked out fairly early in the production, and, among those who stayed, some gave it a standing ovation. I didn’t walk out, but I certainly wouldn’t give it a standing ovation.

Playwright Lisa Kron has written an autobiographical work focusing on the mother-daughter relationship. In this case, Lisa is played by Sarah Rudinoff and the mother by Barbara Dirickson. Neither character is in good health. Lisa considers her mother a hypochondriac, but Lisa too has her issues, and a good part of the play, probably too much of it, takes place while she’s undergoing treatment in a hospital allergy unit where milk of magnesia and enemas provide the focus for some of its humor.

Another emphasis is the racial integration of their hometown, an effort in which the mother played a key role. Mom is an active social advocate. Just as she and Lisa are sick individuals, so is their neighborhood sick. Fortunately, Mom’s interventions have salutary results.

So we have illness vs. wellness, and bigotry vs. integration in a play that purports to be really about the trials and tribulations of the mother/daughter relationship. For me it was just a bit too much.

The star role here is that of the mother. It might be Lisa’s play, but her mother is the powerhouse. We see her before we even know the play has begun. In halting, labored steps she climbs down stairs leading into the living room, where much of the play takes place, then sinks into a comfy chair and doesn’t seem able to move for the rest of the play. Barbara Dirickson as the mother gives her all the exhaustion, weakened condition, but steely convictions the part calls for. This woman may be a near invalid, but she has had the gumption and power to effect social change, despite her inability to meet all her daughter’s needs.

But don’t get the idea that this is a deeply message-driven play. It’s a comedy, and much of it is very funny, some of it a bit sophomoric, but there are lots and lots of laughs as the playwright explores the often difficult relationship between mother and daughter.

Through March 5 at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, 206 443-2222 or Seattlerep.org).

Bring Down the House: Part 2: Crusade of Chaos

Seattle Shakespeare working in collaboration with “upstart crow collective” here offers part two of their adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy. It’s a bold and ambitious undertaking, adapted by Rosa Joshi and Kate Wisniewski, and directed by Rosa Joshi.

Most of us are familiar with the history of the War of the Roses, the 15th Century conflict between the Yorkites and the Lancastrians for the British throne. Both were noble lines; both were convinced their man was the rightful heir to the throne, and, as in much of English history, their combat was marked by deceit, treachery, vicious fighting, and outsized egos. It’s all captured on this stage.

Heads are chopped off. Blood, quite a bit of it, is spilled. Drums boom, and the battles are accompanied by howls and screams. It’s realistic noise I would guess, and for those who love Shakespeare, these two offerings are thrilling to see. For others, they may be more than a bit too loud.

Center House Theatre is a relatively small space, not one well designed for arena-sized noise. I found the sound to be overwhelming. The all female cast is very good, but women’s voices when raised as loud as they can go have none of the deep tones possessed by so many men. Unfortunately much of what you hear is shrill. For me it was almost ear splitting. In a larger venue it would have worked better.

As in Part I of this theatrical duo, the acting is excellent. The scenic design (Shawn Ketchum Johnson) makes much of little and does it incredibly effectively. Straight back chairs combined with what looks like a kitchen table create a powerful throne when the action demands it. So much else is suggested by minimalist staging. And Geoff Korf’s lighting reinforces mood throughout.

I’m not sure either of these plays provided any new insights by having an all women cast, but I certainly appreciated the opportunity to see women playing these powerful roles. Wasn’t it true in Shakespeare’s day that all the actors on stage were men? Well, here we see just what talented women can do with male roles.

Through March 12, Center House Theatre, Seattle Center, (206-733-8222 or seattleshakespeare.org).

Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” an ACTLab and The Seagull Project Collaboration

Ah Chekhov, master playwright and social commentator! And now playing at ACT we have his last drama, “The Cherry Orchard,” directed by John Langs, and offering an exploration and examination of social change in Mother Russia. Anyone interested in theatre should have seen or should see this play, but, like all Chekhov’s plays, it moves slowly and demands concentration.

It’s the turn of the twentieth century, and life in Russia is changing. We see the ramifications of this change played out on the estate of Madame Ranevskaya who returns from an extended stay in Paris. She’s back where her beloved cherry trees are blooming. The family retainers greet her with warmth, and all would be well except for the fact that her debts are enormous, and she may well lose all that she holds dear. But she’s an aristocrat, tied to the values of a previous time. She’ll hold her parties, dance merrily, and do well at ignoring the warnings that her world is about to destruct.

Julie Briskman as our heroine, Ranevskaya, combines naivetĂ© with hard-headedness. Oh she’s so delighted to be back on her dear estate and wants to hear nothing from anyone who might be able to address her looming financial problem.

Among her would-be advisors is Lopakhin, played by Brandon J. Simmons with delicious sophistication and command. He’s the son of a former serf, but the changing world offered him opportunities that he was well prepared to make the most of. He has a grand plan that would indeed save the estate, but our heroine wants no part of it. He’s a suave presence, so sure of himself, so far from his serfdom background.

Mention must also be made of Hannah Mootz as Dunyasha, one of the housemaids. No modest little house wren is she! She dresses like a lady, flirts and flits about with confidence. She sashays, holds her head high, and is the epitome of the changing social world.

In Jennifer Zeyl’s set, the floor on which the action takes place is elevated and the actual stage floor just below it is strewn with cherry blossoms. Gauzy floor length draperies speak to impermanence, yet elegant crystal chandeliers epitomize the old order. And there, centered on the stage are two potted cherry trees, in blossom.

As the play ends, the family have packed to leave, their goods, in disarray around them, are gradually carried off. Meantime, the sound of axes chopping down the cherry trees can be heard. It’s the end—of a play and of a social order.

Through Feb. 19, at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206-292-7676 or acttheatre.org).