Theatre Reviews

“Hoodoo Love” Presented by Sound Theatre Company

This is a tale of love, magic, music, and jealousy. It’s a probing look at the life of a black woman in Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1930s, a look that leaves us asking how much has changed. It’s a stunning play with fine music, and a marvelous production, presented by Sound Theatre Company in collaboration with the Hansberry Project.

The story revolves around Toulou (Porscha Shaw) who lives a run-down life in a run-down shack in the Negro part of Memphis. But she has ambition. She wants to be a blues singer, even has a come-again/go-again lover, Ace of Spades (André G. Brown), who has had some success himself, but can’t or just doesn’t bother to bring any to her. Her brother (Corey Spruill) a born again Christian who cloaks himself in piety, waltzes in and out of her life, and is at heart a vile monster. The only steady force for her is the CandyLady (Eva Abram) her next door neighbor who practices a little hoodoo herself.

This all plays out on a wonderful set by Margaret Toomey and Savannah Brittain, a set carefully illuminated by Matthew Webb’s subtle lighting. It most effectively evokes place and provides a terrific setting for the superb actors. There’s not a weak one among them.

As directed by Malika Oyetimein, this is a gut-wrenching production sprinkled with blues music. You can’t leave the theatre without asking some serious questions about the life led by black women then. And if you are any kind of thinker, you have to question women’s lives no matter where they live or what their color. Yet the play never sinks to the level of polemic. It is, however a trifle too long. Some judicious cutting might make a good thing even better.

The playwright Katori Hall uses Black English the way Shakespeare used Elizabethan English. She captures the patois perfectly, and Director Oyetimein and her actors make it sing. I did have a little problem understanding some of the accent, but my companion had no trouble at all. So I figure that was my fault.

Playwright Katori Hall is a young woman to watch. She’s been likened to Zora Neal Hurston and Toni Morrison. She’s willing to take on tough subjects and explore them without ever lecturing. No wonder Lynn Nottage chose to mentor her.

Through July 30, at Center Theatre in the Armory at Seattle Center, or 206-856-5520.

Theatre 22 and ActLab Present “Downstairs” at ACT

Taut! Touching! Terrific!

“Downstairs,” by Theresa Rebeck is a play that quickly captures your attention and just doesn’t let it go. Troubled family relationships played out by superb actors have always been the meat of some of the best theatre of all time, and that’s certainly the case here.

Teddy (Brandon Ryan) is brushing his teeth when we meet him in a cellar where tools hang on the wall; blankets lie in disarray on a couch, and stairs lead up. Clearly he’s living in this make-do unfinished basement. It’s a haven for a man with job failures and emotional problems, and Teddy has both. His sister has come to his rescue at a time when he certainly needs it.

But playwright Rebeck won’t settle for a single-issue plot focusing on Teddy. His sister Irene (Christine Marie Brown) has some troubles of her own. She’s married to and managed by the sadistic, controlling Gerry (John Q. Smith), a real monster. She copes by making believe all is well in her life, finding alternative reasons for cruel and corrupt happenings.

Teddy sees Gerry for the monster he is, so, of course, Gerry wants Teddy gone. This is not a “happily ever after” story.

Director Julie Beckman controls her stage with a deft hand. The acting here is simply wonderful. There’s not a false move, and the tension builds with a ferocity that’s stunning. All three actors are remarkable in defining their type, but John Q. Smith, perhaps because his character is so malevolent, must be given special mention. He exudes malice and cruelty. He’s one scary dude.

Theatre 22 selected this previously unproduced play from the 100 scripts it solicited in 2016. Interestingly, the play will also open at the Dorset Theatre Festival in Vermont later this month starring Tyne Daly, Tim Daly and John Procaccino. My guess is that it will soon be on stages around the country, but none with better acting than in this production.

Through July 9 at The Bullitt Cabaret at ACT, 700 Union Street, Seattle, 206 292-7676 or 206 257-2203, or

“Welcome To Braggsville” presented by Book-It

This highly praised novel has lost something in its transition to the stage (adaptation by Josh Aaseng and Daemond Arrindell). The concept is a wry one. Four Berkeley students filled with the innocence of youth and ardor for political correctness descend on a segregated Georgia town to teach the locals a lesson.

This occurs after one of their number, D’aron, tells them about his hometown’s Civil War reenactment ceremony, a yearly event that celebrates the Confederacy. Immediately the friends determine that they have a mission of reeducation. Off they go on their quest to bring political correctness to these unenlightened southerners.

It’s an interesting foursome, well acted on this stage. The young woman, blonde beautiful Candice (Sylvie Davidson) can’t wait to spread the word. Charlie, the African American football player and closeted gay (Dimitri Woods) thinks it could be a good plan, and Louis (Justin Huertas), the Asian who lights up the stage with his portrayal, sees all sorts of possibilities. D’aron (Zack Summers) the somewhat naive young southern boy has a few reservations, but he’s game for whatever this quartet is up to.

Sadly, Book-It’s production directed by Josh Aaseng is well meaning but overlong, overwrought, convoluted, and a tedious lesson in racial politics.

Book-It suggests that the book from which this production was developed explores our country’s complicated and tragic history of racial injustice. I’m sure it does. What their production doesn’t do is present that reality as compelling theatre.

Through July 2 at Center Theatre at the Armory, in Seattle Center, 206-216-0833 or

“The Realistic Joneses” Presented by New Century Theatre Company

Two couples living quiet lives away from the hurly burley of urban existence meet, have some strained conversations, reveal a few personal facts, and simply muddle through life. That’s it! That’s “The Realistic Joneses” in a nutshell. Charles Isherwood in the New York Times called the New York production “wonderful and weird.” Like oysters, it’s an acquired taste.

You’ll find no flashy denouements, no shockers. It’s just a play about four people trying to communicate, trying to rise above the fears, loneliness, boredom, and mundane realities of everyday life. Playwright Will Eno has crafted a meditation on contemporary existence. The only fireworks are distant and scarcely visible remnants from a celebration that these four characters note only in passing.

The Seattle production of “The Realistic Joneses,” directed by Paul Budraitis, plays out on Andrea Bryn Bush’s fascinating set. The two couples live in the foothills below a mountain town. Here the town is composed of toy houses high above a raw wood wall whose sliding panels delineate the homes of each couple. It’s minimalist yet effective. The set is almost as sparse as the lives playing out on stage, and the lighting by Evan Christian Anderson effectively reinforces mood and locale.

It’s a play about the loneliness and the mundane realities that are part of all of our lives. No matter, we just keep going on, surviving or attempting to. We reach out to others; we bring humor into our lives just as the people in this play do.

Sunam Ellis, Brenda Joyner, Peter Dylan O’Connor, and Evan Whitfield are most effective in capturing the playwright’s message—though life can be made miserable by illness, unhappiness, or meaninglessness, we all go on. We all carry loneliness but most of us continually rise above it.

Playwright Will Eno has been accused of absurdist intellectual humor. If that’s the sort of mind candy that pleases your taste, this is a show you will really enjoy. But if you prefer something a little lighter, take a pass.

Through July 1 at 12th Ave. Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, (253 906-3348 or

“Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” at Arts West

Let it not be said that Arts West doesn’t take big risks. “Sweeney Todd…” Stephen Sondheim’s blockbuster musical cum opera is a major undertaking (no pun intended). It requires a large cast of outstanding singers supported by gifted musicians, an inventive set, and, above all, superb direction. It’s expensive to produce, and it doesn’t guarantee a packed House. So Arts West took a chance. And we all can be so glad they did! Under the direction of Matthew Wright and Eric Ankrim this production is terrific.

Christopher Mumaw’s spooky, grey set combined with Tristan Roberson’s eerie lighting design, take us directly to 19th C. London where Sweeney Todd, the psychopathic barber, cuts throats as well as hair. He’s been badly used in his past, and revenge is what he’s after. Sadly, he can’t retaliate against the corrupt judge who destroyed his family and ruined his life, so everyone and anyone else is fair game for his deadly knives.

Ben Gonio creates a wonderfully troubled Sweeney. He’s disturbed, moody, determined. There’s no sweetness in this revenge. His is a pathological quest. Assisting him in his foul business is Mrs. Lovitt, his landlady and vendor of meat pies. You can probably guess what meat is used for those pies. Corinna Lapid Munter gives her just the right heartlessness combined with a certain joviality and business-like demeanor.

The entire cast is up to the demands of this, the darkest musical ever written. First produced in 1979, it has been staged in major cities around the world and has been called “one of the signal achievements in musical theatre of the last fifty years.”

Matt Hohensee and Steven Tran get credit for the music in this production. Eerie, mood inducing, it sets just the right tone.

Finally we all have to give attention to the brilliance of Stephen Sondheim who has won more awards than any other contemporary American composer and lyricist. This is by far the darkest of his works. Dark yet mesmerizing. Kudos to Arts West for bringing it in such fine fashion to the Arts West stage.

Extended through July 7, Arts West Playhouse and Gallery, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle, 206 938-0339 or www.