Theatre Reviews

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” at the Bathhouse Theatre

No need to be a Chekov aficionado to appreciate this charmer presented by Lamplight Productions and Katie Soulé. It adds to the fun if you have even the tiniest understanding of Chekov so you can appreciate all the sly and not so sly references to his plays, but this award-winning work by Christopher Durang can stand completely on its own.

Directed by Ted Jaquith, the cast does well at capturing the angst of two siblings trapped by their own inertia in the house paid for by their successful sister Masha who is threatening to sell it. Masha, an actress reaching that dangerous age for women, shows up with Spike, her studly man/boy of the moment. She’s here to attend a neighbor’s costume party as Snow White. Her plan is to have her sister and brother dress as a couple of dwarfs. Of course it doesn’t go quite as well as Masha has planned.

Molly Hall as Masha captures all the egocentricity and imperiousness we expect from this the successful sister. Yet she also shows her vulnerability, especially when Spike, her current boy-toy (well played by Connor Kinzer) finds younger attractions.

Cindy Giese French as Sonia, the sister with the dull little life does well capturing the emptiness of that life. But sometimes, a little brown wren can outdo a colorful cardinal, and so she does. French gives the character just the right emotions.

Terry Boyd as Vanya brings a poignant sense of failure to his role as the brother with not much to look forward to and not much about his past life to remember with joy. “I’m in mourning for my life.” is a line that equally applies to both brother and sister. Yet this is a very funny play, with a poignancy here that is deeply moving.

The play was well received on Broadway in 2013, and since then has been mounted on stages throughout the country. By the way, there’s a cherry orchard on the property.

Through September 17 at The Bathhouse Theatre, 7312 West Green Lake Dr. N., Seattle, www.lamplightproductions.org.

“Much Better” presented by Really Really, a new Seattle theatre group

Poor Ashley (Alysha Curry), life isn’t going that well for her, at least she thinks it’s not. In many ways, Ashley is her own worst enemy. She’s not the best at fulfilling her responsibilities. Reality seems to elude her, replaced instead with fears. The most mundane subway ride could be a murder waiting to happen in her mind. But then her coworker Morgan (Ali Lawrence) tells her about a new medical procedure called “Neuroclear.”

Neuroclear is reputed to “make you the best version of yourself.” Just as a facelift takes what’s there and reworks it to make it beautiful or young, Neuroclear will take your not-so-great personality and emotional issues and make you outstanding. Think plastic surgery for the personality. After a visit to Dr. Keith (very well played by Lamar Legend)” Ashley signs right up.

Gradually she changes. Now she gets to work on time, learns the meaning of “moderation,” loses the constant fears. But in the process she seems to have lost herself. As she learns, almost too late, there’s a price for everything, including a changed personality.

Director Henry Nettleton and his scenic designer Angela Alvarez work wonders with a pared down set design. The characters move easily from home to work, from indoors to outdoors, and to various other locations with the simplest but most evocative props and furnishings.

One significant problem for me with this production was the sound level. I had a hard time understanding all of Alysha Curry’s lines. And I guess it goes without saying that, when you can’t understand the main character’s lines, you’re at a disadvantage.

The play, however, raises a serious question: When does one cease to be oneself? It was a semi-finalist at the 2017 O’Neil National Playwrights Conference, and the playwright Elisabeth Frankel has won a number of other awards.

Through Sept. 2 at 12th Ave. Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, Wed. through Sat., 1-800-838-3006 or www.really-really.org/much-better.

Goblin Market Produced by Sound Theatre Company

Just as Eve, spurred on by the serpent, couldn’t resist the apple, so too Laura, the inquisitive sister in this theatrical, can’t resist the fruit offered by the mysterious goblin men. This is a musical about two sisters losing innocence. Played out on a gorgeous set suffused with ethereal music, we watch these two sisters face temptation to step beyond 19th C. standards for women.

Photo by Ken Holmes

Written by Polly Pen and Peggy Harmon, the production is based on Christina Rossetti’s 19th C. poem. Rossetti lived in a time when female sexuality was little understood and even less talked about. We’ve come a long way since then, though certainly not far enough, given the fact that some men still think they have the right to maul and manhandle women. But at least women today can recognize and revel in their sexual appetites.

This production, so creatively directed by Theresa Thuman, opens onto the long unused playroom of Laura and Lizzie. As the now grown women gradually remove the sheets covering all their goods from so long ago, their memories are vivid, especially memories of the goblin men who sang, cavorted and tempted in the nearby woods when they were young.

It was Laura, who couldn’t resist their songs, who followed them into the woods, who innocently brought back the fruit that could unleash their sexuality. Sister Lizzie is the less bold sister, the one who is frightened, wants to take no chances. Laura, the seeker of the true fruits of life, wants to know if they are really available to women. In the end Lizzie must risk her life to save Laura.

Four actors rotate in the roles of the two sisters and their spiritual guides (Miranda Troutt, and Kelly Mak as Laura and Justine Davis and Claire Marx as Lizzie.) On the night I was there all the acting was outstanding as was their singing. Nathan Young directs the music.

Thuman’s crew, especially Production Designer Montana Tippett, Lighting Designer Richard Schaefer, and Sound Designer Lisa Finkral have created an eerie yet magical environment for these spooky psychologically complex goings on. They’ve created a beautiful production, one you’ll be thinking about long after you leave the theatre.

Through August 27 at Center Theatre in the Armory at Seattle Center, 206 856-5520 or www.soundtheatrecompany.org.

“Greensward” Presented by MAP Theatre

Madcap mayhem! It’s written by Seattle’s own R. Hamilton Wright, directed by local actor/director Richard Ziman, and playing for only two more nights at 12th Ave. Arts. If you like social commentary encased in broad humor, try to get here this weekend.

Poor agronomist Dr. Hei (pronounced “hay” as in the variety of grass and here played with charming naiveté by Kevin Lin) has come up with a hardy grass seed that produces lawns that never need to be mown. Plant them once. You’ll have a lush greensward from hence forward. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Well not so fast . . . if you are a lawnmower manufacturer, own a lawn maintenance company, sell grass seed or have any other business interest in lawn maintenance, this breakthrough spells economic disaster.

All too soon, those whose business interests are endangered by his brilliant discovery overwhelm him. They, of course, want to quash word of his miraculous seed. They have, however, a formidable opponent—a hard driving PR consultant, well played by Peggy Gannon, whose feminine charms equal her business savvy.

From Congressional hearings, to a party at the French Ambassador’s house, our poor naive hero is catapulted into a new world. And one of the really, really wonderful things about all that happens to him is the manner in which the playwright has inserted references and even characters from cultural icons like the “Maltese Falcon”, “Day the Earth Stood Still” and several others. Added fun is in seeing how many you can identify.

The play could use a little judicial cutting, but it offers food for thought wrapped in a remarkable humor.

Through July 29 at 12th Ave. Arts, 1620 12th Ave. S., Seattle, Map tickets are always offered at “Name-Your-Own-Price, http://greensward.bpt.me?

“Persuasion: A New Musical” at Taproot Theatre

Jane Austen set to music? It’s been done before, and now we have a new effort, a really good effort. You’ll find much to like in this world premiere Directed by Karen Lund and now playing at Taproot.

Written by Harold Taw with music and lyrics by Chris Jeffries, it began as staged readings at The 5th Avenue Theatre in 2015 and since then has been work-shopped around the country. Now we have the full-blown production, and it is a delight.

Director Karen Lund and her staff have carefully honed every aspect. Sarah Burch Gordon’s costumes provide lush examples of early 18th Century clothing.

Mark Lund’s set deserves special attention. It’s quite bare yet works marvelously well. The floor has no carpets. Instead it consists of a stunning geometric pattern that resembles parquetry. There are no large pieces of furniture. In their place are 10 low wooden tables of various sizes, probably  few more. Cast members cleverly rearrange them throughout the production to create an amazing variety of scenes. It’s fascinating to watch the transformations.

Music Director Michael Nutting’s four-piece orchestra is located at the rear of the stage out of sight, but that doesn’t diminish their role. There is almost as much music in this work as there is dialog. As in opera or operetta, the cast sings consistently, and does it well.

Cayman Ilika & Matthew Posner in Persuasion at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

Cayman Ilika gives just the right amount of reticence to her portrayal of the demure, unassuming, ever-giving Anne Elliot. She’s the one everyone uses, even dismisses. She’s the one you can always count on, yet Ilika never lets you forget that this is a character with a rich private life. She is one who yearns, who dreams but who unselfishly sees that others are well served, even when her heart is breaking. The lovely Ilika brings all these emotions as well as her rich singing voice to the role.

This is one of Austen’s most popular books, and it’s been brought to the stage in a polished fashion. If you’re an Austen fan you won’t want to miss it. And if you’re not . . . this might persuade you otherwise.

Through August 26 at Taproot Theatre 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, (206 781-9707 or www.taproottheatre.org).