Theatre Reviews

“You Can’t Take It With You” at Center Theatre presented by Sound Theatre Company

Oh, the continued pleasure offered by some of those charming 1930s plays! Sound Theatre has revived “You Can’t Take It With You” by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. Truly an oldie but goodie, it first appeared on Broadway in 1936, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1937, was adapted for the screen and won an Academy Award for “Best Picture.”

 

If you like crazy humor, you’ll like this production directed by Teresa Thuman. It features a large cast (17 players), most of them playing members of the same eccentric family. It’s a family of nut cases. There’s Grandpa wonderfully played by Teotha Dennard. He’s a voice of reason yet a man with his own idiosyncrasies. He has never paid his income taxes, and he collects snakes and keeps them in the house.

 

He lives with his daughter Penny (who has her own peculiarities). Penny, played with verve by Shermona Mitchell is married to a man who builds fireworks in the basement. Don’t be surprised to hear that some of them explode unexpectedly from time to time.

 

My very favorite role is that of Essie. Essie is Shermona’s daughter, a young thing obsessed with ballet. She always wears ballet costumes and shoes and spends most of her time practicing her kicks, pirouettes and ballet positions. She’s very feminine and prances about with a girlish enthusiasm. The only strange thing about her is that Bo Melliger who plays her happens to be a young man. He makes a good ballet dancer and a pretty young lady!

 

That cross-dressing is simply one hallmark of this production. The cast has been selected to represent the breadth of humanity. There are players of all colors and all sizes and not all of them are in roles one would expect. There is even a wheelchair bound woman who turns out to be quite agile and a good actor. No stereotypes here, except possibly Mr. Kolenkhov (Chris Shea), the ballet teacher. He’s more Russian than the Tzar himself, charmingly so.

 

These various sane and not so sane individuals carry out their insanities absurdities in a well-appointed 1930s home, filled with the knickknacks, pictures, and paraphernalia of the time. Credit goes to Robin Macartney for the really fine set.

 

The production starts off a little slowly, partly because the audience is so unused to the amazing diversity of the actors and the roles they assume on this stage. Thus it is actually a bit distracting. The Company has very deliberately made this work an exercise in “inclusion.” We Seattle audiences don’t see that often. It takes a little getting used to for most of us. This is a production that breaks stereotypes. Fortunately it’s so well mounted and so funny that color, size, gender, and physical ability of the actors are not issues that demand attention. A great play well produced is what captures our interest, and that’s what we get here.

 

Through March 11 at Center Theatre, Seattle Armory, Seattle Center, www.soundtheatrecompany.org

 

 

“Peerless” at Arts West

“Peerless” at Arts West

“Peerless,” written by Jiehae Park, is described by many as a dark comedy. It’s all about the angst and murderous competition today to get into one’s college of choice, especially if applications are being made only to the very top ranked schools in the nation. It’s an interesting concept, and reviews of previous productions of the play are laudatory. Unfortunately I found this production to be somewhat cartoonish.

The central characters are high achieving twin Asian girls out to get early admission to “the college,” think one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. They will do anything to achieve their goal and that includes knocking off any serious competitor. For that reason, the play as produced in other cities has been likened to “Macbeth.” Again, I found that to be a bit of a stretch, but there it is. The “mean girls” meet “Macbeth” just didn’t resonate for me on this stage as it apparently has elsewhere in the country.

Direction here is provided by Sara Porkalob, one of Seattle’s stars in the firmament of new Seattle talent. Working with scenic designer Reiko Huffman they’ve created a minimalist set. There’s a central riser in front, a stage-long platform in the rear. Floating oblong panels lined up equidistant from one another form the backdrop. It works.

Maile Wong plays “l” (get it, “El”?) and Corinne Magin plays her sister “M” (get it “Em”?). Christopher Quilici as “D” is the Native American who represents the greatest threat to the sisters in their quest for admission to the nation’s most respected university.

The show has been extremely popular with young people who are now enduring or recently have endured the horrors of college admissions. It’s a theme to which they can readily relate.

Through Feb. 11 at Arts West, 4711 California Ave., SW, Seattle, http://artswest.org/theatre/buy-tickets

“You Are Right, If You Think” Presented by Theatre 9/12

Theatre 9/12 is one of Seattle’s outstanding treasures that not enough people know about. It’s an Actor’s Equity Association Members’ project directed by Charles Waxberg whose purpose is to assist Seattle actors through workshops and performances in developing their talents and skills.

The company presents three or four plays a year in the Trinity Episcopal Church auditorium on First Hill, offering them at a pay-what-you-will price. I’ve attended most of their productions over the past few years, and there has only been a one that I wouldn’t recommend. It’s inevitably great theatre by good actors, presented modestly. You’ll find the actors in this current play live up to the standards set in past productions.

The show is Luigi Pirandello’s “You Are Right, If You Think” as adapted and directed by Waxberg. Pirandello, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1934, is noted for his marvelously funny yet intellectually rich explorations of “truth.”

Truth is illusive he reminds us, It depends on what you hear, how you interpret it, and what baggage you bring to the issue. On stage his characters are inevitably embroiled in mishaps resulting from their conflicting certainties about what the truth is. In this play the characters can’t even agree on whether one of them is dead or alive.

Pirandello’s work is always filled with memorable lines like, “The more facts you have, the less you know.” “Maybe there are infinite truths in our imagination.” And then again, maybe the only truth that matters is what we believe. Yet think of the horrors whole societies have endured because of false beliefs. Oh the subject is so rich. Pirandello is a master in his explorations of it, and Waxberg’s adaptation and production seem particularly relevant in this our age of “fake news.”

Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 P.M. through February 25, Matinees Feb. 10, 18, and 25 at 2:00 P.M., Trinity Episcopal Church, 609 Eighth Ave., Seattle.

Want Tickets to “Hamilton”?

It seems that every theatre buff, along with myriad people who haven’t been to the theatre in years are foaming at the mouth to get tickets to this Broadway phenomenon that comes to Seattle in early February. To address this demand and give a deal to a lucky few, the Paramount Theatre has established a lottery:

Use the official app for HAMILTON, now available for all iOS and Android devices in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store (http://hamiltonmusical.com/app).
You can also visit http://hamiltonmusical.com/lottery to register.
The lottery will open at 11:00 AM PT two days prior to the performance date and will close for entry at 9:00 AM PT the day prior to the performance.
Winner and non-winner notifications will be sent at approximately 11:00 AM PT the day prior to the performance via email and SMS (if mobile number is provided).
Only one entry per person. Repeat entries and disposable email addresses will be discarded.
Tickets must be purchased online with a credit card by 4:00 PM PT the day prior to the performance using the purchase link and code in a customized notification email. Tickets not claimed by 4:00 PM PT the day prior to the performance are forfeited.
Lottery tickets may be picked up at will call beginning 2 hours prior to the performance with a valid photo ID. Lottery tickets void if resold.

ADDITIONAL RULES

Limit 1 entry per person, per performance. Multiple entries will not be accepted. Patrons must be 18 years or older and have a valid, non-expired photo ID that matches the name used to enter. Tickets are non-transferable. Ticket limits and prices displayed are at the sole discretion of the show and are subject to change without notice.

Lottery prices are not valid on prior purchases. Lottery ticket offer cannot be combined with any other offers or promotions. All sales final – no refunds or exchanges. Lottery may be revoked or modified at any time without notice. No purchase necessary to enter or win. A purchase will not improve the chances of winning.

Tickets for HAMILTON are currently on sale. Patrons are advised to check the official HAMILTON channels, Ticketmaster.com and The Paramount Theatre Box Office for late release seats which may become available at short notice.

“Camping with Henry and Tom” at Taproot Theatre

What happens when three of the nation’s brilliant men find themselves marooned in the woods when their auto has an unfortunate encounter with a deer that renders it undrivable? On this stage you’ll find witty and thought provoking dialogue as President Warren Harding, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison match wits and reveal their characters.

The play, directed here by Scott Nolte, is based on an actual experience, but the playwright (Mark St. Germain) has, of course, imagined the conversations and interactions of these three mighty forces who so influenced the 20th C. There’s the aging Edison, a brilliant inventor with a laid back personality. As played by Rob Burgess, he’s a wry, avuncular figure, an island of calm amidst the fireworks provided by Harding and Ford.

David Pichette as Ford epitomizes the greedy, self-serving, and unsavory titan of industry that Ford became. He wrangled Harding into this outing because he wanted Harding to give him control of Muscle Shoals dam and region in Alabama that Ford thought could be made to rival the industrial power of Detroit. As he worked Harding over, nothing was off limits including threats about revealing Harding’s mistress and illegitimate child.

Ford’s anti-Semitism, his disrespect for African Americans, his horrible treatment of his son Edsel, all of these are powerfully exposed by Pichette. Here is a man with few personal qualities to commend him. Brilliant? Yes. Successful? Yes. A human being to honor? No.

Frank Lawler, on the other hand, makes Harding a rather sympathetic character. He’s in way over his head as President. It’s not a job he relishes, and even he understands that he doesn’t quite have the skills to carry out that demanding role. The character contrast revealed in this production is fascinating. And it all plays out in a wonderfully realized forest created by Mark Lund.

When Taproot selected this play and put it on the calendar, it could not possibly have recognized that many of the issues it raises would be so pertinent to audiences today.

Through March 3 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, 206 781-9707 or box@taproottheatre.org.