ALS Midsummer Night’s Dream Co-Directed by Howie Seago and Teresa Thuman

“Midsummer Night’s Dream” has always been Shakespeare’s most “magical” play with all those fairies and humans cavorting and scheming in the woods. Well, add to that a cast that speaks in both voice and American Sign Language and “magical” scarcely does this production justice.

This collaboration between Sound Theatre and Deaf Spotlight includes a cast of 20 seasoned actors. Among my favorites was Ryan Schlecht who brings all the required humor, and physical versatility to his role as Bottom. He’s not alone in providing humor, but there’s a certain élan to his performance that particularly delighted me.

Another standout in an outstanding cast is Thawin Choulaphan who plays the father of Hermia (Elizabeth Ayers Gibson, who also deserves kudos). As in so many of Shakespeare’s plays, value conflicts are highlighted, some conflicts as significant today and they were in olden times. Here we find Hermia who loves and wants to marry Lysander. Her father has selected Demetrius instead. In those days her failure to follow her father’s orders could result in her death. These, however are magical woods, and it’s a magical midsummer’s eve.

The action all plays out on a simple but ingenious set composed of risers joining each other at various angles (credit goes to Margaret Toomey and Kellie Martin). It’s effective without imposing a time period despite its modern look.

The genius of this production is the manner in which it serves both it’s hearing and its deaf audiences. On the night I was there, both were well represented and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the show.

The only time the two groups responded in their own unique fashion was during the “curtain calls.” Hearing members of the audience clapped as they are used to doing. Deaf audience members waved their arms vigorously over their heads, as they are used to doing. Soon, we were all responding with the joyous arm waves, all of us having appreciated a fine night at the theatre.

Through May 12 at 12th Ave. Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, tickets@soundtheatrecompany.org., 206 856-5520.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Book-It production of this Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel written by Junot Diaz introduces its audience to the corruption in the Dominican Republic and the difficulties of its immigrants who seek a new life in the United States. The adaptation and direction are by Elise Thoron.

Photo by John Ulman.

The play’s hero, an overweight recent arrival in the United States has dreams of grandeur while living a life of limits. He’s a nerd who loves science fiction and would love even more to have a girlfriend. He’s poised somewhat treacherously between two worlds: the world of his childhood and the contemporary world of the United States which doesn’t turn out to be quite as wonderful as he had anticipated.

This one-man show is fortunate to have a consummate actor playing the full cast that makes up the play. Elvis Nolasco is astounding. He’s Oscar, his friend, his girlfriend, a police sergeant, thugs, mother, sister, grandparents, and more. And he does all this with no costume changes. Instead it is through his voice, his gestures, his posture, and facial expressions that he populates the stage.

Meanwhile, we are given a powerful picture of life in Santo Domingo (that’s the country occupying the same Island as does Haiti.) Here corruption is rampant. Poverty, extreme poverty, is pervasive. The model for appropriate male behavior is the macho swaggering stud. Poor Oscar! He’s escaped that to be thrust into a world where fat kids are teased unmercifully and he has to learn a new language. Where loneliness and isolation are his lot. Nolasco captures all of it, all the heartbreak, violence, and naiveté of our young hero.

Kudos to the production team that has created a rather dark set that captures the mood. It’s perfect for this play.

Through May 6 at Center Theatre Seattle Armory, Seattle Center, 206-216-0833 or Book-It.org.

“Crowns” a Rollicking Musical at Taproot Theatre

I must begin with a disclaimer. I love gospel music, have been a fan for years and have seen performances on the East Coast, in the Midwest, and now in Seattle. This Seattle production wraps a story around the music, and that theatrical effect gives the overall presentation an opportunity to incorporate humor and plot into the evening. But the story is really secondary. It’s the music (directed by Aaron Norman) that overwhelms, causes you to bounce around in your seat, and provides the greatest pleasure.

Director Faith Bennett Russell, wisely focuses her cast throughout the production around the music. Six women and one man know this music and have personal experience with its power. They belt it out with an infectious joie de vivre. I defy you to sit quietly in your seat. If you aren’t yelling out your “huzzas”, you’re tapping your feet and wriggling in your seat to match the tempo.

Be Russell, Bethanie Willis and Tracy Michelle Hughes. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

The story is a simple one. Black women have a history with hats. Hats define them, connect them to their community and its past, give them status, and, on this stage, assist in their efforts to mend the heart and mind of Yolanda, a young woman going through a difficult period in her life. Hats are de rigueur for church on Sundays, and have been for centuries. You can tell a lot about a woman by the hat she’s wearing, and the women in this musical presentation have an enormous variety of amazing chapeaux to select from.

In their hats, this chorus belts out those gospel harmonies, blues notes, and religious verities. They dance, they praise the lord, and they fill their audience with a sense of wellbeing and appreciation. It’s toe tapping, arm waving, robust music whose appeal is hard to ignore. You certainly don’t have to be African American to find it mesmerizing. And of course, we can’t forget that it was an enormous influence on the greatest musical stars of the ’60s.

So, if you are looking for an evening at the theatre that will gladden your heart and fill you with positive spirits, consider Taproot’s current production.

Through April 28, at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, 206-781-9707, taproottheatre.org.

“The Impossibility of Now” presented by Thalia’s Umbrella

What do you do when your husband develops amnesia? His memory is totally gone, and he really needs you, really, really needs you though he doesn’t know you or anything else about his past. And what if he hasn’t thrilled you for some time, not nearly as much as your new lover does? If you are a decent person, you take care of him, and so, this play opens as Miranda guides her empty-minded husband, Carl, home after his extended hospital stay.

Director Daniel Wilson wisely let’s its subtleties seep out; no great burst, just a gentle buildup, moment by moment. This is a production in which the acting is first rate. Terry Edward Moore captures Carl, the man without a past, from the moment he shuffles onto the stage and into his home. He’s vacant. There’s no there there. And Miranda, well played by Betsy Schwartz, is the wife who, as she leads him into their apartment, begins to understand just what she is up against.

“Why did I want to live here?” he asks. “I am erased.” She tells him she’s trying to put him back. Moore makes his character so believably impaired, with his halting speech and incessant questions.

The mere idea of losing one’s mind is such a horrifying thought that seeing its consequences played out before you could be truly disturbing, but it’s not. Moore’s skilled acting makes it fascinating. Poor man! But how can Miranda stand it, cope with it?

There’s nothing like a lover to make life’s tribulations just a little easier to deal with, and Miranda has a lover, a dentist (Joshua Carter) she’s been seeing for some time. He too is married, but, as lovers do, they have something really good going on. You’ll never again think of a dental chair in quite the way you used to!

Betsy Schwartz plays Miranda with just the right combination of sympathy and eroticism. She’s stuck with this brain-damaged man, realizes that she owes him compassion and affection, yet her thoughts are elsewhere. Caught between past and future, she finds it difficult to live in the now.

Meanwhile Carl perseveres in his limbo, and even manages to find some happiness in his “now.” After all, “now” is all he has. Yet for Miranda there’s more to life. There’s that dentist’s chair and the generosity of her lover.

Bumbling humans! Trying to make life work for them. Both Carl and Miranda were or are writers. Will the written word offer salvation? This well acted production will leave you with much to think about.

Through March 31 at 12th Ave. Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, tickets: https://theimpossibilityof now.brownpapertickets.com/

“Hir” at Arts West, presented in collaboration with Intiman Theatre

It’s certainly not my family! And if it’s the family of the future, I’m glad I won’t be part of it. But it’s a family that electrifies the stage. The play grabs your gut, and the acting intensifies the experience.

Look at the word “Hir.” Note that it’s a combination of “him” and “her.” Playwright Taylor Mac suggests that there could be a future when sex roles and gender stereotypes simply won’t exist. Ideally there will be a melding. But getting there demands a war, and in this play it’s a gender war, a family war: a war against those assumptions and stereotypes.

Onto the stage and into his home blunders the newly discharged soldier/son Isaac (Evan Barrett). He’s stunned! He’s seen battlefields, but he’s never seen anything like the home that awaits him. It’s a combat zone. It’s in total disarray with clothing, detritus, kitchenware and garbage strewn over the entire stage. (Kudos to set designers Julia Welch and Timothy White Eagle for creating this almost unbelievable mess.)

Isaac’s father, dressed in a nightgown, his face smeared with lipstick, sits drooling in one of the few chairs that are upright. In comes Isaac’s “sister” (Adrian Kljucec) who appears to have had a sex change. Ruling over this catastrophe is his mother waging her war against the assumptions and stereotypes of a male dominated society. To her this unbelievable mess is definitely not a disaster. It is, perhaps, the cataclysmic requirement necessary to achieve gender-neutral society.

Gretchen Krich as Mom, the orchestrator of this revolting mess, is spunky, determined, and single minded. She thrives in the chaos she has deliberately let happen. Her husband, the drooling, seemingly demented, powerless male doesn’t do so well. It’s a terrible character to play, and Charles Leggett plays it brilliantly. I almost couldn’t bear to look at him.

So . . . have we here a look to the future? This production will certainly force you to think about that.

Through March 25 at Arts West Theatre, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle, 206-938-0339.