ACT Theatre

700 Union St
Seattle, WA (map)

phone 206-292-7676

With two large theaters, a basement cabaret, and several smaller stages in its large downtown building, ACT is simultaneously one of Seattle's large regional theaters and a home for smaller, more experimental work. It is known for populist programming (such as its holiday production of A Christmas Carol), a traditional season of major plays (from world premieres by local writers such as Yussef El Guindi to national works by the likes of Christopher Durang and Will Eno), and new work by smaller companies as part of ACT's Central Heating Lab program.

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With two large theaters, a basement cabaret, and several smaller stages in its large downtown building, ACT is simultaneously one of Seattle's large regional theaters and a home for smaller, more experimental work. It is known for populist programming (such as its holiday production of A Christmas Carol), a traditional season of major plays (from world premieres by local writers such as Yussef El Guindi to national works by the likes of Christopher Durang and Will Eno), and new work by smaller companies as part of ACT's Central Heating Lab program.

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The perpetual laughter throughout “The Female of the Species” is the perfect antidote to the wounded pretentiousness of its critics. This ACT production is flat out funny. Hell, even the sound effects are funny.

The only way you could fail to laugh at this play is if you have been inoculated by several years of college curriculum containing the words “studies” and “theory.” I expect this is the one defect shared by all those critics who don’t seem to know the difference between farce and satire, and wouldn’t recognize either if it bit them in the underwear.

Such critics assume that “The Female of the Species” satirizes ‘feminism’ because they understand with perfect clarity that scholastic feminism is built on science fiction (viz. “The Chalice and the Blade”). By definition you cannot satirize an idea, so Joanna Murray-Smith never tries to do so. Rather, she satirizes the shape-shifting pointlessness of collegiate feminism’s windbag fabulists. Here that species of pseudo-intellectual kudzu is represented (thankfully) by a single character.

But the play isn’t about her. It’s about all the people whose proper orbits have been distorted by her mammoth gravitational influence. The farce ensues as each one reveals how incompletely she/he understands their own role in misguiding their own life. Their various types of blindness arise from rage, stupidity, marital inertia, and several other weaknesses which are hiding in plain sight. The varieties of sexual lampooning are endless, and they are apportioned equally among the sexes.

True to proper farcical form, not once does anyone on stage laugh along with us. They observe one another’s foolishness with grave analytical concern, and get absolutely nowhere. Until the end, of course, when lives fortuitously resolve like rearranged racks of Scrabble tiles.

If you aren’t quite sure what a farce is, go see this play and enjoy yourself. Just remember that it’s about crazy people who suddenly discover (in 90 Aristotelian minutes) that they are, in fact, crazy. And there are no “studies” or “theory” lurking in the Falls Theatre.

Posted by CSpoke on July 2, 2010 at 2:20 PM | Report this comment

UMO's 'El Dorado' is exquisite, voluptuous, randy, brain-scrambling, unmissable fun!! This kind of eloquent nonsense is more rare than diamonds. It’s a gift from another dimension; it’s a twelve-footed altered state of consciousness; it’s a dream that stays for breakfast. And the tickets are only (drum roll, please) 20 bucks!

If you don’t go you will be very, very sad when your friends try to explain this wonderful thing, but all they can do is mumble and smile. Added bonus: It’s kind of deep. Go!

Posted by CSpoke on August 26, 2010 at 11:12 PM | Report this comment

“Project Orpheus” is an ingenious work, demanding and thrilling to watch. This dance drama includes a cigarette lighter, short stools, two tables that are transported to practically every square foot of the stage, a disco ball, microphones, an arts grant tribunal, and costumes whose screaming tackiness constantly reminds us of the vulgarity of death. A peaceful sunset, painted on a huge canvas that is neatly draped across an entire section of seats, provides an ironic backdrop to the fateful story. The whole thing is quite moving, but it’s also simply a gas.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this was the range of body types of the dancers. Three of them have bodies that were born to dance, and they dance beautifully, poetically. Three others dance just as marvelously, except that they look like pedestrians that were set in motion by a magical incantation. This contrast of genetic endowment reminds me of just how much hellacious hard work goes into producing such expressive motion. Being born with an ideal body is a lesser fraction of the equation. The larger part is poetic instinct and sheer will.

How long has it been since you’ve seen dancers do something wonderful? Television doesn’t count.

Posted by CSpoke on September 23, 2010 at 2:28 AM | Report this comment

Two or three years from now a cast of teenagers at ArtsWest or the Bathhouse will do “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” with one fiftieth of ACT’s budget, and it will be twice as good.

Without the distractions of money, time and professional expertise necessary to create blood and gore with first class verisimilitude, they will employ simpler tricks of stagecraft. Instead of a three-thousand dollar winch they’ll use a block and tackle. Instead of computer coordinated pneumatic blood sprayers they will use red spot lights. Instead of latex dummies they’ll use scarecrows with tree branches for arms and legs.

The author himself, Martin McDonagh, fully endorses the use of “realistic” effects for this play. This decision has been quite lucrative for him. Unfortunately, if the effects are less than perfect this creates a serious problem which is akin to the CGI dilemma called the Uncanny Valley. ACT’s blood spatters and prosthetics come close to horror movie equivalents, but not quite. At best these effects create a momentary “ee-ewh!” response, but cannot sustain chills as reliably as even a 1950’s Hammer Film. Without the slight of hand of quick edits we are denied the visceral involvement of cinema, so we have to coax our goose bumps into shape by lying to ourselves: “This is trying to be scary/cool, so I guess it kind of is.” And so we gasp and laugh. I suppose we do this because we don’t want to disappoint the cast and everyone else who worked so hard to gross us out.

However, at the same time that you are generously attempting to grant a bit more reality to the stage tricks, there is another force pulling your head in the other direction. Even if you have never read a paragraph on the subject of dramatic theory you know that it is your job to watch a play from the outside, with some degree of objectivity, never forgetting that you are watching a play. Instead of merely crying for the widow or rooting for the detective you should be compelled – from time to time, at least – to assess what you see. If the playwright is at all competent you will find more depth and more enjoyment in discovering the invisible currents propelling the action. This is especially necessary if the surface action is the mayhem of a bloody farce.

“The Lieutenant of Inishmore” isn’t supposed to be about its own alacrity in the art of gross-out laughs. It’s about a civil war.

Thus this production slaps us with a dilemma that is fatal to a fulfilling experience. You can’t be pulled into “Lieutenant” such that you can imagine yourself one of its deranged participants; and you can’t remain an outside assessor, where the contrast of cruel humor to cruel history might load your brain with a satisfactory case of cognitive dissonance. As a result the production requires absolutely nothing of you. All you can do is bide your time waiting for the next pseudo-shock or hyper-ironic one-liner.

I believe that McDonagh wants us to truly feel the absurdity of a society based on escalating retribution. All those gruesome laughs are built upon years of pain and scar tissue, and the author wants us to grasp the sad madness that could easily have altered his own life path had his parents not moved from Ireland to England.

This might have been realized in the Falls Theatre had the production decided to deliver its irony as darkly and straight-facedly as possible, insisting that the laughs exist entirely beyond the stage apron. Instead they placed every joke in quotation marks, mugging their way through a somewhat better than average Halloween haunted house. They have tried to class this up by calling it Grand Guignol, but it’s really just vaudeville.

The Troubles were not vaudeville.

Posted by CSpoke on October 19, 2010 at 1:36 AM | Report this comment

Judging by their persistent laughter, the audience loved "First Date" from its opening scene. This ACT world-premiere musical is modern, clever, and very topical -- definitely not a throwback to old time, schmaltzy extravaganzas. With only seven cast members, several of whom play various roles, the pace is lively and always interesting.

The only reason I would not award a 5th star is because the ending is disappointingly predictable. After being led through such a delightful skewering of the modern dating experience, I expected it to wrap up with a witty twist. Wish that it had. That said, it ranks up there with the best of off-Broadway and off-West End productions. Go for a good time.

Posted by katzey on March 15, 2012 at 10:10 AM | Report this comment

Judging by their persistent laughter, the audience loved "First Date" from its opening scene. This ACT world-premiere musical is modern, clever, and very topical -- definitely not a throwback to old time, schmaltzy extravaganzas. With only seven cast members, several of whom play various roles, the pace is lively and always interesting.

The only reason I would not award a 5th star is because the ending is disappointingly predictable. After being led through such a delightful skewering of the modern dating experience, I expected it to wrap up with a witty twist. Wish that it had. That said, it ranks up there with the best of off-Broadway and off-West End productions. Go for a good time.

Posted by katzey on March 15, 2012 at 10:19 AM | Report this comment

This has the wrong address!!! It's not on E Union, it's on Union over by the convention center.

Posted by JB the NP on February 18, 2013 at 11:41 PM | Report this comment

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