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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Its Long Night's Journey Into Day

Posted by on Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 12:32 PM

WHOS AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? Four to the floor.
  • Alabastro Photography
  • WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? Four to the floor.

The audience seemed primed for camp, eager to buckle up and relive the roaring-lion performances Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton gave in their 1966 film adaptation of Edward Albee's 1963 play. There were hints of this in the lobby—an unusual number of couples, gay and straight, with cocktail complexions and tobacco coughs who looked as if they'd stumbled there from a piano bar in Palm Springs—but the proof was in their laughter.

They began with gleeful cackles as George (R. Hamilton Wright) and Martha (Pamela Reed) traded their early, familiar barbs. (George: "Do you want me to go around all night braying at everybody, the way you do?" Martha [braying]: "I DON'T BRAY!") But then, as the horror of their domestic dysfunction came into full bloom, each burst of laughter seemed to separate like two-part harmony: some higher and more nervous (as if they hadn't realized what they were in for), some lower and more sardonic (as if they appreciated the play kicking into high gear). The bitter comedy of this production, directed by Braden Abraham, feels much more brutal than the film.

George is an aging history professor married to the harridan daughter of the university's president. The two drink heavily, banter viciously, and hate themselves and everyone else. And who can blame them? Their college town of big egos, tiny achievements, and the narcissism of small differences sounds like a stultifying nightmare.

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

An Experiment of Questions.

Posted by on Sun, Apr 27, 2014 at 1:43 PM

In a theatrical experiment born for our 140-character, thumbs-up/thumbs-down era, two old friends and artistic collaborators, Marcus Youssef and James Long, sit on a stage and breeze through a list of things, discussing whether they are “winners” or “losers”: Mexico, Beyoncé, Bruce Springsteen...

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Dominic Holden Doesn't Have an Inside Voice

Posted by on Sat, Apr 26, 2014 at 11:43 AM

Is this Suggests nepotistic? You bet your butt! Stranger associate editor Dominic Holden is full of great stories. Four years before gay marriage became legal in Washington state, Holden used his tarnished Catholic bona fides to cold-call Christians and ask why so many of them were stricken over the idea of two same-gendered figurines holding hands atop a...


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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Financial Refugees of the Great Recession in Laura Marks's Bethany

Posted by on Thu, Apr 24, 2014 at 2:09 PM

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  • Chris Bennion

After the financial collapse of 2008, some theaters reacted by dusting off old playwrights whose work reflects the current crisis—Chekhov's real-estate obsessions, Arthur Miller's busted American dream, Dario Fo's slapstick class warfare. But Bethany, by Laura Marks, is one of the first plays in which every character and every line is soaked in 21st-century economic anxiety.

Physically, Bethany floats in a void. Director John Langs and set designer Carey Wong have set the play in the round and carved a moat around the perimeter of the stage, with dim blue light shining up from below—a visual reminder that each of these characters, at every moment, is standing near the edge of a precipice.

Crystal (Emily Chisholm), a single mother and saleswoman at a doomed Saturn dealership, breaks into a house in foreclosure, hoping to squat there long enough to fool Child Protective Services into thinking she's financially stable—a requirement to get her daughter Bethany back. But the house already has an occupant, a skittish man named Gary (Darragh Kennan). They're both financial refugees, but Crystal still wears a skirt and suit jacket, where Gary's bristly beard, body odor, and paranoia about "society" and "the government" going down the tubes are an omen of where she might be headed if she's destitute long enough.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Attempts on Her Life Fills the Cavernous University Heights Center with an Immersive Enigma Play

Posted by on Fri, Apr 18, 2014 at 11:17 AM

IS HE EVER TEMPTED TO KICK THE AUDIENCE? Attempts on Her Life brings you into the action.
  • Allyce Andrew
  • IS HE EVER TEMPTED TO KICK THE AUDIENCE? Attempts on Her Life brings you into the action.

Attempts on Her Life, about a mystery woman named Anne, is not an easy play to produce—and it's almost impossible to get it right. The idea that a new theater company would try it as its first-ever production is impressive. Even more impressive: This company, the Horse in Motion, has chosen to perform it as an immersive experience that spans three floors of the creaky old University Heights Center, where audience members are guided from room to room to watch its loosely connected scenes performed out of order. On paper, it sounds like a bizarre and wildly ambitious opportunity for failure. Amazingly, they pull it off.

Written in 1997 by British iconoclast Martin Crimp, Attempts on Her Life looks more like a thought experiment than a play, with 17 scenes and no defined characters. The script has only dashes to indicate when a new person speaks ("—They're making love in the man's apartment." "—Doing what?" "—Making love"), meaning each scene could be performed by one actor or 10 and set anywhere from a tea shop in Cairo to a spaceship orbiting Mars. It's the kind of oddball challenge young artists with more passion than discipline might fantasize over, then turn into meaningless jelly. But director Bobbin Ramsey and her small army of actors and designers have filled its nebulous parameters with crystallized characters and images that are both intriguing and unnerving.

The production begins when audience members walk into a cavernous wood-paneled room, order drinks at the bar, and listen to a young woman playing piano and singing "Sex and Candy," "Gold Dust Woman," and other ominous love songs. Phone messages from people in Anne's life are piped over loudspeakers: her mother saying she got the postcards but can't send any more money, someone saying her "vehicle" has arrived in the showroom, a jet-setting lover blowing her off, someone praising some artwork, a Czech voice telling her to "leave the device in a small truck at the back of the building," and several threats ("We don't forget" and "The things you fucking did" and "I'm going to fuck you up the ass. With a broken bottle. And that's just for starters").

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Of Course Gonzo Is Judas

Posted by on Thu, Apr 17, 2014 at 3:37 PM

I love the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack. I love the Muppets. It doesn't get much better than this:

Just in time for the upcoming Easter weekend comes Muppet Christ Superstar, an “album” of nine songs from the 1971 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar—with the lead characters recast as Muppets. Kermit plays Jesus, of course, with Gonzo playing his backstabbing friend Judas and Miss Piggy filling the role of Mary Magdalene.

And voicing all those roles is 20-year-old songwriter Christo Graham, the mastermind behind the parody and a drama and film student at Bishop’s University in Quebec.

Graham's Kermit is a little strained—hell, the Kermit voice in the new movies is strained—but this is just about the best Easter present imaginable. Take a listen.

(Deep bows to Scary Tyler Moore for this tip.)

The Seattle Rep Gets a New Managing Director

Posted by on Thu, Apr 17, 2014 at 3:11 PM

After approximately eight lifetimes of the Galapagos tortoise, Ben Moore is stepping down as managing director of the Seattle Repertory Theatre, and his successor has been announced—Jeffrey Herrmann, who's been the managing director of the Wooly Mammoth Theater in DC since 2007 and has taught in the performing arts department at American University.

He also served as the producing director of the Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, Alaska after earning his MFA in Theater Management at the Yale School of Drama.

Broadwayworld.com reports that Herrmann "leaves behind a great artistic and financial legacy, having almost doubled Woolly's size during his time here in DC, spearheading the theatre's innovative Connectivity initiative, providing leadership for Woolly's 'Free the Beast!' campaign, and purchasing the theatre's building."

A Google search for "Jeffrey Herrmann" and "controversy" (that's called reporting!) turns up nothing more than webpages addressing Wooly Mammoth's decision to go ahead and present Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, even after the infamous retraction on This American Life. (It also turns up a 2005 article about Perseverance Theatre's productions of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, an adaptation of Moby Dick with a female Ahab, and a Macbeth set in a Tlingit community.)

If you'd like to get to know Herrmann better, there's this Theater Communications Group report from 2009, about how theaters navigated the crisis of 2008, in which Herrmann is heavily featured. And Wier Harman of Town Hall, a steady-Eddie presence in Seattle's cultural world, says he's known Herrmann since grad school and thinks he'll be a great addition to Seattle's theater scene.

Which all sounds promising. Of course, the Seattle has a history of being a quick turnstile for arts administrators who come from other places: David Esbjornson at the Rep, Corey Pearlstein at ConWorks, Kate Whoriskey and Brian Colburn at Intiman, and so on. But let's not dwell on the past.

Welcome, Mr. Herrmann!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Pastor Kaleb's Sunday Service

Posted by on Wed, Apr 16, 2014 at 1:58 PM

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  • Erin Spencer

This Sunday is the 15th annual Easter Sunday service by Pastor Kaleb Hagen-Kerr. I can't wait.

Pastor Kaleb gave his first official service in the streets during Seattle's WTO protests in 1999. A carpenter by trade (naturally), he and a friend built two coffins (two adult-sized, one child-sized) using spare plywood from a job site and led a procession through the tear-gassy, chaotic, screaming melee that would eventually force journalists and the general public to ask, for the first time in a long time, why anyone would oppose an organization like the WTO.

The experience, as I wrote in this profile of Pastor Kaleb a few years ago, hit a rare chord for him, a chord almost unique to protest theater—it was earnest satire, simultaneously arch and sincere. He kept exploring that chord, hosting "church picnics," holiday services, and Sunday services that danced between irony and seriousness. There's nothing quite like it.

Over the years, he's attract a congregation he has described as "the defunct and disoriented"—lots of theater and dance people, burlesque dancers, musicians, comedians, and other folks who are thirsty for some honest-feeling echo of the church communities of their childhoods without any of the bullshit. (You can read an account of last year's service over here.)

Pastor Kaleb's Easter Sunday service begins at noon at the Century Ballroom, with social hour starting at 11 am. It is, as always, free. Bring something generous to put in the hat. Booze available and kids welcome.

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The Rise and Fall of Wage-Hike Panic in San Jose

Posted by on Wed, Apr 16, 2014 at 1:13 PM

As we've seen here in Seattle, the prospect of raising the minimum wage can provoke hand-waving, hair-on-fire, we're-all-gonna-get-laid-off-and/or-lose-our-shirts panic.

Nonprofit theaters, which always live close to the edge of financial catastrophe*, are probably the least likely place for business managers to lead the charge for "positive protest"—that is, volunteering to do what it takes to raise wages to $15/hour without layoffs, even if they aren't legally required to.

But that's what's happening, at theaters large and small. After the initial panic subsided, theaters began to run their numbers, and, as Donald Byrd of Spectrum Dance Theater said in the article, "the board and managing director are led by their humanity."

A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal published an interesting chart documenting an analogous panic in San Jose's fast-food industry as the city debated and passed a wage hike:


As you can see, there was a steady slump in hiring leading up to the vote, then a huge dip after a wage increase was approved, then a return to normal once the minimum wage went into effect and people realized the world didn't collapse.

Admittedly, this is about fast food, not small independent restaurants, but it's an interesting record of the rise and fall of a wage-hike panic.

* Because nonprofits must submit detailed, transparent financials to the IRS every year, which are then made publicly available, we can actually see and confirm how close to the edge they live—they make good case studies because we don't have to take their word for it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In Culture News: Fabulous Prizes, Getting Social, and RuPaul Finally Listens to Trans Activists

Posted by , , , and on Tue, Apr 15, 2014 at 5:38 PM

Seattle's Pulitzer Connection The Seattle Symphony is not a Pulitzer Prize winner, but it’s the Medici to the artist who is. Alaska-based composer John Luther Adams received the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his work Become Ocean, inspired by the oceans of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. The piece had its world premiere on June 20, 2013, in Seattle, and will be performed again May 6 at Carnegie Hall in New York, again by Seattle Symphony. Music awarded the Pulitzer is not necessarily beloved for all time, but maybe there’s hope for the posterity of Become Ocean. Of the world premiere, The New Yorker’s marvelous Alex Ross (himself a Pulitzer Finalist) opined, “It may be the loveliest apocalypse in musical history.”

It's Prize Season: Annie Baker's play The Flick, about three weirdos who work in a small movie theater, won the Pulitzer Prize for drama (one of her other plays, Circle Mirror Transformation was at the Rep a couple of years ago). And smaller, non-commercial theaters—the Brits call 'em "subsidized"—defeated some West End giants at the Olivier Awards. Quoth Alexander Pope: "It is not strength, but art, obtains the prize."

Speaking of Prizes: The nominations are open for the Mayor's Arts Awards. Categories (with last year's winners in parens) include being nice to kids (826 Seattle), "raising the bar" (Preston Singletary), cultural ambassadorship (Barbara Earl Thomas), being well-known (Seattle Repertory Theatre), making stuff better (Frye Art Museum), and social justice (Pongo Teen Writing Project). You have until tomorrow. Nominate your face off!

TAM Gets a Facelift: A date’s been set—November 16—for the grand reopening of the grand new Tacoma Art Museum. An added wing for Western art, already visibly rising south along Pacific Avenue, will double the museum’s overall gallery space. And the design?

Tom Kundig designed the Haub Family Galleries as an elegant horizontal structure with a nod to Native American long houses and railroad boxcars.

Squeaky Wheel Gets Greased: After an outcry from trans activists, RuPaul's Drag Race has stopped using the terms "she-male" (used on the show in reference to drag queens) and "she-mail" (used as a drag-queeny pun on email). Gawker's Rich Juzwiak lays out how it all went down in his post, "Here's How RuPaul's Drag Race Censored Itself."

English, Broken: One of the many pleasures of the movie Ilo Ilo, which is set in Singapore during the 1997 financial crisis (in short, it is movie that speaks to our post-crisis times directly), is that a lot of the dialogue in this film is conducted in the second language of the characters, English. The function of this kind of English, which is stiff and raw, is to convey basic information and perform business transactions. But occasionally it has to convey deep emotions, particularly in the case of film’s main character, the boy of a Chinese Singaporean family, and his nanny, a young Filipino women. The closer the two get, the more emotional work their rudimentary English has to do. You will love this film. Watch it tonight!

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Gidion's Knot Is the Most Explosive Parent-Teacher Conference You'll Ever See

Posted by on Sat, Apr 12, 2014 at 11:18 AM

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  • Paul Bestock

Gidion's Knot gives people fits. This two-actor play about an extraordinarily tense parent-teacher conference is popping up at theaters around the country and tends to attract either glowing or bilious reviews. One critic for the Chicago Sun-Times said it was "offensive on so many levels, it is difficult to know where to begin." So let's begin at the beginning. It's difficult to discuss this play without spoilers, so here's your alert.

The lights go up on an immaculate elementary-school classroom with 25 little plastic chairs, a colorful periodic table of the elements, and homemade posters about gods and myths: Athena, Shiva, the Gordian knot. It is a clean, cheerful illusion of order waiting to be torn apart. A delicate-looking teacher (Rebecca Olson in a thin blue cardigan) trembles quietly at her desk as a physically and emotionally powerful mother (a gloriously angry Heather Hawkins with bright red hair) storms into the room. The mother wants to keep a parent-teacher conference scheduled before her son died.

The teacher clearly does not. Gidion was not one of her favorites—she'd recently suspended him for writing a gorgeously grotesque story about his school that sounds like a scene from the Iliad passed through the sadistic prose of Dennis Cooper—and she doesn't want to rile his furious and grief-stricken mother. Not at first, anyway.

Continue reading >>

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Politician, His Penis, and Their Mutual Downfall in Tails of Wasps

Posted by on Thu, Apr 10, 2014 at 11:22 AM

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  • Chris Bennion

Stephanie Timm writes plays that feel like parables, tweaking fairy tales, myths, and other familiar devices to get at the deeper, stranger currents running beneath everyday life. Crumbs Are Also Bread brought a mysterious stranger to a small town, On the Nature of Dust sent a "normal" teenage girl through a Kafka-like series of metamorphoses, and now Tails of Wasps documents a politician, his penis, and their predictable fall from grace. In a fit of fabulist irony, Timm has named her politician Frank.*

We're all familiar with how a sex scandal plays out in public: the harshly lit press conference, the contrite politician, the humiliated but steely wife standing by his side, the rest of us wondering why the wives never ditch their high-profile philanderers. But Tails brings us uncomfortably close to the action, inviting us into the various hotel rooms where the fall takes place. Instead of renting a large suite for the production, director Darragh Kennan and designer Peter Dylan O'Connor stuck a large bed into an events room at ACT Theatre (whose carpeting, chandeliers, and large windows overlooking a street in downtown Seattle are uncannily hotel-like) and lined the walls with chairs for us to sit in. The lights are so bright, the actors are so close, and there are so many audience members packed into that room that we can't help but watch each other watch the play, making these top-secret intimacies feel as public and embarrassing as the press conference we know is just around the corner.

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*Side note that didn't make it into the review: The title of the play comes from a line about lust in The Winter's Tale: "The purity and whiteness of my sheets,/Which to preserve is sleep, which being spotted/Is goads, thorns, nettles, tails of wasps,/Give scandal to the blood o' the prince my son."

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Teenage Kicks: The Edge of Our Bodies

Posted by on Wed, Apr 9, 2014 at 5:57 PM

SAMIE SPRING DETZER has a secret.
  • Bruce Clayton Tom
  • SAMIE SPRING DETZER Bernadette has a secret.

The Edge of Our Bodies is a little bit dangerous, a little bit alarming. At its center is a teenage girl, Bernadette (expertly played by Samie Spring Detzer), begging for someone to witness her life, even though her life is a complete mess.

Adam Rapp doesn't know how to write women, which is a bit disappointing. Bernadette seems to be a caricature of a teenage girl, an unsettling mix of stereotype and guesswork. Rapp has woven a play within the play, using Jean Genet's The Maids to further the conversation about young women and performativity, but it's disconcerting and oddly placed in the structure of the larger story. Detzer does a phenomenal job squeezing the emotion out of her character, and it's ultimately not her fault that her Bernadette is a little distracting, fluctuating between her own tense emotions and the creepy child's play of the sisters from The Maids.

I'm always impressed with the ways the Washington Ensemble Theatre transforms their tiny space. The smell of the wood platform floats through the air as you try to figure out why this young woman is in this tiny, well-appointed room, with its settee, chandelier and gauzy curtains. How did she get here? And where is she going?

It's worthwhile to get to the bottom of the secret in the middle of this play, and Detzer gives a powerful performance. Check it out before it closes this weekend.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Concert Based on the Life and Writings of Margaret Rucker, Whose Scrapbook Was Found in a Dumpster

Posted by on Tue, Apr 8, 2014 at 2:19 PM

The first time I saw troubadour/busker Jason Webley must've been around 1995, when I was still in high school and he was playing his accordion on a sidewalk in the University District. He wearing a trench coat and singing in a growl many have compared to Tom Waits, and with a gutter-tango sound that was about to burst into pop consciousness with the cirque noir moment (Circus Contraption was probably its most memorable child). But that hadn't happened yet, and he sounded distinctive and strange.

In the next few years, I gradually realized that Webley was part of a network of homegrown oddball geniuses I'd come to know and admire through different channels—John Osebold, Jherek Bischoff, and so on.

This weekend, Webley is playing an unusual concert at the old Everett Theater, along with Jherek, Zac Pennington, Led To Sea, and several others. The program will be all music inspired by a woman named Margaret Rucker, whose life was discovered in a dumpster by Chicken John—an infamous San Francisco icon who ran a punk-rock circus, played guitar in GG Allin's band, and has a long and colorful career of activism (including an attempt to name a sewage treatment plant after George W. Bush).

Webley writes:

Years before, Chicken was walking in San Francisco late at night and found a huge dumpster in front of a house - like someone had died and the the entirety of their life was being discarded. He looked inside to see if there was anything worth selling. But he was drawn to an old scrapbook detailing the life of a woman born in 1907. It began with her birth certificate and ended with her obituary. He was taken in by the old photographs, newspaper clippings and pieces of the woman's poetry, published in the 1920s. I won't tell the whole story here, but her life was tragic and her writing was dark and beautiful - sometimes heartbreaking...

The woman was born in Everett, and her name was Margaret Rucker.

She was the daughter of Bethel Rucker, one of the brothers who essentially founded the city. And her obituary, the last image of the slideshow, showed that she was buried in the Rucker mausoleum in Everett, the crazy pyramid that I had just climbed with my friend two days before.

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Bigoted Anti-Gay Moms Should Want Their Sons to See This Play

Posted by on Tue, Apr 8, 2014 at 9:34 AM

Queerty:

This is so nutty we are actually kind not completely convinced that it’s real: a woman in the audience of the play Deathtrap was so outraged by a gay kiss that she wrote an insane angry email to the theater. Then the Pioneer Theater Company in Salt Lake City responded brilliantly.

Click through to read the lady's insane email and the theater company's "brilliant" response.

But it's a little hard to view this SLC-based theater company as somehow striking a blow for gay visibility or gay equality by mounting a production of Ira Levin's 1978 Broadway hit Deathtrap. The play that set this woman off—she's a mom who took her impressionable son to the theater where they were ambushed by two men kissing!—is about a Broadway playwright (spoilers ahead!) who murders his wife with the help of his much, much younger boyfriend. Once the playwright's wife is out the way, the closeted gay playwright and his murderous boytoy turn on each other. So the message this Utah mom's son got was this: Homosexuals are treacherous deviants! Their sick love is evil and destructive! And some gay men marry women and while that can kill a woman's soul and self-esteem—and marrying women is exactly what religious conservatives urge gay men to do—gay men who actually murder their wives are going too far!

Deathtrap is a great play, a totally engrossing little thriller. (And with one set and five characters, it's relatively inexpensive to produce.) But it's definitely a product its time—a time when all representations of gay love, gay people, and gay sex in film, on stage, and on television ended in murder or suicide or both. I'm not saying that Deathtrap shouldn't be performed today. Modern productions of Deathtrap are a lot less problematic as there are more varied and diverse representations of gay people, gay relationships, gay boytoys, etc., on stages, screens, and television. And, hey, some gay people are murderous shitbags.

But if I were a homophobic parent... like that outraged lady in Utah... Deathtrap is the only representation of gay men that I would ever want my teenage son to see.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Three-Word Theater Reviews

Posted by on Thu, Apr 3, 2014 at 3:24 PM

Moby Alpha by Charles at Ballard Underground: Dick in space!
  • Moby Alpha by Charles at Ballard Underground: Dick in space!

The Importance of Being Earnest by Seattle Shakespeare Company: Droll as fuck.
  • John Ulman
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Seattle Shakespeare Company: Droll as fuck.

Uncle Vanya by Akropolis Performance Lab at The Garden House on Beacon Hill: Intimate, shouty, gloomy.
  • Uncle Vanya by Akropolis Performance Lab at The Garden House on Beacon Hill: Intimate, shouty, gloomy.

The Moisture Festival at Hales Palladium (and beyond): Vaudevilles haunting hyperreality.
  • John Cornicello
  • The Moisture Festival at Hale's Palladium (and beyond): Vaudeville's haunting hyperreality.

Royal Blood at West of Lenin: Sickening family secrets.
  • Chris Bennion
  • Royal Blood at West of Lenin: Sickening family secrets.

And much more, including Little Shop of Horrors at ACT and The Boy at the Edge of Everything at Seattle Children's Theater, over on our theater page.

The Infernal Beauty of Vaudeville

Posted by on Thu, Apr 3, 2014 at 12:30 PM

How Freddy Kenton plays the mandolin.
  • Michelle Bates
  • How Freddy Kenton plays the mandolin.

Freddy Kenton is an old-school cirque/vaudeville man. Born in the Netherlands, he's spent 60 years playing places like the Moulin Rouge, the Lido, the Blackpool Tower Circus, and Tokyo nightclubs. His last gig, before coming to town for this year's Moisture Festival, had been performing for the Prince of Monaco.

There's something touching about the old-timers that's been lost in the slicking-up of varieté with Cirque du Soleil and its spinoffs. Soleil's performers are some of the best in the world, but they feel remote, more CGI than human, trapped behind a veil of stage fog, overproduction, and a playlist that oscillates between EDM and Enya.

But performers like Kenton and his wife Evelyne—who performed at a Moisture Festival/Teatro ZinZanni mashup on April Fool's Day—seem like human beings, strong in some ways and frail in others, which makes their accomplishments ten times more impressive.

There is a kind of terrifying beauty to old-school vaudeville when it can layer dramatic time over real time. It's different from watching a play where everyone agrees to pretend—when the lights go down on scene one and come up on scene two, we allow ourselves to be convinced, for the sake of dramatic time, that days or months have passed.

But the thrill of vaudeville (when it works) comes from the fact that it isn't make-believe.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Brilliance of Howard Ashman on Full Display

Posted by on Wed, Apr 2, 2014 at 11:45 AM

Botanically speaking, this is a crossbreeding of the 5th Avenue Theatre and ACT Theatre, and it’s one of the most successful ever: 5th Avenue–level singing in the intimacy of ACT. Maybe it’s not a Mendel-discovering-genetics-with-his-pea-plants level of world-changing greatness, but Little Shop of Horrors is...

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Etymology of the Day: Harridan

Posted by on Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 3:05 PM

The Importance of Being Earnest: Droll as fuck.
  • John Ulman
  • The Importance of Being Earnest: Droll as fuck.

I was thinking about The Importance of Being Earnest this morning (which, as I said in my review, is a master class in the saucy bedroom eyes of Quinn Franzen as Algernon, Wilde's carefree rascal/alter ego) and that reminded me of the persistent rumors that the luminous Stephen Fry is staging a production starring himself as Lady Bracknell.

That, of course, would be a gift to the universe. Imperious, rich, and always on the verge of being affronted by something, Lady Bracknell is the most grandly egotistical and frivolous character in a play populated by titans of egoism and frivolity. Fry is a confirmed genius of both the mind and the stage and just imagining him in the scene below the jump—in which Lady Bracknell interviews young Jack, who want to marry her daughter—is a thrill all of its own. (The lines I'm especially relishing the idea of him speaking are in bold, because I'm helplessly in his thrall.)

According to some reports, the show will happen at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane sometime this fall.

Anyway! The Guardian article that popped up when I googled for the rumors described Lady Bracknell as a "home-counties harridan."

Always eager for new words that describe difficult-to-describe characters, I went cruising through the dictionaries, which all generally agree that it means a bossy or shrill older woman, possibly from the French haridelle for old horse.

But the word's etymological journey through the English language was a bit of a surprise:

1700, "one that is half Whore, half Bawd" ["Dictionary of the Canting Crew"]; "a decayed strumpet" [Johnson], probably from French haridelle "a poore tit, or leane ill-favored jade," [Cotgrave, 1611], in French from 16c., of unknown origin.

Lady Bracknell has her peculiarities, but nobody every accused her of being "half whore, half bawd." The word is another curious flag in our linguistic history, marking out the conceptual territory where women in control of a situation were also necessarily improper or morally compromised in some way (cf. "bitch," "shrew" from the earliest meaning of "shrewd" as generally evil, harpy, et al.).

Lady Bracknell may be unpleasant, but she's proper to the max.

You've come a long way—well, maybe not a long way, but at least some way—harridan.

Continue reading »

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Slyly Subversive Theater

Posted by on Sun, Mar 30, 2014 at 11:00 AM

Charming, poetic, and slyly subversive, this new children’s play concerns two boys who need each other—one is an overscheduled earthling, the other is a bored kid who lives at the edge of the expanding universe, perched on the brink between Everything and Nothing. An accident involving fireworks and a...

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Apartheid-Era Drama, Adapted by Peter Brook

Posted by on Thu, Mar 27, 2014 at 1:01 PM

In apartheid-era South Africa, a man comes home and finds his wife cheating. The lover jumps out the window, and the husband levies a punishment: The wife must treat her lover’s suit as an honored guest—singing to it, trying to feed it...

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Urinal of the Day: Well, Lots of Urinals

Posted by on Tue, Mar 25, 2014 at 12:05 PM

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I was walking down the street the other day, drying to dodge all the sandwich boards for horribly named apartment buildings, when one caught my eye. It was not advertising a horribly named apartment building. Or if it was, it was a hilariously named horrible apartment building: CREEPS. (God, wouldn't it be great if apartment-building-namers ran out of vaguely wistful words and had to start resorting to CREEPS and JERK'S LANDING and FOOL'S PARADISE?)

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Then I thought: No, no, obviously this is someone making fun of apartment building marketing. Then I saw those postcards in that upper-right hand corner depicting a row of urinals—and realized this CREEPS sandwich board is (1) definitely making fun of stupid apartment building sandwich boards (2) while advertising some theater. Well played, Seattle Subversive Theatre! I took a postcard. The front of the postcard is at the top of this post; the back of the postcard looks like this.

I emailed Seattle Subversive Theatre to say I loved their sandwich board, that I'd be making their postcard a Slog Urinal of the Day, and to find out where these urinals in particular are. Gregg Gilmore wrote back to say, "The pic was taken in Worcester Mass by Sean Svadilfari in 2009." And the play? "Creeps is about four guys with cerebral palsy who escape from their menial jobs by hiding out in the restroom at work. In that skanky little room they're safe to be themselves, and let it all out. Creeps is a beautiful play, but so not for everybody, that's why we love it. The production will take place in a tiny underground space on Market Street in Ballard. We're turning it into a believable restroom, and making room for 24 seats. We're a scrappy little group that does good work, and can use all the help we can get, so catching your eye means a lot."

Support the scrappy little group by getting your ticket here.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Royal Blood by Seattle Playwright Sonya Schneider Had Its World Premiere This Weekend

Posted by on Sun, Mar 23, 2014 at 12:23 PM

I liked it. It's grim. It's playing Thursday through Sunday, including tonight, through April 4. Full review here.

Cool Jazz and Leather Harnesses at PNB's Director's Choice

Posted by on Sun, Mar 23, 2014 at 11:06 AM

Susan Marshalls Kiss.
  • Angela Sterling
  • Susan Marshall's Kiss.

"Take Five," the Dave Brubeck Quartet's cool-jazz classic in 5/4 time, was made for dancing. Its swanky, sweeping notes practically demand dramatic movement, from the fast little beats accentuated by piano and percussion to the dreamy saxophone—all of it should inspire at least a little boogie or hip thrust from even the squarest among us. In TAKE FIVE... More or Less, Susan Stroman's choreography meets the tunes of Brubeck and Paul Desmond to frame some of Pacific Northwest Ballet's grooviest dancers in the opening number of this year's Director's Choice program.

TAKE FIVE—which was commissioned for PNB by artistic director Peter Boal and debuted in 2008—begins with "Yellow," soon-to-retire principal dancer Kaori Nakamura, dressed in a simple, solid-colored dress, tapping her foot to the soft cymbals rising up from the orchestra pit. She is joined by "Red," the super-tall, graceful, and newly promoted principal dancer Lindsi Dec, and they move quickly in a series of pique turns (moving on one foot with the other pointed at the standing knee). Four other women in various bright colors appear and exit, along with five men in solid black 1940s-ish shirts and trousers who leap onto the stage. Everyone is happy and everyone loves this piece—that much is obvious by the way it palpably elevates the mood in McCaw Hall. Dec and audience favorite Kiyon Gaines steal the show, Gaines tap-dancing with a huge grin, Dec's movements seductively mesmerizing whether she's kicking a perfect calf high over her head or plopped on her bum center stage, sculpted shoulders shimmying to the floor, eyes locked with a rapt audience.

Annual Director's Choice–type programs are common in larger dance companies, even when they depend on the kind of old-guard ballet fans who are more apt to sell out a classical story ballet than a mixed-bag program of innovative choreography. But PNB's Director's Choice gives us a glimpse into Boal's brain, showing us the kind of dance we might see more of if arts funding grew on trees.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Wilde Wordplay Brought to Life by Some of Seattle’s Favorite Actors

Posted by on Fri, Mar 21, 2014 at 12:30 PM

If you don’t have a favorite line from Oscar Wilde’s magnum opus of glorious triviality, do yourself a favor—reread it like a guilty pleasure and pick one. (One of my front-runners: “Relations are simply a tedious pack of people who haven’t got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct...

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Peter Brook's "The Suit" Feels Like a Light Touch But Cuts Like a Scalpel

Posted by on Thu, Mar 20, 2014 at 4:00 PM

The actors give such precise and sinewy performances, a photograph makes it difficult to imagine the turmoil behind their calm smiles.
  • Pascal Victor, ArtcomArt.
  • The actors give such precise and sinewy performances, a photograph makes it difficult to imagine the turmoil behind their calm smiles.

At the press desk, Seattle Repertory Theatre PR manager Sarah Meals was muttering under her breath, "fast and furious" as she handed out tickets. "The press usually comes in a trickle during a run," she said, "but tonight, everyone's in the house."

Last night, theater nerds from across the city congregated at Seattle Repertory Theatre for the opening night of the The Suit, a simple but chilling apartheid-era story by South African writer Can Themba, adapted and directed by the legendary Peter Brook. This was its first US performance outside New York.

For a good hour before the play started, you could see several generations of them populating the surrounding blocks—theater-makers who've become filmmakers, young actors who still have stars in their eyes, directors who remain in the game, playwrights who've given up—sucking down bowls of cheap pho in the cafes and drinking cocktails in the bars near Seattle Center. It was as if the theater equivalent of the bat signal had been shot into the sky, and the faithful came scurrying.

They had come to worship at the altar of Peter Brook, perhaps the most famous theater director alive—a few weeks ago, Seattle Rep artistic director Jerry Manning told me that trying to estimate Brook's influence on contemporary theater is "kind of like asking what influence Sir Isaac Newton has on astrophysics today"—and to see what could be his farewell production. Tomorrow will be his 89th birthday.

So how was it?

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Left Laughing at the Left

Posted by on Sat, Mar 15, 2014 at 1:16 PM

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  • MICHAEL BRUNK

The play opens with an English professor, Laurie (Marty Mukhalian), providing her students with a smart feminist critique of Shakespeare's King Lear. The gist of the professor's theory is this: The king initially rewards the daughters who flatter him and punishes the one who makes no effort at it. Clearly, her soul lacks that fire of ambition, that will to power possessed by her sisters. But at the end of the play, it is she (Cordelia), the one with no fire, no ambition, who proves to be the king's best daughter. What does this mean? According to the professor, being docile pays for a female and being ambitious does not. At the end of her lecture, Laurie tells her students to write a critical paper about the play. One of these students is Woodson Bull III (Mark Tyler Miller). Woodson is happy being called Third. He is just that kind of likable guy: handsome, athletic, and proud to be an American. He approaches the professor's desk with a few questions about the assignment. Laurie immediately hates him and does not hide her contempt. He represents all that is wrong with the USA: white male privilege.

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Radically Free Time in "The Boy at the Edge of the Universe"

Posted by on Sat, Mar 15, 2014 at 11:47 AM

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  • Chris Bennion

Charming, poetic, and slyly subversive, The Boy at the Edge of Everything—a world premiere by Finegan Kruckemeyer—is, on its surface, the story of two boys who need each other. Simon (a fresh-faced and vibrant Trick Danneker), a 12 year-old living on Earth, is harried and overscheduled with math club, tae kwon do, swim class, computer club, Chinese-language homework ("Which is crazy," he tells us, "'cause when you're 12, the words home and work shouldn't even go together"), and the rest of the busyness of life. He tries to remember his parents' advice, to "try and find a minute for myself, between all the everyone-else-minutes," but it's tough when everyone else wants him to be either working or engaged in some structured, self-improving "hobby" that is really just another appendage of work. He needs a little do-nothing time.

The other boy (Quinn Armstrong, equally fresh-faced but calmer and more reflective) lives at the far edge of the expanding universe, his house perched right on the border between Everything and Nothing, and he's bored. Though he builds intergalactic train sets, practices alien instruments ("like the Chehhhurnu, which has lots of buttons and sounds like water being emptied from a bathtub"), reads books about other planets, and "binocularises" the people living on these other worlds, he needs company.

Due to a misunderstanding, Simon's parents think he wants to be an astronaut, and they cook up an adventure. They dress him in a firefighter jacket and a diving bell, stuff him in his mom's old saltwater-float/meditation tank (from when she, as Simon puts it, went through her middle-class "transcendental Vishnu yoga phase"), and are going to shove him off the roof onto a pile of hay bales so he can experience the thrill of liftoff. Things go awry, a cache of fireworks explodes, and Simon is launched to the far end of the universe where he lands in the Boy at the Edge of Everything's garden.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

"Black Vengeance," a Punk-Rock Adaptation of Othello

Posted by on Fri, Mar 14, 2014 at 3:09 PM

BLACK VENGEANCE Imagine the plot as MC Ride from Death Grips eloped with a pre-freak-out Miley Cyrus but his band manager is trying to gaslight him.
  • Stephanie Mallard Couch
  • BLACK VENGEANCE Imagine the plot as MC Ride from Death Grips eloped with a pre-freak-out Miley Cyrus but his band manager is trying to gaslight him.

The impulse to rewrite and "modernize" Shakespeare can have gimmicky and stultifying results—A Midsummer Night's Rave, anyone? Tromeo and Juliet?—but Nathaniel Porter's airlift of Othello into the world of scrappy punk bands works surprisingly well. Othello "the Moor," an army general, becomes the singer for a band called Black Vengeance and the only person of color in his scene. Desdemona, the daughter of a Venetian senator who Othello elopes with, becomes Des, the lily-white daughter of a racist country-music star. And Iago, the ensign who's angry that Othello promoted a younger soldier over him, becomes Black Vengeance's manager, who's furious he wasn't asked to play lead guitar.

Plot point for plot point, it's a good fit—in Othello, for example, Desdemona's father accuses Othello of using "witchcraft" to seduce his daughter. "She loved me for the dangers I had pass'd," Othello responds, "and I loved her that she did pity them. This only is the witchcraft I have used." In Black Vengeance, the country-star father-in-law growls: "What do you have her on? Is it cocaine? Meth? Heroin? What is making her act this way?" "We don't need drugs, old man," Othello shoots back. "She likes me. She likes my stories. She likes my scars."

Director Emily Harvey and designer Kasia Rozanska have turned the Ballard Underground into a basement rock club, covering its walls in graffiti—some topical ("Free Pussy Riot"), some Shakespearean ("I did love the Moor"), and some timeless ("Dick punch").

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