Monday, December 29, 2008

The Wisey Awards

The theater world will be focused on the West Seattle Weisenheimer for the next week as we name the winners of the Weisenheimer Awards. The Wiseys recognize the best performances in theater productions that Weisenheimer and Sweetie the Scorer saw together during 2008.

The nominees are:

A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams
Intiman Theatre. Directed by Sheila Daniels. Bartlett Sher, artistic director.

The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, by Jeff Whitty
Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Directed by Bill Rauch. Bill Rauch, artistic director.
WSW review

Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara, by Vanessa Claire Smith and Jake Broder
Matrix Theatre. Directed by Jeremy Aldridge. Originally produced by Sacred Fools Theater Company.
WSW review

Shawn Law as Hamlet in Hamlet. Green Stage theater.
Armando Duran as Eddie Carbone in A View From the Bridge. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Dan Donohue as Iago in Othello. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Jake Broder as Louis Prima in Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara. Matrix Theatre.

Marianne Owen as multiple characters in Intimate Exchanges. ACT Theatre.
Angela Pierce as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. Intiman Theatre.
Robin Goodrin Nordli as Hedda Gabler in The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Vanessa Claire Smith as Keely Smith in Louis and Keely Live at the Sahara. Matrix Theatre.
Chelsey Rives as Jo in boom. Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Matthew Ahrens as Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night. Green Stage.
Michael Elich as Aufidius in Coriolanus. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Anthony Heald as Steven in The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Jonathan Haugen as Patrick in The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Chelsey Rives as Stella Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. Intiman Theatre.
Kimberly Scott as Mammy in The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Vilma Silva as Emilia in Othello. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Vilma Silva as Beatrice in A View From the Bridge. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Intimate Exchanges at ACT Theatre. Carolyn Keim, costume director.
A Midsummer Night's Dream at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Katherine Roth, costume designer.
The Clay Cart at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Deborah M. Dryden, costume designer.
The Adding Machine at New Century Theatre. Pete Rush, costume designer.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Walt Spangler, scenic designer.
Othello at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Rachel Hauck, scenic designer.
boom at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Jennifer Zeyl, set designer.
Othello at Balagan Theatre. Jenna Shmidt, props designer.

Jersey Boys at 5th Avenue Theatre. Ron Melrose, musical direction.
A Marvelous Party at ACT Theatre. Richard Grey, musical director.
Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara at Matrix Theatre. Musical direction by Dennis Kaye.
Black Nativity at Intiman Theatre. Musical direction and arrangements by Pastor Patrinell Wright.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A new tack for Black Nativity

This year's production of Black Nativity at Intiman Theatre was new and fresh for a holiday tradition that has been on the December stage for 11 years now.

Not coincidentally, this was the first time the show was performed without the Rev. Samuel McKinney as narrator and co-parson with the Total Experience Gospel Choir's Rev. Patrinell Wright. While we missed the gravitas, the fun, and the amazing pipes that McKinney brought to Black Nativity, his "retirement" after a decade in the role may have presented an opportunity for the creative team to take the second act of the program in a new direction.

Weisenheimer found the first act slightly disappointing. This is the half that uses the words of Langston Hughes, combined with marvelous dancing and with gospel music, to tell the Christmas story. We've seen the show six or seven times now, though it's been a year, or maybe two, since the last time. It seemed this time there wasn't quite so much of the dance, and it wasn't quite so spectacular, as in years past.

The second half, however, lit up. In past years it was good church-- lots of high-octane gospel music. This time it was a bit more theatrical, with more dance numbers incorporated into Intiman's Non-denominational "service." We agree with our friend Lisa over at Dancing Again that Josphine Howell's rendition of "Alabaster Box" was most moving and inspiring, and we loved Stephanie Scott-Hatley's solos on "Get Away Jordan" and "No-Good Shepherd."

Wright was fabulous as always, though she seems to be giving more of the lead vocals to others from the capable choir. We could do without some of the patter; the "call out" of how many Lutherans, etc., are in the audience is a bit tiring. The band, too, is top notch.

G. To'mas Jones was up to the task of filling McKinney's sizeable shoes, and sang a medley with Wright that was good, though Jones doesn't have McKinney's sub-woofer. The cast paid tribute to McKinney several times during the performance, and with good reason. The long-time pastor of Mount Zion Church is certainly one of the big reasons Black Nativity has endured at Intiman for more than a decade now. Let's hope it keeps rolling without McKinney on the boards.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Weisenheimer Winter

Winter officially begins in West Seattle tomorrow, but it arrived here last weekend when our day of FUN was canceled by snow. It's been snowy ever since. We got a major splat of snow beginning very early Thursday morning, which led to the snow pictured in the Weisenheimer tomato patch at right.

There's more snow falling as I write this. A few more pics from out and about:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

You can never please an astronomer

The best thing about being interested in amateur astronomy while living in Seattle is that you don't have to waste a lot of time actually looking at celestial objects. Seems we've been griping for months now about a dearth of cloudless evenings. Well, it's been beautifully clear for the last couple of nights. But have we set up the telescopes? NO -- it's about 12 degrees out there! Normally a long, clear winter night is just the thing, but temperatures in the teens are just too low.

And... the monthly meeting of the Seattle Astronomical Society, scheduled for the evening of Dec. 17, has been canceled due to threat of snow.

But you can read about astronomy! Weisenheimer is the editor of The Webfooted Astronomer, the newsletter of the Seattle Astronomical Society. The December issue (PDF) is particularly good!

Monday, December 15, 2008

The carnage is horrible. You must look.

I enjoy the Apostrophe Abuse blog. One of today's posts is a record setter. Only one apostrophe was abused, but there is plenty of other grammatical violence going on. At least 10 errors made it into a 15-word note. (If we were nit-picking we could ding 'em for a couple more.) I wonder if the camper ever sold.

Another hilarious post from last week was about a sign advertising the price of panty hoe's. That's gotta hurt.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cool surprises in "The Moon is Down"

On a recent trip to Portland, Oregon I paid a visit to Powell's Books. I picked up a 1942 version of John Steinbeck's novella The Moon is Down. The book is no first edition or anything; the dustjacket lists its publication price as $5, and I bought it for $8.95. That's not much of a markup for 66 years. I just love Steinbeck, and enjoy having some vintage copies of his books around.

There are a couple of interesting things about this particular tome. First, tucked into the front cover is a reprint of a review from Book-of-the-Month-Club-News which, according to its last page, was printed about the size of the book at the suggestion of book club members "so that it can be pasted, if desired, to the flyleaf." This one isn't pasted, it's in there loose. The review, written by Dorothy Canfield, notes at one point that

Steinbeck's hastily written story is probably not first-rate literature, will probably not go down in literary history as one of the masterpieces of the art.

To which I ask, "Who the blazes is Dorothy Canfield to pick at John Steinbeck?" Sure, she may have invented Montessori and served on the BOMC committee for a quarter century (according to Wikipedia), but please.

The other interesting item is a note on the back of the dustjacket, pictured at right. The note suggests that, once you're finished reading the book, you should mail it to Atlanta, location of the "Army Libraries," because the men in the services could use some good reading. That's ironic; the story of The Moon is Down is clearly war propaganda and everyone takes the invaders to be Germans, but Steinbeck doesn't actually name the town that's invaded or the invading country. At its core, the story is about the futility of invading and occupying another country. I wonder if anyone mailed their copy in, and if Army Libraries passed it along to the front.

One last observation from the same note: it says that book postage is 1 1/2 cents per pound. The Moon is Down can't weigh much more than a pound, as it's a hardcover but only 188 pages. I've half a mind to mail it in and see if it gets there for two cents! In the same way, I'm always tempted to grab subscription cards from old magazines and see if I can still get them for just 32 cents per week.

The Moor the merrier

Back in early October Weisenheimer saw Othello at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and in a review written by my Sweetie, the Scorer, we opined that the Tragedy of the Moor was in the lower quartile of works by the Bard. Today, the young upstarts at Seattle's Balagan Theatre have us re-thinking that opinion. Last night we saw Balagan's production of Othello, directed by Ryan Higgins, and came away delighted.

Our main beef with The Moor is that for a supposedly great military leader he's awfully easy to dupe. But Mike Dooly's Iago gets inside the head of Johnny Patchamatla's Othello in an exchange my Sweetie points out from Act III, scene iii, in which Iago says of Desdemona,

She did deceive her father marrying you, and when she seem'd to shake and fear your looks, she lov'd them most.

Iago plays on Othello's own insecurities, planting seeds of self doubt about the Moor's worthiness to marry Desdemona in a way that we've never seen come off quite so well on the stage before.

Part of the reason may be that the Balagan cast has the advantage of intimacy. While at OSF Othello was played in the 1,200-seat outdoor Elizabethan Stage, Balagan is a tiny basement black box on Capitol Hill that might seat 100. Swordplay in your lap is theater up close and personal.

That is to take nothing away from virtuoso performances by Patchamatla and Dooly. Patchamatla has the main Othello prerequisite, i.e., fabulous pipes. He's pumped some iron in his time, too, and was a commanding presence on the stage. He was able to temper his jealous rage with some true feelings of remorse and sadness. Dooly makes his Iago the most nearly likable of any I've seen. He plays the villain with a true warmth and charm, and everyone he manipulates is his best, dearest friend. Sure, Iago is a cretin, but Dooly pulls some looks in the end as if to suggest this wasn't the way he wanted it to turn out at all; that he really wanted everyone to wind up with egg on their faces, not in a pile of corpses on Desdemona's bed. (The text doesn't support that interpretation; after all, it is Iago who, in Act IV, suggests that poisoning is too good for Desdemona and that Othello ought to strangle his wife.)

The set was spare, with the main props being several wooden boxes that served as modular furniture. In a great touch, director Higgins has Iago be the only one to move the boxes. As the villain manipulates all of the characters, so too is he the one manipulating the stage itself, getting all the boxes to where they need to be for each scene. Even during the prelude Dooly was wandering the stage moving the boxes from place to place. He was planning every step of the way.

The rest of the cast were solid and real. Weisenheimer would especially single out Nik Perleros as Cassio, Terri Weagant as Desdemona, and Jason Harber as Roderigo.

Sadly, the final performance of Othello is tonight. But Balagan shows great promise. It's a relatively new company being run by a youthful lot willing to go out on a limb. In January they'll be staging Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss. A play. Within a play. Within an insane asylum. Check it out.

You're driving me batchit

Ken Levine has been running a great contest on his blog. The Daffy Definition Kontest asked readers to send in definitions to the verification words they were required to enter to post a comment on the blog.

Unfortunately, the kontest ended Thursday. Today I got "batchit" as a comment verification word.

I'm not absolutely certain what batchit is, but I bet Robin carries one in his utility belt.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Rep's blog includes cool audience reviews

BACKSTAGE @ SEATTLE REP: Audience Responses - boom

Check out the Rep's blog. It features an audience response video made in what they call the Talk-it-out Booth. It used to be called the Rep Confessional, which I think is really a better name. But the responses are fun, and the video for boom includes remarks from playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb.

It's interesting to see how organizations are beginning to make good use of all this newfangled "Web 2.0" stuff.

World ends with big laughs at the Rep

The Seattle Rep bills its current production of boom, by playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, as "a comedy about the end of the world." And sure enough, you know you're in for an apocalyptic nightmare when the pre-show musical selections include such songs of gloom and dread as REM's "The End of the World as We Know It," "S.O.S." by Abba, "I Feel the Earth Move" by Carole King, and even the Carpenters' "Close to You."

Wha-what?? Carpenters? Yes. Remember the lyric, "Why do stars fall down from the sky..."

In boom, it's not a star that falls, but a comet that slams into Earth, just as predicted by Jules, a geeky, gay, and somewhat scattered biology grad student played with great flair by Nick Garrison. Though nobody believes Jules when he predicts catastrophe, he makes preparations anyway. His lab is in an old bomb shelter, he lays in an ample supply of bourbon, food, tampons, and diapers, and uses a Craig's List personal ad to lure a young co-ed into his shelter for the purposes of peopleing the planet post apocalypse.

Unfortunately, the date he gets is Jo, played by Chelsey Rives. Jo, a journalism major who is always behind deadline, plans to use her one-night fling as the basis for a magazine article on fleeting happiness. Jo has no interest in bearing even one child, much less being mother of the entire human race. The comet hits. Jo and Jules are trapped in the lab.

Hilarity ensues, and we get to watch. It's all overseen by Barbara (Gretchen Krich), something of a narrator and one-woman Greek chorus. When she's not griping about the management she's pulling levers and banging the drum, and not slowly. To say more would spoil the punch line -- and you're a genius if you see it coming.

Weisenheimer loves both Garrison and Rives (pictured at right in the production photo by Chris Bennion). Garrison was incredible in an over-the-top performance as the Emcee in Cabaret at The 5th Avenue earlier this year, and also played a gender-bending Feste in Twelfe Night at the Rep this past season. We were in row two at the Rep's Leo K theatre, an intimate house to begin with, the better to be riveted by Garrison's wide range of facial expressions and idiosyncracies. (Though at one point, when Jo observes that "You don't have 'gay' eyes," he responds "I'm wearing contacts.") He really nails (so to speak) the sometimes slapstick, fidgety, socially inept savior of the race. Rives is a ball of fire as Jo, who chronicles each of her hundreds of suicide attempts in the lab, all of which fail (though one was pretty close.) She's a whirlwind who has a chip on her shoulder, and we're pretty sure it was there before the end of the world. Weisenheimer also enjoyed her performance as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire at Intiman this year. She also was in The Lady From Dubuque at the Rep last year. She's a marvelous talent and one to watch.

boom, directed by Jerry Manning, has been extended through Dec. 21. Go!