Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sex, drugs, and chamber music at the Rep

A marvelous cast and a wonderful script make Opus, a play by Michael Hollinger directed by Braden Abraham at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, a treat not to be missed.

Opus is the tale of the award-winning Lazara String Quartet and the personal and professional relationships between the players. They're preparing for a big gig at the White House, but also auditioning for a new viola player. The "sex, drugs, and chamber music" line from the play's promotional materials is a bit of hyperbole; the sex is inferred and the drugs are mostly pharmaceutical. But another line from the Rep's flyers touting the "all-star local cast" is spot on.

First violin Elliot, a control freak and total prick played deliciously by Allen Fitzpatrick, has engineered the sacking  from the quartet of Dorian (Todd Jefferson Moore), his former lover. The players agree that Dorian is the most talented musician of the bunch, but he's also a little "buggy" and the flightiness finally gets to be too much to bear. As the show opens Grace (Chelsey Rives), a talented young woman musician, auditions and wins Dorian's seat in the group. Bass player Carl (Charles Leggett) provides the grounding for the quartet musically and personally. Second violin Alan (Shawn Belyea) has great feeling, showing concern for the well-being of the others in the group, and develops an eye for Grace. All five cast members give delightful performances.

Hollinger, a violinist himself before becoming a playwright, weaves his dialog like music, bringing the various voices together beautifully. While taking on some challenging subject matter--making art, the bickering, ambition, and egos involved, and how personal relationships can affect the final product--Hollinger does so with good humor. The show is never sappy and the ending isn't at all pat.

The music is handled well. While in general we don't care so much for the use of recorded music in live theater, it would have been impossible to find five superb string players who are also marvelous actors. So while the music is actually recordings of the Vertigo String Quartet out of Philadelphia, the choreography of the actors gives an authentic and plausible look to their playing, even though they aren't.

A spoiler here:

At the end Dorian comes back with a proposal. He, the better musician, should replace Elliot, his former lover, in the group. The quartet agrees. In a dispute over proper ownership of a prized Lazara violin, Carl smashes the instrument on a chair. Shrapnel from the shattered masterpiece flew into the audience, and Weisenheimer snagged a piece of theater prop souvenir. It's pictured in my photo above, on top of a show program!

UPDATE: With the run of the show ending tomorrow, John Levesque reports on that a total of 55 violins gave up their lives in Opus. They weren't just stage props, they were real violins, beginner models, that the Rep bought for about $30 each!

Opus runs through Dec. 6 in the Rep's Leo K theatre. Don't miss it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Weisenheimer gets new astronomy writing gig

The header of West Seattle Weisenheimer specifically calls out astronomy as one of the topics of the blog. Yet out of 138 posts since we fired this thing up in August of aught-8, I count only five with the tag of "astronomy." Three of those are mainly just whines about how crappy the weather is around here for making astronomical observations. Now, I've taken a (potentially) paying gig writing a column for called Seattle Astronomy Examiner.

My first post is up. It's about a talk author/astronomer Ken Croswell made at last week's Seattle Astronomical Society meeting about his latest book, The Lives of Stars. Croswell also spoke at the Pacific Science Center over the weekend. He's visited Seattle and the SAS six or seven times over the years promoting his books. That's a pic at right that I shot of Croswell signing copies of The Lives of Stars after his talk.

Part of the reason that I haven't put much astronomy here is that I was getting my astro-writing fix by editing The Webfooted Astronomer, the newsletter of the Seattle Astronomical Society. I gave that up in late summer due to time constraints. Now I'm giving some other stuff up in order to work on the Seattle Astronomy Examiner column.

It's a "potentially" paying gig because remuneration is based on traffic to the site, links to it, and other Internet stuff. So please go there, bookmark it, and spread the word to others who may be of astronomical mind. I thank you for that, and promise to try not to complain about the weather. Not too much, anyway.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Balagan men go all the way!

Shout it from the rooftops: The guys in Balagan Theatre's production of The Full Monty do indeed do the full Monty. Balagan's show, directed by Jake Groshong, is a fun and funny evening of entertainment.

I want to spread the word on the FULL-FRONTAL MALE NUDITY thing because I've already been scolded by a friend for not letting her know about it in big, red, capital letters. After expressing her interest in the subject matter, my friend said, "I am looking forward to seeing how they can stage that show in such a little place. And the music is SO GOOD!" Right on the latter. On the former, it's not polite to use the word "little" in a show featuring FULL-FRONTAL MALE NUDITY. As for the staging, the key to the space is a big turntable that rotates about one of Balagan's basement-theatre pillars. Props to set designer Jen Butler for the concept and tech whiz Ed Cook III for making it work. (Cook, by the way, is so damn good he's been snapped up by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to build sets in Ashland.)

There are the brave gents above at right, in a Balagan photo by M. Elizabeth Eller. From left to right: Butch Stevenson (Horse), Mark Abel (Harold), Austin Garrison (Malcolm), Evan Woltz (Dave), Jon Lutyens (Jerry), and Josh Whitling (Ethan). They are not exactly the Temptations, but the guys can bring it and sing it. Egging them on are the women, at left also in a photo by Eller. Left to right: Tracy Leigh (Vicky), Danielle Barnum (Pam), Christine Nelson (Ensemble), Alyssa Keene (Georgie), Hannah Schnabel (Ensemble), and Wonder Russell (Ensemble). They ARE Temptations, as you can see, but musically they are like Vandellas.

The story is familiar and the music is wonderful. Favorite numbers for Weisenheimer were Stevenson's rendition of "Big Black Man", a wonderfully touching version of "You Walk With Me" by Garrison and Whitling, the hilarious "Big Ass Rock", a touching song about murder and suicide done by Lutyens, Woltz, and Garrison, and "The Goods" by the whole darn cast.

There were a couple of familiar faces in the show. Yes, FACES. Woltz was recently in a fine production of Gutenberg! The Musical! at ArtsWest, as was pianist Kimberly Dare. Woltz is a pretty funny dude. And let's give a well-deserved shout-out for Bobby Temple, the choreographer who kept everyone stepping in the same direction! It was no small task to wedge all of the action into a small space, but it worked marvelously.

Kudos to Groshong and the cast for a great show, and to the guys for having the balls to go Full Monty. The show runs at Balagan through Nov. 28. So go!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Dang it! We might have to make TWO trips to Ashland next year.

The 2010 Oregon Shakespeare Festival season is looking so good that we might have to make two trips to Ashland next year.

The member early ticket purchase window is about to open, and so I was nosing around the OSF Web pages. With 2009 wrapped up after record ticket sales, the site now has next season's casts listed. We'd already heard in June that Dan Donohue, who was so great as Iago in OSF's 2008 production of Othello, was coming back in 2010 to play Hamlet. But there's lots more fascinating casting news on the site now.

The most interesting nugget I found was in the cast for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Seattle favorite Michael Winters will be playing "Big Daddy" in the Tennessee Williams classic. Winters was amazing as Prospero in this year's production of The Tempest at Seattle Shakespeare Company, and did a great turn as Grandpa last year in You Can't Take it With You at the Seattle Rep. (That's Winters as Prospero at right in a Seattle Shakes photo by John Ulman.) Winters has played at OSF before, but not since Weisenheimer and my Sweetie, the official scorer, have attended.

The rub is that Cat is one of the festival's early-season plays, running Feb. 20 through July 4, while we always go in September. A May trip to Ashland may be in order.

We're also jazzed about The Merchant of Venice, which will star Anthony Heald as Shylock, Jonathan Haugen as Antonio, and Vilma Silva as Portia. We're big fans of all three. Heald and Haugen were co-winners of our "Wisey" award for 2008 best supporting actor for their performances in The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler. They also were together in this year's Equivoaction, which is coming to the Seattle Rep later this month surrounded by considerable Wisey buzz. Silva, too, claimed a Wisey, for best supporting actress, in 2008. She and Heald were marvelous in this year's otherwise so-so production of Henry VIII at OSF.

Lastly, Weisenheimer is looking forward to Miriam Laube as Olivia in Twelfth Night. Sweetie isn't so crazy about Laube, but I think she's super fine!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

ACT's Rock 'n' Roll hits all the right notes

Take a marvelous script by Tom Stoppard, mix in a talented cast led by a pair of Seattle treasures, top it off with direction by Kurt Beattie, and you get a fabulously entertaining production of Rock 'n' Roll at ACT Theatre.

Anne Allgood and Denis Arndt shine. Arndt, as the Marxist college professor Max, ages 22 years in the three hours of the play. Allgood -- a most aptly named actor -- actually gets younger, playing Max's wife Eleanor, a classics prof, in the first act and their daughter Esme in the second. Arndt is a delightfully curmudgeonly old coot throughout. Matthew Floyd Miller is well up to the task as Jan, Max's student, who returns to his native Prague after the Soviet invasion of 1968, armed only with a suitcase full of rock albums.

Several other performances stand out. Peter Crook is Ferdinand, a Czech writer. Jessica Martin is a pistol as young Esme and, in the second act, Esme's daughter Alice. Alexandra Tavares burns up the stage as Lenka, Eleanor's poetry student who flirts with Max in the first act and, by the end, hooks up with him.

While it's set during the time of the cultural revolution in Prague and there are many discussions about politics, art, and culture, Rock 'n' Roll is really all about our relationships with ourselves and with each other more than it's about our relationship with the state. The play is a bit long, and occasionally a little preachy. But the pacing is right on and the performances so marvelous that the time flies wondrously. The poetry of Sappho and Pink Floyd is sprinkled liberally throughout, and the show ends at a Rolling Stones concert in Prague in 1990, with everyone living pretty happily ever after.

Weisenheimer has had a thing for Stoppard ever since reading and seeing a performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead while in college. Rock 'n' Roll does not disappoint.