Monday, November 29, 2010

Don't call me Shirley

I'm taking mortality much more personally these days.

I don't think it really has much to do with being over 50. On the whole, I like being my present age way more than I've liked any other age, especially considering the alternative. Maybe part of it is that I already know the way I'll shuffle off this mortal coil—broken neck, tripped on stairs by cats—I just don't know when. For whatever reason, it hits harder when someone else runs up the curtain.

I spent much of Thanksgiving thinking about the departed. My dad has been gone for 10 years now, and I miss him badly. But I was more in mind of a couple of more recent passages.

When looking for a wine to go with Thanksgiving dinner I came across a 2005 Burgundy we'd purchased through the  collector's club at West Seattle Wine Cellars. I looked up the notes on the wine from long-time owner Bear Silverstein, which said to keep our mitts off of it for a few years. Always obedient, we stashed it in our own cellar. Bear was right, as usual. It was great this weekend. Bear had been ill for several years, and died in January. But he still brings joy to all of us West Seattle Winos and even sober people who were touched by his generosity and gentle, kind spirit. Thanks, Bear!

George Shangrow. Photo: OSSCS.
My Sweetie, the official scorer, put a bunch of classical music on our Sonos shuffle for the day. One of the tunes that came up at random was the "Amen" from Handel's Messiah, a recording by Orchestra Seattle and Seattle Chamber Singers, led by George Shangrow. I think the Amen, as envisioned by Shangrow, is one of the most beautiful recordings ever made. Most conductors zip through it, but Shangrow reasoned that Handel wouldn't have written this three+ hour masterpiece and then rushed through the end. Shangrow's version as done by the group is meticulous and joyous and soaring, a fitting exclamation point to a marvelous composition.

Shangrow was killed in a car crash this summer near Winthrop, but continues to bring joy to many who knew his music. Thanks, George!

Long-time Mariners' announcer Dave Niehaus died a couple of weeks ago. We managed to get his narration of Peter and the Wolf to come up on the system this weekend. I expect my Sweetie rigged it so that would happen. It's funny, when we first heard that recording, in the car on the radio, we couldn't place the voice. He wasn't doing baseball! Thanks, Dave, for making Mariners baseball seem interesting when it usually just sucks.

Now today comes the news that the great actor Leslie Nielsen passed away at age 84. The Police Squad movies were a scream; you had to love Nielsen's umpire dance, and appreciate that he prevented Reggie Jackson from killing the Queen. But I especially loved him in Airplane!, which included two of my all-time favorite jokes. I love the bit where Nielsen's Dr. Rumack explains that people need to go to the hospital. Flight attendant Elaine asks, "The hospital? What is it?" Rumack responds, "It's a big building with patients, but that's not important now." The other is the great "Surely, you can't be serious." "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley" routine. I spend most of my waking hours looking for a way to slip one of those in during the day's discourse. I wish I knew more people named Shirley. I love the Shirley joke so much that my Sweetie and I made it, along with the Marx Brothers' rendition of "Everyone Says I Love You", part of a video we made for a wedding shower back in the olden days. We used to get all of our video on VHS back then, and we LIKED it that way! Gotta get those converted.

Anyway, thanks, Leslie! I'll be doing your jokes and thinking of you right up until the time some cat sends me on a fatal tumble down the stairs.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hamlet remains undecided

Two fictional characters and a renowned theologian walk into a bar. Two acts later, despite much witticism, nothing is decided, though some thought is provoked, by the Seattle Shakespeare Company production of Wittenberg by David Davalos, directed by Rita Giomi.

Luther (Michael Patten), Hamlet (Connor Toms), and Faustus
(Chad Kelderman) in Seattle Shakespeare Company's production
of Wittenberg by David Davalos. Photo by John Ulman.
The story of the show is that Martin Luther, instigator of the protestant reformation, and Dr. John Faustus, fictional seller of his soul to the devil, are on the faculty of the University of Wittenberg, and Hamlet is a senior there though, not surprisingly, he still hasn't settled on a major. Luther (Michael Patten) and Faustus (Chad Kelderman) spar over the age-old debate of faith versus reason, their discussion spurred in part by recent writing by Polish scholar Nick Copernicus that the Sun, not the Earth, is at the center of it all. Hamlet (Connor Toms), true to form, tries to see both sides and is indeed helped by both. As it turns out, Luther's 95 theses were written in response to something of a bar bet. Faustus challenged Luther to come up with 100 things wrong with the church.

It seemed like Hamlet was about to get all of the answers when word came from Denmark that his father was dead, and he had to skedaddle for Elsinore.

It's a pretty damn smart play, though by coincidence a friend who is a Lutheran parson was at the same performance we attended and had a few quibbles with Davalos' version of Luther's theology. That aside, Davalos has clearly seen the inside of a church and a theater, and weaves scores of Hamlet references into the text. There must have been eight or 10 takes on the to-be-or-not-to-be soliloquy alone.

A few quibbles with the performances. This is a heavily wordy play, and there were a few obvious stumbles along the way. And an otherwise wonderful scene, in which Hamlet plays tennis with invisible off-stage foe Laertes, fell a bit short when Toms' swings got out of sync with the sound effect of racket smacking invisible ball. My Sweetie, the official scorer, missed most of that scene, as spectators Faustus and his floozy Helen (Michelle Chiachiere, who was wonderful as all the women in the show, from barmaid to Holy Mother) were essentially seated in her lap on the front-row aisle for the match. She did, however, get a close look at the costumes!

All in all, though, this is a marvelous play and a great partner to the other production Seattle Shakes is running at present, a straight-up Hamlet that is spectacular.

Go see. Both run through Dec. 5. There's great stuff happening at Seattle Shakes.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dial M for Metro Mayhem

This is the tale of the sixteenth of an inch of snow that paralyzed a city, one man's quest to return home, and the Twitter conversation and now-legendary hashtag, #snOMG, that immortalized the event forever.

It all happened November 22, 2010 in the city of Seattle, Washington, once a virtual oasis of moderate, maritime climate, but now a desolate arctic wasteland. A sixteenth of an inch of snow was all it took to gridlock the metropolis and turn the city streets into a frigid nightmare. This is my story.

This was the scene from outside my office at about 2:30 p.m. on the fateful day. The streets were relatively bare, and mainly just wet. But snow had started to fall, mostly obscuring the Space Needle. The National Weather Service had been warning about snow and a cold blast for several days. A TV truck was in my West Seattle neighborhood that morning, waiting for something, anything, to spin out and crash. Alas, nothing. The morning commute went off without a hitch.

But in mid-afternoon things started to go sideways. Schools closed early. People started heading for home. At Independent Colleges of Washington, we've tied our weather closure schedule to that of Seattle University. If SU shuts down, so do we.

Shortly after I snapped this photo, word went up on the Seattle U website that they were closing up shop at three. Vamoose, they said, and so did we. Most of my colleagues had enough sense to make a bee-line for home. I, on the other hand, had an appointment for a haircut at 4:30 p.m. with Julie down at the 4th & Madison Capelli's. I figured I'd head on down and see what was up. Maybe they'd be closed, too, or maybe some snow chickens would have canceled out, and I could get an early ear-lowering and be on my way. Sure enough, Julie's 3:30 was a no-show, I slipped into the chair, and by 4:15 I pulled my wool cap down over my fresh haircut, smooshed it down, and headed down to the bus stop at First and Marion.

It was here that it became apparent that there was trouble afoot. Traffic wasn't much moving, and a police car was blocking the Columbia Street on-ramp to the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which was closed due to excess slipperiness. Any West Seattle-bound buses would have to trundle down First Avenue with everyone else.

If there were any West Seattle-bound buses.

4:48 p.m. My Sweetie, the official scorer, sent me a text message that she was worried, mainly due to all of the stories of mayhem she's reading on the Internets, including the local news source West Seattle Blog. I text back not to worry, that I was at the bus stop, and that a route 21 was approaching. I decided to pass that one up and wait for one that might bring me a little closer to home.

5:03 p.m. Sweetie texts: "I'm really worried. Maybe u should find some place warm to hang out for a while? Apparently no WS buses are getting through." Don't worry, I replied.

5:51 p.m. "Just boarded the 57," I texted. "It's much warmer than the street corner." It was a long wait, but I could still feel my toes. Later I learned much of Sweetie's worry-wartiness was because she didn't realize I was wearing wool socks and sensible show footwear.

6:47 p.m. Sweetie texts that lots of people are trying to walk home to West Seattle. My response: "It's warm on the bus. Almost to the ballpark." This after nearly an hour on board.

8:08 p.m.

After a little over two hours on the bus, our driver took a vote on whether it would be OK to pull over across from Krispy Kreme and dash over there for a bio break. Who knows how long he had been on the bus at this point? The proposal was approved, a good half of the riders, and the driver, dashed over to pee, and several came back with donuts and coffee. The break lasted about 20 or 25 minutes. I don't think we lost a lot of ground to others who stayed in their vehicles. I'm doing fine, despite throwing extra r's onto Krispy Kremer.

9:14 p.m. "Where u at?" Sweetie texts. "Home Depot. But moving more quickly, not that that would take much." I tweeted about the milestone, too. Three hours, 20 minutes, nearly two miles covered. Being at Home Depot, I wondered if we needed any covers for our outdoor water faucets, or if they're hopelessly frozen already.

Indeed. Plus, unfortunately we started to get further and further away from our intended destination. Seeing a big, non-moving line of traffic on the detour to the West Seattle low bridge, and not knowing if we could traverse the bridge should we ever get to it, our driver opted to plow on down First Avenue, past Spokane Street, destination, unknown.

10:16 p.m.

The good thing was, traffic wasn't so heavy down there. But we weren't sure there was a plan. Orionp thought the road trip aspect was intriguing, and I responded that I hoped the driver was headed for Cabo. Sweetie texted "Where u at?" My response: "No idea anymore. Somewhere on First Avenue South of Spokane."

Interestingly enough, we moved well enough on First for a while until we reached a bottleneck approaching the First South Bridge. Once through the bottleneck, though, something amazing happened. We zipped across the bridge, swung back northbound and rolled up West Marginal Way at a high rate of speed (something topping 20 mph, I think), slipped into West Seattle and shot up Avalon Way. There was one last scary moment; a brief bottleneck forced us to stop halfway up Avalon. Dang! We're on a hill! So close and now we're doomed! Fortunately, the bus was chained up and handled the hill with no problem. We dropped off some folks at the Alaska Junction, then made a few more stops along California Avenue SW until we got to Admiral Way. I hopped off, went to Metropolitan Market, picked up the provisions I'd been expected to bring home around six, and walked the last half mile down the hill and home. By the lack of footprints in the snow, I was the only idiot who had walked by in some time.

11:16 p.m. Made it! A bus trip (blue line in the map) that was expected to be about five miles and maybe 20-25 minutes wound up being 11.5 miles (orange line) and taking more than five hours. The strange part was the fact that the trip down First Avenue took the bulk of the time. Though I didn't time it precisely, I think that once we made the turn and headed back north along West Marginal, it didn't take much more than half an hour or 40 minutes to get all the way to Admiral. Throw in a little grocery shopping and a 10-minute walk home, and you've got about a 5 hour, 15 minute commute.

Hats off to our driver, who was great, and all of the passengers, who were mostly in good humor and happy to be warm.

With the advance warning we had for this storm, it doesn't seem it should have been such a disaster. Yet a couple of facts remain. Seattle is not ready for winter weather, and a significant number of Seattle people have no idea how to drive in icy conditions. Until they promise to stay home, we should just button up the city until it all blows over.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My, oh my

The no-crying-in-baseball rule has been suspended until further notice. Dave Niehaus, voice of the Seattle Mariners since their inception in 1977, died today of a heart attack at the age of 75.

Dave Niehaus in the Kingdome broadcast booth.
I could not have imagined what a sock in the gut that news would turn out to be. Nor could I have imagined, in our everyone-is-a-journalist world, that I'd first learn of the news through a Facebook note from the United States' alternate representative to the United Nations, a guy who used to live around the corner from us and was, in headier times, mayor of Seattle.

This was my third weepy Mariner moment. The first, and hardest, was at what was correctly assumed to be the last game for the great Alvin Davis as a Mariner in 1991. (Yes, I've been flaunting the no-crying rule for a couple of decades.) The second, Edgar's last game. Niehaus' passing is really tough, though, because mortality seems so gawdawful permanent.

On the surface it seems a little strange to get all worked up over the passing of someone you don't know. I actually met Niehaus a time or two, in a  pass-the-mustard (and rye bread) sort of way, a few lifetimes ago when I was a cub radio reporter and was at virtually every M's home game in the mid-80s. We would occasionally rub shoulders in the press box. Then again, it also seems strange to say you don't know a guy who turned up in your house, your car, or your back yard every night between April and October for 34 years.

With the exception of the aberrant years from 1995 until about 2002, the Mariners have always sucked. In the early days, while still in college, my friends and I formed the Dave Niehaus Fan Club. We had a big "My Oh My" sign, my friend Chuck played the "charge" call on his trumpet, and the broadcast team talked on-air about how Dave must have paid some college kids in the right field bleachers to form a fan club. (There was little to cheer or broadcast about between Rupe Jones and Ken Griffey, Jr.) So we latched on to the king of rye bread, mustard, grand salami time, fly away, and my-oh-my.

But oh, that glorious year of 1995. We nearly missed it entirely. My Sweetie, the official scorer, and I were celebrating our first anniversary in 1994 and on vacation in California's Bay Area, with tickets to Giants and A's games, when Major League Baseball went on strike. We found that we could have fun in San Francisco without baseball. So in '95 we said the hell with 'em, and didn't go to a single game. That is, not until the M's went on their improbable run. We started to go to games in August, and even when we didn't go, on walks around the neighborhood we'd hear the voice of Dave Niehaus coming from radios on every porch, in every back yard, in every car. Refuse to Lose fever was with the entire city right up to the all-time pinnacle of Mariners baseball: the double. The M's could win the World Series 10 years in a row, and it wouldn't be as good as that amazing three days of baseball in a big concrete garage.

This year was the first since 1976 that I did not attend a single Mariners game. We gave up our cable TV several years ago, upon the realization that mostly what we watched was M's baseball, and that this was too painful to pay for. This summer we seldom even listened on the radio after June or so as the club worked to get its photo placed into the dictionary next to the definition of "pathetic." It is with a tinge of regret that I missed much of Dave's last season, even though it seemed, in the last few years, he wasn't really watching the games closely any more. But, given the team he had to cover, who could blame him?

As I think of Dave Niehaus and his untimely death, I think of a great song by Steve Goodman called "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request." I modify one of the lines of the song for what could be the dying M's announcer's last request:

"I've got season's tickets to watch the Angels now, and that's just what I'm going to do. But you, the living, you're stuck here with the M's, so it's me who should feel sorry for you."

Rest in peace, Dave Niehaus. Thanks for bringing hope and optimism and excitement and tall tales to our summers.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pass the yellow pages

"I'd pay to watch those guys read the phone book."

That's our code for seeing really great performers in a so-so production, and I found myself thinking of looking up a few numbers after seeing Seattle Rep's October production of Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage. Director Wilson Milam landed a super cast for this show—Hans Altwies, Denis Arndt, Bhama Roget, and Amy Thone—but in the end it didn't add up to much.

L-R: Hans Altwies, Denis Arndt, and Bhama Roget in Seattle
Rep's production of God of Carnage. Photo: Chris Bennion.
Arndt and Roget's kid had whacked Altwies and Thone's kid in the face with a stick and knocked out some teeth. The play is the parents' discussion of what they're going to do about this playground altercation. You just know it's not going to go well. They're all pretty much irredeemable, and the booze doesn't help. But they all have their venomous strengths. Roget proves great at theatrical projectile vomiting, and Altwies proved his comic chops cleaning it up. Arndt is an attorney for a drug company, and his cell phone buzzes constantly. The relationships head straight down the drain.

Still during it all I couldn't help thinking about Arndt in a much better play on the same subject, when he teamed up with Elizabeth Huddle under the direction of Warner Shook for a production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Intiman in 1994. Sixteen years later the spark and fire of that great show is vivid in my memory. By comparison, God of Carnage was a soggy phone book left out in the rain.

I'm not sure where to lay blame. Reza is all the rage these days. Was it her play? Christopher Hampton's translation? Milam's direction? (He really nailed Glengarry Glen Ross earlier this year, and I notice our Weisenheimer review has a phone book reference in it!)

I love these actors, so let's go get them some better material.

Monday, November 8, 2010

GreenStage Macbeth is a fun splatter-fest

GreenStage is really onto something with its "hard bard" indoor shows for Halloween. Last year's production of Titus Andronicus was a laugh riot drenched in theater gore. This year's Macbeth, directed by Ken Holmes, wasn't quite so bloody as Titus, but there were still plenty of gashes and gags to keep the audience in stitches.

Amelia Meckler, left, and Ryan Spickard as Lady Macbeth
and Macbeth. Photo: GreenStage.
Ryan Spickard and Amelia Meckler were marvelous as Macbeth and Lady M. Though one had to feel a bit for Spickard, who was often upstaged by the antics of the rest of the cast. He was doing a pretty straight Macbeth, or at least as straight as could be given the circumstances, while everyone else really hammed it up with over-the-top performances.

Every once in a while we lament that some folks take their Shakespeare way too seriously. GreenStage does not have that problem! Holmes and company are skilled at re-imagining these plays as so violent they become humorous, and finding countless little touches in the text that take on a whole new meaning given their interpretations. The Banquo (Sam Hagen) haunting-the-king scene was wickedly funny. My favorite touch: having the "minor" thanes do all of their lines as a barbershop quartet. Inspired! They're not making fun of the plays at all, just pushing them to their limits. They're smart interpretations that tell the stories incredibly well.

GreenStage plans to produce Antony & Cleopatra and The Tempest for their outdoor season next summer. We hope they'll be back with another bloody good hard Bard show next fall.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hamlet at Seattle Shakes: Wow. Just. Wow.

Hamlet must be one of the most produced plays in theater. I bet I've seen a couple of dozen productions on stage and screen, from Laurence Olivier to Mel Gibson to Kenneth Branagh to Shawn Law in 2008 with GreenStage to a stirring performance by Dan Donohue at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this year. But even though (spoiler alert!) everyone dies, I can't remember crying at the end of Hamlet until Mike Dooly's Horatio bade "Goodnight, sweet prince" in a cracking voice during the final scene of Seattle Shakespeare Company's production last Friday.

"Goodnight, sweet prince." Mike Dooly
(right) as Horatio bids adieu to Darragh
Kennan's Hamlet in the Seattle Shakespeare
Company production. Photo: John Ulman.
Director John Langs has molded a triumphant Hamlet out of an amazing cast that starts with Darragh Kennan in the title role. Many a director has fallen to the temptation to make the Melancholy Dane a prince paralyzed by grief and indecision. Kennan, however, plays a sharp Hamlet who mourns his father, yes, but is smart and funny and altogether with it throughout. Local treasures Charles Leggett (ghost, gravedigger) and David Pichette (Polonius) are fabulous. Richard Ziman is cold and calculating as King Claudius. Law is Laertes this time and delights, especially in the closing-scene swordplay. Brenda Joyner is sassy but obedient Ophelia, at least until her father dies and she goes off the deep end herself. Dooly, of course, is a favorite on these pages. After the show he told us that during previews they were having trouble making the audience care about the outcome. This is no longer a problem! Kudos, really, to Langs and the whole cast. The performances were solid throughout and the results spectacular.

The set was fairly minimal. A couple of castle walls and two low tables that could be anything from a bed to a grave were about all that was needed. Langs came up with an interesting way to keep the ghostly King Hamlet present throughout the play.

It's always interesting to see the same play performed by different companies during the same year. We had just seen a marvelous production of Hamlet in September at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Donohue was great and Hamlet may rank as OSF's best this year, and while we haven't written most of our Ashland reviews yet (we've been busy!) I would venture to say that the Seattle Shakes version was a touch better! That may be fodder for a whole other post once (if!) we get the OSF Hamlet review written. In the meantime, while OSF has wrapped for the season, you have almost another month to see Hamlet at Seattle Shakespeare Company, where it plays through Dec. 5. I recommend it highly.

Boho's last brunch

Our weekend routine has been utterly disrupted with the disappointing news that today was the last day for Sunday brunch at The Bohemian in West Seattle.

We wrote back in June that the Boho's marvelous brunch had become a weekly routine, and it had continued to be so. We'd missed on a few occasions in September and October, mostly because of travel, but when we're in town my Sweetie, the official scorer, and I almost always go there.

That is, we almost always went.

Chef Jason told us today that brunch in West Seattle has become a pretty competitive game. They gave theirs nearly two years, but never were able to achieve the brunch customer base they needed to make it pay off. So, after agonizing over the decision for several months, he says they're throwing in the towel on Sunday brunch in order to focus on their dinner service.

Go see them. In addition to marvelous food and drink, the Bohemian supports local artists and musicians, too. Good food, great folks, and a nice spot. Thanks for brightening our Sundays for the last year or more. We'll see you around in the evenings.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

OSF: Henry IV, Part One is a delight

After seeing a marvelous production of Henry IV, Part One at Oregon Shakespeare Festival my Sweetie, the official scorer, and I got to wondering why the Bard’s history plays don’t seem to get the play that some of the others do.

Not one of the history plays is in the top 10 most-produced shows at OSF. This year is the 75th anniversary of the festival, and its two most-produced plays are Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice, both of which were produced both this season and in the festival’s first year, 1935. The all-time top 10:
(See a full rundown of the history of OSF productions.)

Prince Hal (John Tufts, top) comforts a
dying Hotspur (Kevin Kenerly) in Oregon
Shakespeare Festival's production of

Henry IV, Part One. Photo: Jenny Graham.
This year marks just the seventh time that OSF has produced Henry IV, Part One. Part of the reason may be that they’ve almost always produced part one, part two, and Henry V in consecutive years in order to tell the full story of Prince Hal. The first time they produced it was in 1950, and they’ve done it about every 10 years since. Perhaps history is too much work for some playgoers. Part of it may be box office, too. A friend who works for the festival says Henry is lagging behind some of the other offerings in ticket sales.

This is a pity, as it is an excellent production, directed by Penny Metropulos and packed with some of Ashland’s top talents.

The story isn’t all that complicated. Prince Hal, slacker son of the king, would rather spend his time at the pub than at court. In the end, though, he steps up his game and helps pops quell the rebellion.

We’re especially excited about John Tufts, who was so great in last year’s Equivocation, played Romeo a couple of years ago, and will, we presume, play Prince Hal again next year in Part Two and in 2012 in Henry V. David Kelly is hilarious as Sir John Falstaff, James Newcomb fiendish as Earl of Worcester, and Kevin Kennerly fantastic as Henry “Hotspur” Percy.

A special tip of the cap, too, to U. Jonathan Toppo, who played Sir Walter Blunt and also was the fight director for the production. This was one of the most physical productions we’ve seen, concluding with several lengthy and realistic swordfights. It’s a wonder nobody gets chopped up! The choreography of these stage fights is meticulous and precise, and the battles were a joy to watch.

Hurry up if you want to see this great production. Henry IV, Part One runs through October 9 at OSF’s Elizabethan Stage. It might be a decade until your next chance.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing from Wooden O

Beatrice and Benedick are two of my favorite characters in all of Shakespeare, and definitely my favorite couple, and it was an absolute treat to see real-life married couple Amy Thone and Hans Altwies in the roles this summer at Wooden O's outdoor production smartly directed by Sheila Daniels. We loved it so much we saw it twice.

Photo: John Ulman
Daniels set the play down in the bayou, with everyone in gauzy white cotton and linen, and traditional foot-stomping music and dancing and singing ably performed by the live musicians and cast. It was hard not to join in!

Daniels took a fresh romp through the play's high-jinks and physical comedy. There were some delightful images as Benedick got tangled up in a line of laundry. And Beatrice became part of the furniture as she "hid," a compromising position which Hero took advantage of to deliver a sound spanking. Benedick wasn't obvious at all hiding beneath an upturned boat.

My only quibble is the decision to eliminate the uncle and replace him with Beatrice in the confrontation scene with Don Pedro and Claudio. While Beatrice is certainly spunky enough to take them on, it doesn't fit with what comes before and after, and I found it jarring.

Otherwise, it was a fresh, hilarious, delightful approach to this timeless comedy, with a uniformly strong cast, anchored by Altwies and Thone. I wonder if the setting was chosen for Altwies; he has a languid, fluid, graceful physicality that made me almost feel the heat and humidity. Thone wrung the most out of every pregnant line and significant look. And their chemistry crackled.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog a smash hit at Balagan Theatre

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was a smash hit this summer at Balagan Theatre. A three-week run starting Aug. 20 completely sold out, as did an extended series of late-night performances, including two this weekend that had to be canceled because of illness.

Weisenheimer admits to a growing chasm of cultural literacy. While most everyone about was all ga-ga about the prospect of Dr. Horrible on stage, I had no idea what anybody was talking about. If you were with me in that boat, it turns out the original Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was created in 2008 as an Internet flick. Joss Whedon, creator of the television version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer among other hits, his brothers Zack and Jed, and actress Maurissa Tancharoen wrote it during the WGA writer's strike. The film starred Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, and Felicia Day. You can find the videos all over the 'net these days.

The Balagan version was directed by Eric Ankrim, who also played the title role. Jake Groshong played Captain Hammer, and Annie Jantzer starred as Penny, their mutual love interest. All three were fabulous, as were the entire cast.

Jake Groshong as Capt. Hammer throttles
Eric Ankrim as Dr. Horrible in Balagan
Theatre's production of
Dr. Horrible's
Sing-Along Blog.
Photo: Tartan Photography.
Despite the fact that the original was an Internet sensation, the Balagan team was able to resist the temptation to go too wild with technology in the play, though the webcam and projection screen were inspired centerpieces to the relatively spare set. They also added some new musical numbers to the show, which those familiar with the originals say are faithful to the style of the online version.

Weisenheimer made a cameo appearance as "the mayor" on the opening night of the run, which was coincidentally my birthday. Fortunately, this had little negative impact on future ticket sales.

If you missed it, don't be too sad. It's likely Balagan will bring it back at a new location soon. Stay tuned to the theater's website or the Dr. H Facebook page for news.

We're back!

Forgive me father, for I have sinned. It has been nearly three months since my last blog post.

Though I must say I have not been swamped with concerned messages from people wondering where I've been.

We've sort of been at the theatre. My Sweetie, the official scorer, and I have seen 37 plays since our last post on July 9. The number is a bit inflated by counting 21 plays at three nights of the 14/48 festival all individually, but that still means we've been out to 19 separate events, including eight this week from where we sit in Ashland at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

What has happened since I last wrote? I've done numerous posts for my Seattle Astronomy Examiner column for Thank you, loyal readers of same, those few of you out there. Examiner has been going through a site redesign that still has some bugs in it, but a number of annoying things appear to be fixed, including an RSS feed that insisted on digging up old posts from the past and sending you dead URLs for them. Consider subscribing if you're interested in things celestial. I've also been writing a lot for Arches magazine at University of Puget Sound, doing book reviews and the occasional feature article. The Mariners have dropped an additional 11 games in the standings, are now 28 games out of first, will finish with the second-worst record in baseball, and stand an excellent chance of losing 100 games again. Oh, and I discovered a typo in that July 9 post. Corrected. Ten weeks should be sufficient for proofreading.

Theatre highlights:

Seattle Outdoor Theatre Festival. Much Ado About Nothing was a highlight.

Ruined at Intiman Theatre. New executive director Kate Whoriskey brought her acclaimed New York production to Seattle, adding a couple of locals to the cast, and it was a triumph. It was a great start for Whoriskey and gives us hope for Intiman, which we hadn't much liked in the last several years under Bart Sher.

The 14/48 Festival played at Theatre Off Jackson, and was fun as always. One that was particularly memorable was Dorkfest, a play that hit a little too close to home about three dorks getting together to play board games. Brandon Whitehead and Seanjohn Walsh fell into a giggle-loop, ala Harvey Korman and Tim Conway, and couldn't stop laughing. Neither could we.

The Glass Menagerie at Jewel Box Theatre in Poulsbo. Our friend Gary McVey is the board chair for JBT, and we saw a delightful show in their marvelous theater.

Charles Leggett and R. Hamilton Wright were great in Yankee Tavern at ACT. The show full of 9/11 conspiracy theories was engaging, and those two are treasures.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was a smash hit at Balagan Theatre, selling out all performances, and some late-night shows during an extension. Balagan is being booted from its noodle-house-basement space, but look for the theatre, and Dr. Horrible, to surface again very soon.

Reviews of OSF plays should be posted by Thanksgiving on a blog near you.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Auf wiedersehen, Cliff Lee

Back in December when the Seattle Mariners landed Cliff Lee, about all Weisenheimer could say was, "Damn!" Now that Lee has been shipped off to the Texas Rangers for four prospects my reaction is pretty much the same, except it doesn't have the exclamation point.

I was excited about Lee, and the prospect of him teaming with Felix Hernandez as a potent 1-2 punch in the rotation. But even in that December post I rang some warning bells:

There's still the small matter of the offense. Right now we have really no idea who is going to play LF or 1B, and if you go into the season with Jose Lopez penciled in as your cleanup hitter, then that's not a happy recipe for success. Opening day, however, is still nearly four months away. I have a feeling Jack Zduriencik may know what he's doing.
Ex-Mariner Cliff Lee. AP photo.
Well, maybe not. Z did not go out and get any bats, starting the season with ancient Mariners Griffey and Sweeney on the roster. My Sweetie, the official scorer, will back me up on this: At the start of the season I predicted the M's would be 10 games back of first by the first of May. I admit I was wrong. It took nearly until the first of June for them to be 10 games back, and now, with the All-Star game (it counts, you know) at hand. They're about to drop to 17 games back.

Trading Lee makes some sense on a couple of levels. It's a reasonable presumption that, at this point, it's not likely that the M's would have been able to lock up Lee on a long-term contract. (We'll ignore, for today, the differing versions of how hard they tried to do so this spring when the notion was much more plausible.) We won't know for sure for at least three or four years, but the package of prospects they received for Lee today seems much better than the package they gave up to get him seven months ago.

Here's the thing: I am sick and tired of the Mariners always being a seller.

Who have been the marquee acquisitions for the M's over the years?  Richie Zisk? Kevin Mitchell? Pete O'Brien? Willie Horton? Gaylord Perry? Sheesh, in the magical year of 2001, when it was clear they would make some noise, who was the big help they brought in to help in July? Doug Creek.

The thing about Smoak, for those of you who have been bemoaning Casey Kotchman all season long, is that Smoak is about the same guy. Numbers this year for Kotchman: .212 BA, 6 HR, 28 RBI, .648 OPS. For Smoak: .208-8-34-.670. Smoak is 23 years old, Kotch 27, which is not a trivial difference. And even though he's a switch hitter, Smoak hasn't had much luck against left-handed pitching so far. And you know what? If Smoak turns out to be the real deal, round about 2014 they'll trade him to the Yankees rather than lose him to free agency, because we can't afford good players, even with a taxpayer-funded stadium full of poutine.

Well. I'm hoping I get to see some games in Great Falls and Helena this year.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Six best Woody Allen flicks

Apparently a week or so ago Woody Allen did an interview with The Times of London in which he listed his six favorite Woody Allen films. They are:
  • Purple Rose of Cairo
  • Match Point
  • Bullets Over Broadway
  • Zelig
  • Husbands and Wives
  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona
In Zelig Leonard Zelig (Allen, left) tries
to convince Psychologist Dr. Eudora
Fletcher (Mia Farrow) that he, too, is a
shrink and must leave because he has to
teach a course on masturbation. "If I'm
not there," he says, "they start without me."
I first found out about the story today on one of my favorite blogs, By Ken Levine. Levine disagrees with Allen's assessment. So does Vanity Fair. So does The Slog. It could be that Allen was pulling The Times' collective leg. It could be that he knew he could drum up some publicity because any numbskull or Weisenheimer with a blog would be willing to write up the correct list. It's also not clear if Allen was listing his favorite movies or the ones he thought were the best. And its impossible to find out, because you have to pay to read the paper's stuff on its website. Clearly, they didn't get the memo that said Internet content is supposed to be free, free, free.

I think all of the films on Allen's list are good, though I can't judge Vicky Christina Barcelona, which I haven't yet seen. I'm sure my Sweetie, the official scorer and keeper of the Netflix queue, will allow it into the house, especially since Queen Elizabeth is in it. Yet, I don't agree with Allen, either. Here is the Weisenheimer list of favorite Woody movies:
  • Manhattan
  • Annie Hall
  • Bullets Over Broadway
  • Zelig
  • Play It Again, Sam
  • Sleeper
If I were making a list of best Woody movies, I'd probably bump the "earlier, funny" movies, Sam and Sleeper, in favor of Crimes and Misdemeanors and Hannah and Her Sisters.

Interestingly, much of the disagreement among the various lists reveals a rift between those who love the earlier, funny movies and those who don't. Allen made a whole damn movie about the question 30 years ago, Stardust Memories, which barely misses my list. It's great because it's hilarious and because Charlotte Rampling is Hawt with a capital H. Everyone Says I Love You, Radio Days, Manhattan Murder Mystery, and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask are all high on the honorable mention list.

I love the earlier, funny ones, too, but think Allen's later work has better-developed characters, better plots, and is more beautifully photographed. They're better technically, and they're still very funny.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Omar Torrez: Virtuoso World Traveler

I don't often write about our music outings because words fail me. My overly verbal brain doesn't seem to process music into words, and that's ok. Music is a respite from words, words, more words.

But the Weisenheimer has been stacked up with book reviews and astronomy events to write about, and we're still talking about our wonderful evening at the Omar Torrez (in photo by Darien Davis) show at the Triple Door a few weeks ago; it wouldn't do to allow it to go unrecorded here in our digital scrapbook. So I'll grope around for some words....

I knew nothing about Torrez except that he plays guitar, and I hadn't heard any of his music--sadly. Torrez is the son of a friend and former co-worker of the Wisey's from his radio days who let us know about the show. I tagged along because the Weisenheimer plans all our dates and when he says "try it, it'll be fun," I go along. That pretty much sums up our courtship and a long and successful relationship since.

From the opening chords I sat up a little straighter, and then I relaxed and for the rest of the evening all my jiggly parts were jiggling. As much as I was enjoying the rockin' and rollin' and charming storytelling and tight band, I did find myself thinking "Hey, I thought this guy was supposed to be a guitar player." Well. I enjoyed the second half of the set even more than the first. I understand Torrez has been described as the Latin Jimi Hendrix. Works for me. He also put us in mind of Santana, Andres Segovia, and Jimmy Nolen. His guitar solos were all over the map, or at least the warmer climes--the American South including Texas, New Orleans, and the Delta; Mexico; Brazil; Jamaica; and Spain. I'm pretty sure Torrez can do anything that can be done with a guitar. The combination of roots rock/blues and flamenco was an especially tasty one. We've since purchased his CD Corazon de Perro and we listen to it a lot.

So there you go. We liked it. We're looking forward to the next time Omar comes back through town; we won't miss it!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Good Old Funky Music

Dear friends, the Weisenheimer and I have been married for nearly 17 years now, and we're entering a delicate negotiation in our relationship. It involves a lot of talk, quite a bit of argument, and a considerable amount of dancing. We're talking about compiling our top 100 tracks lists.

100 tracks fills up quickly. The first question is what genres are included. We agreed no classical and no Christmas. Which saves us arguing over movie music like John Williams and Gustav Holst, or filling up 75 slots with Johann Sebastian Bach and another 75 with Russian composers (Sweetie only) and using up slots on the entire Julie Andrews Firestone Christmas album, and deciding which version of Carol of the Bells (Leonard Bernstein or Trans-Siberian Orchestra?) and whether to include the little drummer boy duet with Bing Crosby and David Bowie.

We also decided vocals only. This cut deep. On the one hand, it means none of the Weisenheimer's Miles Davis, hooray. (I realize I just lost the respect of many of our friends, most of whom have excellent taste). But it's a trade-off, so it's fair - it also means none of my bluegrass guitar and fiddle. (I realize I just lost the respect of even more of our friends, most of whom have excellent taste). And no Bach chorales on the pipe organ. (I realize I just redeemed myself with a vanishingly small group of friends who are current- and ex-Lutherans, with no accounting for taste).

We're trying to decide what the right number is. Maybe we should do 250 or 500 tracks. I mean, with only 100 slots, half of those could be taken up by Ray Charles. Maybe certain artists can just be given one spot for their whole Ray, Elvis, Beatles, Temptations, Ella Fitzgerald. Or maybe whole albums could get one spot, like Sgt. Peppers or Dark Side of the Moon or Eliminator or Achtung Baby or Pearl or Thriller or Purple Rain or Born to Run or Physical Graffiti or Folsom Prison or Dixie Chicken or Goodbye Yellow Brick Road or Absolute Torch and Twang or Avalon or Blood on the Tracks or Grease or Darkness on the Edge of Town or Document or Girls Go Wild or Heartattack and Vine or How Will The Wolf Survive or Once Upon A Time or Monty Python Sings. And once we get through our top artists and albums, how do we make sure we have a slot for Eli's Coming? This isn't going to be easy....

The Weisenheimer asked what happens if our individual top 100 lists turn out to be exactly the same. I replied that in that case, we've become hopelessly boring and need to go to our threesome lists to spice things up. He can invite Salma Hayek if I get to invite Terri Weagant.

I asked what happens if we have to get divorced after sharing our top 100 lists with each other. And the Wisey replied, in that case, let's run away and elope this time. OK! 

I see real potential in this exercise for taking our relationship to the next level. For years we've argued about the best and worst US presidents. All the Weisenheimer has to do is say "Lyndon B. Johnson" and I get all riled up and the only way we can resolve it is to go to bed. With any luck this list will work the same way.

Should be fun, Wisey. The beat goes on.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Cider House Rules a triumph at Book-It

A compelling tale, a stunning cast, and marvelous direction add up to some fantastic theater at Book-It, which is returning to its beginnings with a production of John Irving's The Cider House Rules, directed by Jane Jones. The Book-It script was adapted by Peter Parnell from Irving's novel, and this direction is based on the original by Tom Hulce and Jones from 1996. The current production covers part one, and part two is coming from Book-It in September.

When we call the cast "stunning" we mean it. There's not a weak performance from Bayley to Wright. Three performances stand out in particular:

  • Peter Crook as Dr. Wilbur Larch. We've been wild about Crook since we first saw him eons ago in Lonely Planet, the first production ever staged at ArtsWest. He's a commanding presence as Dr. Larch, even as his confidence in the high calling of his work is challenged, as his ether addiction escalates, and his protege bolts for greener orchards.
  • Connor Toms as Homer Wells. Toms is rapidly becoming a favorite, with super performances recently in Two Gents at Seattle Shakes and at January's 14/48 Festival. Toms displays great range as he plays Homer literally from birth--he springs fully grown from under the clinic table on which his mother is in labor--to age 20-ish when, questioning his role at St. Clouds, he bolts, for a couple of days, with Wally and Candy.
  • Terri Weagant as Melony. Weagant is an F5 tornado as the incredibly angry young woman with a thing for Homer. She absolutely owns the stage whenever she's on it, or even above it looking out her window at the orphanage. Weagant received a Wisey nomination for best actress for The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe last August at Balagan Theatre.
Props to director Jones for keeping the action on stage moving at a usually frantic pace, with astonishing choreography that has folks moving from office to clinic to sleeping quarters to train station to abandoned logging barracks to the coast all on a spartan set. The production also includes countless little moments that display marvelous thought and attention to detail, and add some levity to what becomes a pretty heavy discussion on birth, abortion, adoption, and morality and happiness.

We're coming up on the midway point in 2010. My Sweetie, the official scorer, and I have seen nearly 50 plays (counting the 28 one-acts of 14/48 individually) and The Cider House Rules ranks among the best of them. Get out to see it at Book-It through July 11, and catch part two in September.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Our Sunday ritual at the "Boho"

If you're looking for Weisenheimer and my Sweetie, the official scorer, on Sunday mornings, you'll find us at The Bohemian. We've been having Sunday brunch there weekly for at least six months, and the Boho is the bomb! It's got it all: Great food, outstanding soundtrack, fun art from local artists, and support for local musicians. They're coming up on two years in business in West Seattle.

The Bohemian is at 3405 California
Avenue SW in West Seattle. We have
Sunday brunch there virtually every
week. We may be in a rut, but it's a
damn fine rut!
For my Sweetie, it all starts with the decaf Americano. She says the Bohemian has the best espresso in town. Being a regular Joe, I just have regular drip, and it's super fine. The menu hasn't changed a whit, though upon opening it I always observe that "they've switched to the spring menu!" Weisenheimer's favorites include the "salmon duo," a bagel with chevre, lox, smoked salmon, and all the fixin's; the "cast iron" breakfast, a scramble with potatoes, spinach, and choices of meat and cheese; dang fine crepes (I had the crab crepes this morning and they were de-lish); and house-made granola. Sweetie has been ordering the benedicts often of late, though she's also gone with the crepes, cast iron, or stuffed French toast.

The Bohemian is run by a couple of brothers. Eirik is the front-of-house guy and mixologist, while Jason, who used to be a chef for Paul Allen, we're told, mans the kitchen. Eirik knows our java order, just as Sarah, the bartender at Jak's, knows our drink order (Maker's Mark Manhattan for Sweetie, Hendrick's martini for Weisenheimer.)

Kudos to whomever picks the soundtrack at The Bohemian. It's never the same and always fabulous. You have a good chance to hear the Temptations, Billie Holiday, Miles, and Motown classics. This morning, for example, we heard "Lady Marmalade" by LaBelle, as well as a really fine cover of the Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway hit "Where is the Love?" by Jesse Campbell and Trina Barnette. I figured it was a "new" recording, and it turns out it was done in 1995, part of the soundtrack for the flick Dead Presidents. I had never heard the song or heard of the movie before. As opposite of the Mariel Hemingway character in Woody Allen's film Manhattan, it may be that I'm becoming unaware of any musical act POST-Paul McCartney.

Anyway, the Boho has marvelous food, good coffee, a kick-ass Bloody Mary, great taste in music, and is a nice 20-minute walk from our house, just the right amount to get the blood pumping on Sunday morning. They won second place in the West Seattle Herald's "best brunch" vote, in which Salty's came first. This is sort of like the ridiculous Seattle Weekly polls in which the mundane Pagliacci's wins best pizza year after year. The Bohemian puts on an amazing brunch in a great place, and we always get out of there for less than $40. See you there next Sunday!

Good wine, good cause at E.B. Foote

Burien, Washington isn't the first town one thinks of when one considers wine making and tasting. But when our friends Noel and Charlene invited us to a tasting at E.B. Foote winery in Burien, having won the same in a charity auction, my Sweetie, the official scorer, and I were game. We came away impressed, and with a case of nice juice.

You probably haven't seen E.B. Foote at your local wine shop or on a restaurant wine list. They only make about 2,000 cases of wine each year, and while a few bottles do go out to local eateries, the majority of sales are right out of their basement facility in Burien. They do online sales as well, and can ship to Washington addresses.

The label of Remembrance
features a photo of Rich
Higginbotham, former co-
owner of E.B. Foote who died
of Alzheimer's in 2008. Half
of the proceeds from sales of
Remembrance go to Alz-
heimer's research.
E.B. Foote makes mostly red wines from grapes grown in and shipped to Burien from the Columbia Valley. One of the white exceptions is "Sweet Sherill," a chardonnay with 2.5 percent residual sugar. Named after E.B. Foote owner and winemaker Sherill Miller. A sweet chardonnay was not planned, just a botched batch, but it caught on and has been a perennial favorite.

We were more attracted to the reds we tasted, particularly the 2006 "Perfect a Trois," a blend of 65 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Merlot, and 10 percent Cab Franc. Yummy.  The 2007 vintage, with a touch more Merlot and a bit less Cab, is called "Remembrance" in honor of Miller's husband, business partner, and co-winemaker Rich Higginbotham, who died of Alzheimer's Disease in 2008. Miller now donates half of all proceeds from Remembrance to Alzheimer's research at the UW. Her story was touching as she told it during a run-down of the wines featured at the tasting.

Also yummy were ETC, a five-red blend that is 63 percent Zinfandel; Rainy Day Red, a blend that's 86 percent Syrah and 14 percent Cab; a delightful, tasty Merlot; and Northwest Duet, a Cab/Merlot blend.

All of E.B. Foote's offerings are under $20. The winery's motto is, "Producing quality wines at an affordable price, because it's not about what it costs, it's about how it tastes." Miller, her small staff, and an army of volunteers deliver on that mission. E.B. Foote also hosts jazz shows and theater events, both paired with wine tasting as well. Check 'em out.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Vaudevillians get their own gig

Dr. Dan Von Dandy, left, and Miss Kitty Witless
are the Vaudevillians, doing their first full-length
concert in 90 years through next weekend at
Balagan Theatre.
The Vaudevillians have been regulars at the monthly late-night theater mash-up Schmorgasborg at Balagan Theatre ever since the thing started nearly two years ago. Now the thawed-out pair from the 1920s is playing their own late-night gig--their first full-length concert in over 90 years--at Balagan through next weekend. There are only three performances left, tonight and next Friday and Saturday, June 4 and 5.

The Vaudevillians--The Hottest Act Ever Frozen Alive--are Dr. Dan Von Dandy and his lovely wife, Miss Kitty Witless. Buried in an avalanche during a tour of Antarctica, they survived through a fluke of chemistry and were recently thawed out because of global warming. The travesty is that they came back to the United States to find that modern acts had covered their hit tunes, without giving them any credit. The Vaudevillians thus perform these "modern" hits in the way they were originally intended to be heard.

Their top tunes include "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and "Drop it Like it's Hot." Weisenheimer's personal favorite in the Vaudevillian catalog is "Piece of my Heart", made into a hit by Janis Joplin and also covered by the likes of Sammy Hagar, Mellissa Etheridge, and Faith Hill.

Even though they were frozen all those years, Von Dandy and Witless bicker on stage a lot about sex, drugs, and who gets all the credit. Witless, too, is a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen. That's part of the excitement.

Miss Kitty, aka Jerick Hoffer, recently appeared in Henry V at Seattle Shakespeare Company. Dan Von Dandy, also known as Richard Andriessen, played piano at Balagan's recent Casino Night fundraiser, but it was hard to recognize him without the frostbite.

As noted, they have been regulars at Schmorgasborg, at which they typically do one or two numbers. Weisenheimer was a little concerned that a full-length concert, with intermission, might be a little too much Vaudevillian. Gladly, there was a perfect mix of music, banter, and other schtick to make it a most entertaining evening. Catch 'em if you can. Whatta say, Kitty? Meow!!

Big laughs at Schmee's Silverstein feast

A talented cast and some bawdy material added up to a fun evening of laughs at the Theater Schmeater production of An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein, directed by Julia Griffin.

All 10 one-act plays on the evening were gems:

The auctioneer (Ashley Bagwell) ogles the goods (Alyssa Keene)
in "Going Once", one of 10 one-act plays in
An Adult Evening of
Shel Silverstein. It plays at Theater Schmeater through
June 12. Photo by Regan MacStravic.
Jen and Sherwin play a high-stakes game of who-do-you-save? in "The Lifeboat is Sinking." A forceful Lisa Viertel ultimately convinces Matthew Middleton that it's his mother that needs to be tossed into the drink to save the rest of the family.

"Smile" is a great one, in which Gibby (Middleton) is harshly interrogated by Snooky (Ashley Bagwell), Bender (Alyssa Keene), and Jimbo (Sara Coates). They take Gibby out back and do him in for designing the smiley face and coming up with a variety of grievous pop-culture catch phrases over the years.

Viertel is again brilliant as Georgia, the proprietor of "Watch and Dry," a laundry facility in which nothing gets clean, much to the dismay of Marianne (Megan Ahiers). Marianne is about to turn in Georgia to the Better Business Bureau, only to learn that Georgia really has gone through Marianne's dirty laundry to learn things about her that the authorities would be most interested in. Life lessons, just $2.50 per load.

"Thinking Up a New Name for the Act" is a play with only three words--meat and potatoes--yet the entire domestic scene, murder, trial, and execution are easy to follow. Coates swings a mean frying pan.

Bagwell is at the center of two sex-for-sale segments. He auctions off Keene like a horse in "Going Once."

In "Buy One, Get one Free,"
Bagwell plays Lee,
potential John to hookers Merrilee and Sherilee.
The sketch is funny, you see
Because each line ends in rhyme with tee-hee!

Keene and Ahiers are the two-for floozies.

Michael D. Blum turns in one of the best man-plays-dog performances ever. This time he's a talking dog, Barney, who can't seem to convince his human, down-and-out blues singer Blind Willie (John Q. Smith) that a talking dog would be a more profitable act than blues singer in a deserted alley.

Blum and Viertel also are great in "Bus Stop", in which Blum carries a sign that is modified to read "Bust Stop" and the two of them lustily think up all the alternate names they can for hooters and Johnsons.

Coates is hilarious as a bag lady in the making in "One Tennis Shoe." Finally, Smith and Ahiers are fabulous in "The Best Daddy." This is the one of the plays my Sweetie, the official scorer, and I had seen before. It was part of the first Death/Sex production at Balagan Theatre back in February of 2009.

Hey, I mentioned them all! This is great material and the cast is truly outstanding. An Adult Evening with Shel Silverstein at Theater Schmeater is a lot of fun. It runs through June 12, but tickets have been going rapidly, so order yours early.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Oedipus: you'll shoot your eye out!

Weisenheimer is somewhat averse to Greek tragedy. I can trace this aversion to the genre directly back to a particularly dreadful 1992 production of Jean Anouilh's adaptation of Antigone put on by Intiman Theatre. That afternoon may have been the longest month I ever spent in a theater.

Recent events have me considering giving Sophocles a second chance. Seattle Shakespeare Company did a kick-ass production of Electra back in February. Now Balagan Theatre has come along with its own adaptation of Oedipus, a company-written script conceived and created by Jake Groshong, Ryan Higgins, and Lenore Bensinger and directed by Groshong and Higgins.

The creators take their inspiration from Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles. While it isn't exactly The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) in terms of cramming 37 plays into one performance, there's considerable upside to boiling the Oedipus story down to 90 minutes with no intermission. I have to admit that, knowing the creators as I do (Weisenheimer is president of the board at Balagan, but it doesn't mean I'm biased) I came in expecting something a bit more over the top. Instead they hit us with some straight-up theater.

Highlights were captivating performances by Ryan Fields in the title role and Patrick Bentley as Creon. The scene in which Fields as Oedipus beds his wife/mother Jocasta, played by Joanna Horowitz, was fascinating, touching, and tender, a great example of the company's ability to re-think some pretty challenging material.

If we have a criticism of the show it is that the women of Thebes--Tiresias, Antigone, and Ismene, played by the talented trio of Sharon Barto, Annie Jantzer, and Allison Strickland, respectively--don't have nearly so much to do as do the guys. Antigone spends years leading her dad, Oedipus, around after he's had his eyes plucked out. Does it suck to be Antigone? Yes. My Sweetie, the official scorer, keeps expressing an interest in meeting Sophocles' mother. I'm not sure I'm willing to burn an evening on her, but you can see her influence, through her son's handiwork, at Balagan through June 5.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Annex scores with two nice shows

With all of the theater my Sweetie, the official scorer, and I see it's pretty amazing that we had never taken in a show at Annex Theatre--until this month, when we saw two in six days. Both were outstanding.

L-R Jennifer Pratt as Annique, Jade
Justad as Veronica, and Daniel Chris-
tensen as Micky in Scotto Moore's play
When I Come to My Senses I'm Alive.
Photo: Ben Laurance.
Back on May 14 we saw When I Come to My Senses I'm Alive by local playwright Scotto Moore and directed by Kristina Sutherland. Expectations were high. Moore penned two of our favorites of the January 14/48 festival, and the cast included a couple of Balagan friends, LaChrista Borgers and Curtis Eastwood.

Senses did not disappoint. Moore's sci-fi script explored the notion of human emotions that can be downloaded and enjoyed vicariously, and a super malevolent intelligence that evolved when the system got hacked. Jennifer Pratt was excellent as Annique Farrar, the inventor of the emotion-sharing helmets, Eastwood was delightful as the sleazy TV network exec who wanted to steal it all, and Jade Justad was cool and calculating as the dangerous Veronica Bilious, spy, hacker, and hit-woman extraordinaire.

Kudos to set designer David Gignac, who came up with a big swinging wall that made it easy to switch between Annique's basement, where all the computing takes place, and the TV network offices and other scenes of the show.

We're really enjoying Moore's plays and hope to see more of them.

A few days later we took in José Amador's one-man show El Hijo Prodigo (The Prodigal Son), directed by Mark Fullerton. It's the tale of a man's trip back to his native Puerto Rico after more than two decades off the island. Amador is a marvelous story teller, and his narrative is at turns funny, haunting, gut-wrenching, and touching. Weisenheimer got especially weepy around the end, partly because Pops Weisenheimer passed away in the same year as Padre Amador.

José's performance was a bit on the spotty side, as there were a couple of occasions when he had to struggle to recall his lines. The performance we saw was the last of a run of several weeks, and besides, mastering what is, in effect, a 90-minute monologue must be one heck of a challenge. The story is entirely compelling. We'd love to see Amador continue to refine El Hijo Prodigo, and perhaps add other actors. We imagine it would be fun to meet some of the characters he told us about.

Sadly, both shows have closed. If you missed them, you missed some good stuff. And kudos to Annex for producing almost exclusively new works.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Unlucky M's

Weisenheimer is an admitted baseball stathead.

M's cleanup hitter José Lopez is slugging .278 and his OPS is
.527. Couple of flares drop in for him, he's right back in the
groove. Seattle Times photo by Rod Mar.
As a long-time participant in baseball simulation leagues involving the dice-based board game APBA and then, later, computers, statistical analysis of the game has been a big part of enjoyment of that hobby. I went off the deep end when Bill James was doing his Baseball Abstract in the early '80s. I've given up the sims; this is the first year since 1973 that I haven't been in some sort of baseball replay league. (I retired to devote more time to writing Weisenheimer, Seattle Astronomy Examiner, book reviews for Arches magazine, and to be be board chair at Balagan Theatre. I may be doing something else I can't remember right now.) But I still follow the M's and the Cardinals, and read blogs such as U.S.S. Mariner and Lookout Landing. Both sites are stuffed to the brim with FIPs and wOBAs and wOBArs and BABIPs and UZRs and a bunch of other newfangled statistics that tell us more about players than batting average and ERA.

Thus I read with interest a post yesterday on LL that said, in essence, that the Mariner offense is simply snakebit. Quoting:
We say it every day, this offense isn't this bad. They're getting unlucky. They're getting really freaking unlucky.
This put me in mind of "Bobby," a character in the great film Bull Durham who gets released from A-ball because he can't hit. "Skip," he protests, "I know I'm in a goddamn slump, but I hit the ball hard today. Couple flares drop in for me, I'm right back in the groove."

Sorry. The organization wants to make a change.

I decided to do my own statistical analysis. Even after today's huge five-run outburst (in a loss) the M's have scored just 130 runs in 39 games, a measly 3.33 runs per game. Only the pathetic Houston Astros have scored fewer in all of baseball. Fifteen of the 16 teams in the National League have scored more runs, and they make the pitchers bat over there! (Our DHs hit very much like pitchers, but that's another story.) The Mariners have 21 home runs, again 29th in baseball, ahead of only Houston. And three of those are by Mike Sweeney, so they shouldn't really count. Here's why:

Weisenheimer is convinced that Sweeney is a practical joke played on the M's by the rest of the league. During spring training they said, hey, let's throw a bunch of meatballs to Sweeney, and if he hits .847 or something in March the Mariners might think he's still got it and actually keep him on the roster. IT WORKED! So, mid-May arrives and Sweeney is batting about .172 with no homers and about two RBI. The Internets are calling for his head on a platter, so the league answered with more meatballs, and Sweeney homered in three consecutive games! He can go to lunch on those meatballs for another couple of months. Sweeney is now batting .242 with three home runs and seven RBI. (I know, the Lookout Landing folks would chide me for using these counting stats, but what the heck.) To top it all off, jogging around the bases after those home runs caused Sweeney to get a sore back, and he hasn't been able to play since the big power surge.

In short, Weisenheimer contends the Mariners are not unlucky on offense. They flat out stink. If not for Ichiro and Gutierrez, this might well be the stinkiest Mariner offense of all time. And I'm old enough to have seen some really smelly lineups. I remember Scrap Iron Stinson behind the plate, Dan "Old Whitey" Meyer down at first, Lenny Randle down at third, Pee Wee Briley in left. I saw Mario Mendoza, namesake of the Mendoza Line, play shortstop for a couple of years. (Mendoza actually hit .245, with an OPS of .596, in 1980, so I guess you could say he "erupted" the same year as Mt. St. Helens.) If Mendoza were on this year's team he'd be batting fifth.

The M's are 14-25. If Joe Riggins, the manager in Bull Durham, were here, he'd shake his head, mutter "How'd we ever win 14," and stomp off in a glorious stream of expletives.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Too many good choices

I'm not sure I'm all that crazy about "Internet democracy." Surveys, petitions, and straw polls taken over the 'net must certainly be skewed as all get-out. Yet it seems we're stuck with them.

A fascinating on-line vote that's going on right now is giving me fits because there are too many good candidates, and there's some significant cash to be had by the winner.

Theodor Jacobsen Observatory at the
University of Washington needs a new
roof. You can help! UW photo.
My friend Clarence, who recently became the CEO of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington, tipped me off first with a Facebook note requesting a vote for the center so it could get part of a million dollar grant to help renovate their facilities. A few days later, I went with Ma Weisenheimer to On the Town at the 5th Avenue Theatre, and they handed out cards afterward asking for votes so they could get some dough to fix up their lobby. I didn't make the connection at the time, but when I logged on to check it out, I learned that they were competing for the same pot of money.

The pot is $1 million to be doled out by the American Express Partners in Preservation Seattle-Puget Sound initiative. The partners are essentially American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. More than 100 organizations submitted applications for the grants. Twenty-five nominees were selected for the vote, which began April 15 and ends May 12. You can register at the site and are encouraged to vote daily for your favorite.

When I signed on I noticed several other projects of interest. One is the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory at the University of Washington. Weisenheimer has done some writing on behalf of TJO in his alter ego as Seattle Astronomy Examiner. Town Hall Seattle is a worthy pick. King Street Station, Kirkland Arts Center, and the Point No Point lighthouse are all on the list. As we roll into the last 10 days of Chicago-style voting (early and often) it appears the race is between the Schooner Adventuress out of Tacoma and Town Hall Seattle, with the 5th Avenue running a distant third. Alas, the observatory is near the back of the pack, with less than one percent of the vote. There may not be enough astronomers in the area; the number of hits on my Examiner articles would bear that out!

While I've given the observatory and the cultural center my support so far, I think I'll give my remaining votes to Town Hall to see if they can't catch the schooner.

As was the case with George W. Bush, all is not lost for those who don't win the popular vote. The top vote-getter is guaranteed a grant, but the partners will divvy up the rest of the pot among the rest of the nominees as they see fit. I hope the "supreme court" gives something to my favorites, too!

Go fight outside! Balagan's "True West" is a smash

A Hello Kitty toaster gave its life for comedy at Balagan Theatre Saturday night. The innocent kitchen appliance and a vintage Smith-Corona typewriter were among the many things destroyed during the final performance of Sam Shepard's True West, directed by Shawn Belyea and Tim Hyland.

Brothers Austin (Chris Bell, left) and
Lee (Mike Dooly) have some issues
with each other during Balagan
Theatre's production of
True West.
Photo: Andrea Huysing.
Chris Bell and Mike Dooly star as the two brothers, Austin and Lee. Bell's Austin is a successful screenwriter, housesitting for his vacationing mother while working on his next project. His peace and quiet is interrupted by Dooly's Lee, a petty thief and a drunk who has popped in to mom's neighborhood to steal a few things and be on his way.

Things go a bit awry. During a golf match Lee convinces Austin's producer, Saul Kimmer (played by Belyea) to drop Austin's project in favor of his own cockamamie Western tale of two dimwits chasing each other across Texas. The brothers' epic struggle over who's the better man, fueled by mass quantities of PBR, Old No. 7, and bubbly, grows increasingly violent and threatening. Lee says screenwriting is way easier than a life of crime, and bets Austin he couldn't even steal a toaster. The next morning, Austin has at least a dozen of them, including the doomed Hello Kitty model, which meets its end, as does the typewriter and much of the set, at the end of a five iron. But not before Austin has made plenty of yummy toast!

A toaster just like this one gave its
all during the final performance of
Balagan Theatre's
True West.
Dooly and Bell are great, Balagan favorites who really get into these great characters, and into smashing things. The hilarity of the situation reaches a fever pitch when their mom (Betty Campbell) returns home to her house in ruins, and can only lament that Austin forgot to water her plants (they're strewn all over the stage with the rest of the debris) and urges the boys to go fight outside.

Alas, you cannot see True West any more, as Saturday's performance was the last. We got the impression that the brothers may have been a bit more enthusiastic in their destruction on closing night, knowing that the set didn't have to be put back together for another show tomorrow. In fact, the crew was busy at work dismantling the stage within 10 minutes of the end, preparing to build in the final show in Balagan's 10-play season, an adaptation of Oedipus by the theater's company members. We can't wait for that!

FULL DISCLOSURE: Weisenheimer is chair of the board at Balagan, but it doesn't mean I'm biased!