Sunday, March 28, 2010

Two Scalawags of Verona

We were a tiny bit skeptical when we heard Seattle Shakespeare Company was going to set its production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona in modern California. But director Marcus Goodwin's idea really worked, and a marvelous cast of local favorites made Two Gents an entertaining evening of theater on my Sweetie, the official scorer's birthday.

Hana Lass, at right, threatens to kick
Samie Detzer's ass. Photo: Erik Stuhaug.
They didn't lean on the California thing too much, but did make nice use of cell phones and cameras with pictures projected on the back wall of the set. They were also able to mine for new jokes this way, coming up, for example, with a funny visual gag for when Proteus (Daniel Brockley) gives a ring to his love, Julia (Hana Lass). We won't give it away, but this physical quip probably wouldn't have made much sense to the Bard's audiences.

Chris Ensweiler and "Russ"
Photo: Erik Stuhaug.
Speaking of the marvelous cast, it starts with Lass, who, as regular readers (are there any?) of WSW know, kicks ass. She also looks great with a soul patch. Connor Toms (Valentine) is a fine young talent and he and Lass have recently announced their engagement. Toms, David Goldstein (Speed), Brockley, and Chris Ensweiler (Lance) have a great deal of fun with the comic scenes. Ensweiler is an especially gifted comic and a regular at Seattle Shakes, where we've recently see him as Truffaldino in The Servant of Two Masters (for which he received a Wisey nomination for Best Clown) and as Feste in Twelfth Night. Ensweiler's Lance was a stoner/surfer/DJ dude who also had the challenging task of having a dog as co-star; Russ was great as "Crab."

The Two Gentlemen of Verona can be a bit challenging because, in the end, Proteus and Valentine turn out to be a couple of first-rate schmucks. Thus, Goodwin breaks form and stays away from a lives-happily-ever-after ending. It was refreshing and a great punch line to a good show.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Plenty of Whimsy at latest Brick House Gallery show

Proprietor Peter MacDonald writes that "Whimsy," the current show at his Brick House Gallery in Tacoma, was "conceived to make you smile" and to "feel a whole lot better about this crazy world we live in." MacDonald's whimsical show hits the mark, featuring the work of 18 artists, local and from up and down the coast.

Weisenheimer's favorite piece in the show is the one pictured at right, Galen Turner's sculpture "Funk-Bot-Three-80." It's described as a "deconstructed robotic kid toy with dead stuff, neon halo, and motion sensor." What's more, it dances to the Young MC tune "Bust a Move." We also loved Pat Schuman's bright, colorful paintings depicting junk drawers and cluttered refrigerators. Somewhat more disturbing was a painting by Alan S. Hopkins called, "Facts, Fantasies, and Fictions." It shows us a North Pole awash in melted ice cap, with Santa stranded on the rooftop awaiting rescue, next Christmas turned into mere flotsam among the walruses and polar bears.

Art lovers with a sweet tooth would appreciate a triptych by Judy Gilbert featuring candy corn, licorice ropes, and Smarties. Cathy Fields contributed a marvelous painting called "An Unlikely Parade." The marchers include monkeys, a tiger, a two-headed juggler, harem girls, a yak, and snake handlers. Monica Gonzalez has several jewelry pieces in the show, made of wire and various washers. And, had it not been already snapped up, Weisenheimer would have purchased Ellen Miffitt's drawing "Catbotage," of a naughty kitty shredding the toilet paper roll. My Sweetie, the official scorer, has a birthday coming up, and she thinks it's pretty cute when our cat does that!

Local photographer Steve Russell has a great shot of a T-Rex menacing the bridge of Glass in Tacoma. I bet he had to wait a long time for that shot! Last but not least, next to the gallery door is Frank Terrill's "In Case of Emergency," pictured at left. Duct tape is a good fix for anything!

The Brick House Gallery is open on third Thursdays each month, and by appointment. You can see all of the pieces in Whimsy, as well as the artists' statements, on the gallery Web site.

"The Jammer" runs circles around all of those other Roller Derby plays

The performance space at Balagan Theatre is on the tiny side. At maximum they can cram about 100 seats in there, but that leaves a stage the size of a ping pong table. Yet already this season they've managed to have an all-male strip show and a circus at Balagan with plenty of room to spare.

Just as impressive is the current production of The Jammer by Rolin Jones, directed by Terri Weagant. Weagant and set designer Jen Butler fit a Roller Derby rink, the team bus, a cathedral, and an amusement park all onto the stage for this laugh riot of a show -- "The King Lear of Roller Derby plays." Though none of the actors is actually on skates, Weagant uses other wheeled devices and set pieces to create that skating sound in the rink, to amazing effect.

The Jammer is a familiar story, really. Boy thinks his life is Dullsville, so he hits the road for a big adventure. The adventure turns out to be not so hot, and boy learns there's no place like home.

Boy in this case is Jack Lovington, played with aplomb by Nick Edwards. Christie Nelson was a ball of fire as Lindy Batello, chain-cursing, hard-drinking cannonball of a Derby girl and Lovington's love interest on the circuit. Unfortunately for Jack, she's only interested because she's being paid by slimy team owner Lenny Ringle, played with great relish by Balagan regular Ashley Bagwell. Michael D. Blum tries to keep Jack on the straight and narrow as Father Kosciusko; in the end it works out. Versatile and talented Ray Tagavilla plays four parts, including the doctor who cures Jack of what Lindy gives him. That's Nelson and Edwards at left above in a photo by Andrea Huysing from the play's Facebook page.

The Jammer provides non-stop laughs and is a great night out at the theater. It runs at Balagan through April 3.

DISCLOSURE: Weisenheimer is chair of the board at Balagan, but it doesn't make me biased!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Mavis Staples testifies at Jazz Alley

If you don't go see Mavis Staples this weekend at Jazz Gospel/Blues Alley, you're out of your frickin' mind.

Mavis rocked the Alley on Friday night, and now I won't have to go to choich for a couple of years at least.

It was an incredible show: a music legend, a kick-ass band, and great stories about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pops Staples. I'm here to tell you that Mavis has still got it. It's a little known fact that I've always wanted to be a Supreme, but now at least I've sung with Mavis. Sure, it was just backup vocals with the rest of the audience on "I'll Take You There," but I think this will launch my singing career.

Staples sang a number of other classics, including "Freedom Highway," "The Weight," "Why Am I Treated So Bad?", and "Wade in the Water." That's two great ones in a row for Jazz Alley.

BUT -- a note to the alley: BUY A FRICKIN' GROUND PLUG!! The Janiva Magness show last weekend was marred by an annoying hum in the sound system, and the same was even more pronounced during Friday night's show by Staples. Radio Shack has them, I'm just sure of it. It's a little preposterous that the great acts the Alley is bringing in should have to put up with less-than-perfect sound.