Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dr. Horrible returns in all its horribality

Balagan Theatre sold every last ticket to its production of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog during a run in August and September last year that proved to be the company's final show in its Capitol Hill basement. Dr. Horrible is back, bigger and better than ever, for a three-week run directed by Kate Jaeger and on stage in the Allen Theatre at ACT.

Annie Jantzer returns as Penny in Balagan
Theatre's production of Dr. Horrible's
Sing-Along Blog
running at ACT through
Feb. 12.
In addition to Jaeger, there are a few other high-profile changes with the new staging. William A. Williams, who had an ensemble part in last year's run, stepped into the title role admirably. Erik Ankrim, who directed last year's show along with M. Elizabeth Eller, in addition to playing the lead, was unable to participate this time. Evan Woltz, a favorite from Balagan's 2009 production of The Full Monty, joined the cast, as did Bobby Temple, who also was the dance captain for Dr. Horrible. Maybe the biggest change was the venue. ACT's spacious Allen Theatre allowed for some bigger and badder production values and a much greater scale than the old basement allowed.

Jake Groshong and Annie Jantzer returned in their major roles of Captain Hammer and Penny, joining Williams in a fiendish and evil love triangle. The trio are marvelous.

Don't just take my word for it. made Dr. H one of its top eight things to do in Seattle this weekend. Also check out the cast doing a number from the show on the KING-TV program New Day NW.

The full house at ACT seemed to enjoy the opening night of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, and sent cast and crew off with a standing ovation. Let the full house be a warning to you, though: Tickets are going fast, so you'd better hop on the ACT website PDQ to order tickets. The show runs through Feb. 12.

Full disclosure: Weisenheimer is the president of the board at Balagan, but it doesn't mean I'm biased!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

ArtsWest comes up with the right formula with Emilie

Voltaire (Nick DeSantis) sneaks
a peck from Emilie (Kate Witt)
during Emilie by Lauren
Gunderson, running through
Feb. 20 at ArtsWest. Photo:
Michael Brunk, ArtsWest.
After the Seattle opening of Emilie Wednesday evening playwright Lauren Gunderson enthused that it was like meeting her own characters for the first time, such was her enthusiasm for the production created by director Susanna Wilson and cast at ArtsWest in West Seattle.

Emilie is the story of Emilie du Châtelet, early 18th century French mathematician and physicist who came up with the notion, "force vive", that kinetic energy was proportional not to the velocity of an object, as believed by Newton, but to the square of its velocity. She also translated, and upgraded, Newton's Principia Mathematica into French, and that translation is still the standard in the language today.

If that sounds like a boring premise for a play, well, you're wrong. Plus it's also about battles between head and heart, of women in science, and a dandy verbal duel between Emilie, played by Kate Witt, and her lover, the pompous horse's ass and usually wrong Voltaire (Nick DeSantis).

Witt's Emilie is reincarnated to tell her life story, in which young Emilie is played by the talented and fetching Sara Coates. (I expect Voltaire may have written that if Sara Coates didn't exist we would have to invent her. But I digress.) Jason Marr is wonderful as a number of men, including Emilie's husband, a future lover, and Sir Isaac Newton. Jody McCoy plays a variety of women, including Emilie's ever-so-proper mother.

A randy Voltaire (Nick DeSantis)
gets it on with living Emilie (Sara
Coates), but it's narrator Emilie
(Kate Witt) who really makes the
sparks fly. Photo: Michael Brunk,
Coates gets the kissing scenes because narrator/Emilie Witt gets zapped with electricity and the lights go out if she actually comes into contact with the figures from her past. It underscores the isolation she feels as she toils away in a scientific world that very much belongs to the men.

Witt is fabulous and owns the stage, which is literally her blackboard. Director Wilson and designer Dan Schuy came up with a set that is mostly chalkboard paint, and Emilie scribbles her formulae and diagrams all over the place, as well as her running tally of the good points of love and philosophy. Emilie, a larger-than-life force, wins at everything, including cards. Though for a while there she's not so sure she'll win at love.

The end was surprisingly moving. Emilie gets pregnant at 42, and it becomes a race between the very probably deadly childbirth and finishing her translation of Newton.

In an interesting touch, Wilson has Witt remain on stage during the intermission, continuing her studies and making notes and diagrams on the chalkboards. Most of the opening-night audience missed it, but I missed intermission; it was too interesting to watch!

Emilie has crackling dialog and vivid characters, and it's a fabulous story. Don't miss it. It runs at ArtsWest through Feb. 20.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Local artist's work on exhibit in Tacoma

Mindi Katzman's "Preaching to the Choir,"
encaustic on paper on board, 2010, depicts
a scene that will be familiar to West Seattle
residents. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.
I dropped by Tacoma's Brick House Gallery, operated by my friend Peter MacDonald, last Thursday to check out the art of Mindi Katzman. Though I'd never seen her work before, there was something immediately familiar. West Seattle residents will certainly recognize Katzman's paintings that feature iconic totem poles from around the neighborhood, as well as another that includes the Alki Statue of Liberty, a work that is featured on her business cards and the home page of her website.

In addition to those, another painting of a Puget Sound scene in the show, titled "Another Point of View," seemed like a familiar sight. As it turned out, the landscape was painted from a viewpoint at the end of Waite Street, just a short walk away from Weisenheimer world headquarters.

Our cell-phone photos don't do the work justice. Katzman works with encaustic, applying colored wax to the surface. Marvelous, vibrant colors and an interesting texture result.  Many of her paintings feature birds who appear as curious about the scenes depicted as do we, the gallery patrons. Katzman also does some marvelous painted metal sculptures depicting tropical locales. One that had several beds of calla lilies on it particularly caught my eye; don't tell my mom, who used to have a bunch of calla lilies in the back yard, but my sister and I used to blow them up with firecrackers.

Katzman's "Road's End" depicts a
scene from a Waite Street viewpoint
not far from Weisenheimer world
headquarters. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.
Katzman is a delightful sort and we hit it off well. It helped, I'm sure, that she and her husband Michael Dupille, who also played guitar during the reception Thursday, had just returned to the Northwest from a visit to Kitt Peak Observatory near Tucson. Weisenheimer is author of the Seattle Astronomy blog, so we had art and the cosmos as common interests. She seemed interested in our post about the photography of Roger Ressmeyer, now on exhibit at ArtsWest gallery, and hoped to get over to see it before that show closes at the end of the month.

The Katzman exhibit is a celebratory one for the Brick House, which has been open for about a year now. Congrats to MacDonald on the first anniversary and on another excellent show.

You can see more of Katzman's work on her website, and on that of the Brick House Gallery.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

14/48: Good for the soul; now how do we feed it until July?

Sunday afternoon is kind of a downer. 14/48, the world's quickest theatre festival, is over. It won't be back until July.

In the space of nine days the festival gave us 28 world-premiere one-act plays. That's a festival worth celebrating!

This second weekend of the festival was a little uneven. Friday night's shows in general weren't all that memorable. Perhaps a difficult theme, "Worse Than Death," had something to do with that. Most of the playwrights went TO death, or beyond it, or to some alternate place of existence such as prison, heaven, or someplace on the other side of the Large Hadron Collider.

There were a few bright spots. In Force Quit, written by Wayne Rawley and directed by Annie Lareau, Keith Dahlgren is delightful as a sadistic IT support guy who tortures poor Brian D. Simmons, who is going to lose his job if Dahlgren can't find a lost file, or if he lets management know about the interesting websites Simmons has visited on company time. Susanna Burney and Teru McDonald were hilarious as two workers trying to advance their careers at the donut shop by winning the favors of the manager (Evan Mosher) in All of the Holes, written by Kelleen Conway-Blanchard and directed by Bret Fetzer. Burney, her bosom smeared with jelly donut filling, wins.

Bridezilla and the Monster Dimension, written by Matt Smith and directed by Greg Carter, was a wild circus that had one great pun that got a belly laugh out of me. The troupe is on the way to a wedding in the Large Hadron Collider, for which the groom said the cost was "astronomical." I thought it was really funny, and then the bride corrected him, saying the collider didn't have anything to do with astronomy. Personally, I'd say she's wrong. If sorting out the relationship between quantum mechanics and general relativity isn't about astronomy, what is?

Saturday night was much better, with a theme of "Cheaters Never Prosper" resulting in some funny plays. In Severance Pay by Rawley and directed by Fetzer, Trick Danneker and Jaime Roberts convince Shawn Belyea to let them chop off the tip of his little finger, part of their dubious plot to bring down the fast food industry. Revenge of the Goldfish, by Brandon J. Simmons and directed by Greg Carter, was a hilarious self-referential play about the theater industry, in which the audience, McDonald, winds up strangling the playwright, Simmons, for turning out crap. (Though my Sweetie, the official scorer, says self-referential humor is cheating and cheaters never prosper.) Larson vs. Whammy, by Celene Ramadan and directed by Lareau, was a riot as Don Darryl Rivera figured out how to beat the game show "Press Your Luck," then lost his fortune and was forever haunted by Whammies. One of the whammies sat on my knee, too.

Boombas, written by Elizabeth Heffron and directed by Brian Faker, was marvelous, as cheating spouse Dahlgren faces off against his wife (Alyssa Bostwick), their shrink (Burney) and his mistress (Annette Auger), a Latvian who does him "twice a veek." Once they determine that Dahlgren's problem is that his wife's boombas aren't "pert" any more, all three women tear off theirs, leaving all six on the stage and creating a certain amount of freedom.

I couldn't find any photos on line from this weekend's 14/48
plays, so here's a shot of Lisa Viertel from the 2009
production of Penguins at Annex Theatre.
My absolute favorite of the weekend was Gertrude and Tonya Watch the Twitter, written by Smith and directed by Richard Ziman. In the show Lisa Viertel and Deniece Bleha are two old bats at the retirement center sparring over the rights to date the most eligible bachelor in the joint, so deemed because he still has his hearing. Viertel is a riot as an obscenity-spewing old woman in a wheelchair. She and Bleha also squabble about whether they should see a movie; Viertel prefers to watch her Twitter feed, because it's full of celebrities talking to each other. "Isn't that what a movie is?" asks Bleha. The two end up in a knock-down-drag-out fight, in which Bleha, who uses a cane, has an advantage over the wheelchair-using Viertel. Naturally, they finish on the floor in a lip lock. It doesn't sound so hilarious as I describe it, but it worked, and Viertel in particular is a crazy funny actor. She was, by the way, chosen this weekend for the Mazen Award for veteran 14/48 participants for their contribution to the spirit of risk taking and camaraderie embodied in the festival's process. Well deserved!

This show also featured an example of why my Sweetie, the official scorer, and I often urge theatre folks to eschew whiz-bang techie stuff and let the text and the actors carry the day. The show featured the actual tweets from the celebrities projected on the back wall. However, in the 8 p.m. show the projection didn't work, and all we saw up there was the "no signal" test pattern. They'd ironed the bugs out by the 10:30 show, but I thought it distracted from the great acting of Viertel and Bleha, and didn't really add anything. When Viertel, looking at her phone, growls, "Britney, you crazy whore," you don't have to see an actual tweet to know it's funny!

Many thanks to everyone involved in 14/48. Even if the plays don't always work, it's always a great time. We can't wait until July!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

New Weisenheimer blog on astronomy

Poster for the exhibit The Beginning of Totality, photos by
Roger Ressmeyer. Image courtesy ArtsWest.
Weisenheimer launched a new, separate blog about astronomy recently. After a little over a year of writing about local astronomy for, I decided to start Having my own site gives me a lot more editorial control over the look and content of the site. While it's titled "Seattle Astronomy", my aim is to cover space and astronomy news and events from Seattle and the Northwest.

Every once in a while my interests in astronomy and other topics intersect. It happened this week, and in this case it's art, photography, and astronomy. There's a great new exhibit at ArtsWest Gallery in West Seattle called The Beginning of Totality. It features the work of renowned photographer Roger Ressmeyer, who gained some fame as a celebrity photographer beginning in the mid-'70s, but who later turned his camera lenses skyward to shoot a different sort of star.

Check out my review of The Beginning of Totality, and get out to ArtsWest for the exhibit, which runs through the end of the month.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

14/48 : Good for the soul

Photos: Michelle Bates
Before Friday, it had been 42 days since we'd seen a play. That's too long. The first weekend of this January's 14/48, The World's Quickest Theater Festival, hosted at ACT, came just in time. And was it ever good for the soul.

Friday's theme was "It's All Part of the Plan." My first thought was, oh good, lots of plays about fundamentalists. And indeed we had a couple. In one of our favorites of the evening, Planning for Disaster, written by Maria Glanz and directed by K. Brian Neel, Megan Ahiers and James Weidman delight as a couple who come face to face with god, are not smote, come face to face with each other, and are smitten. Ahiers is hilarious as the hausfrau who cracks a bit under the stress of a false alarm and blurts out lots of deliciously naughty words and wants.

Terri Weagant and Sara Mountjoy-Pepka

The highlight of the weekend was Exactly What You Would Do, a beautiful love story written by Scotto Moore, directed by Ryan Higgins, and superbly acted by Terri Weagant and Sara Mountjoy-Pepka playing a futuristic, head-over-heels-in-love engaged couple. Mountjoy-Pepka's character comes home to her fiancée with some startling news from work. She's accepted an assignment as chief medical officer to a planet 15 light years away. What begins as a rather typical argument about life and wedding and career plans quickly becomes difficult as we discover along with Weagant's character that her fiancée can be cloned. That, in fact, she already has. That, in fact, she has already left on her assignment—making the woman who came home that night the clone. In the end, Weagant's character accepts her cloned fiancée, recognizing, and telling her—that's exactly what you would do. This was one of the times when it really paid to see both the 8:00 and the 10:30 shows; at the closing night show we appreciated all the nuances of the performances even more.

Workin' Girls, by Scot Augustson and directed by R. Hamilton Wright, was perfectly cast by the ice cream cone gods of 14/48 and brilliantly set in the 40s. Pretty boys Jason Harber and Shawn Law were a hoot as mannequins-turned-lotharios, Jennifer Jasper was a riot with sidekick Aly Bedford as dreamers with imaginations so much bigger than the Wichita Woolworth, and Roy Stanton turned in a series of perfect villains, from uptight store manager to Nazi to Indiana Jones' evil twin. Great fun.

The theme for Saturday night was "Bedtime Stories." Friday night after the show some of us were speculating whether we'd get dirty, or creepy, or silly plays. It turns out that given the theme "Bedtime Stories," 5 out of 7 playwrights will write about grief and loss, loneliness and separation. Usually I laugh all the way through a night of 14/48; Saturday I went home with that vague hangovery headache you get from crying; and I wouldn't have missed a moment of it.

The night opened with The Story of Us, by Patrick Scott and directed by Erin Kraft. Shawn Law is one of those actors who can do vulnerable to turn your heart inside out (Hamlet), and he and the ensemble of Amy Love, Jason Harber, and Andrew Litzky turned in gutsy, heartfelt performances in this touching, funny, wrenching story of a veteran's instructions to his combat buddies to enact "the story of us" for his widow. 

The Way It Was, by Brendan Healy and directed by R. Hamilton Wright, was an equally touching story of a man struggling to say goodbye to the woman he loves, on life support after an accident. Megan Ahiers and Joseph P. McCarthy played it with frank emotion and no sentimentality, so it packed a wallop even as their characters' quirkiness and honesty made us laugh.

The Olive Bed  by David Drummond and directed by Jennifer Jasper was a delightful retelling of Odysseus (Mark Boeker) coming home to Penelope (Kate Jaeger), and Penelope testing him after 20 years of separation; Marcy Rodenborn provided comic relief, hilarious as the exasperated Eurycleia.

Cover Me by Scot Augustson and directed by Andy Jensen was a story of lives that intertwine after each is bereaved by unexpected loss from tragedies that strike young. Bravely performed by Ashley Bagwell, Terri Weagant, James Weidman, Aly Bedford, and Morgan Rowe. 

Llysa Holland
After all that, it was a relief to get a funny play to close the night; Coming to a Conclusion by Scotto Moore and directed by Alan Bryce. Orgasms are funny, and so are Orgasm Machines that come with a manual as big as a volume of the encyclopedia. Five very fine actors—Charles Leggett, Patrick Lennon, Daniel Christensen, Heather Gautschi, and Llysa Holland—were game and enthusiastic and the ACT lobby furniture fashioned into a bed held up admirably. Yet even this play ended on a pensive note, as the two couples declined a perpetual, group, machine-induced orgasm in favor of keeping their individual identities, abandoning the toy in favor of sex and companionship with their lovers, while the themes of isolation and loneliness emerged again for the single character, who declined an invitation to get a burger with her friends and is left alone with five Orgasm Machines in a sound-proofed room.

The band is always one of the best things about 14/48. They write, adapt, and arrange songs and transitions and effects for all seven plays. They perform and interact and react to what is happening on stage. Live, original music and talented musicians as inseparable part of the theater-making. It should be like that more often. The cello was a wonderful addition. Yes, Alyssa Keene, Annie Jantzer, and Heather Mullin fronting the band really was like the sirens scene from O Brother Where Art Thou, whether they were in their plunging red dresses (Friday night), jammies (Saturday first act), or negligees (Saturday second act). The guys looked good too: Alan Echison, drums; Dave Pascal, bass; Nate Bogopolsky, guitar; Justin Huertas, cello; and David Anthony Lewis, keyboards.

We were delighted to read on the blog Friday that Alyssa Keene had won the Mazen Award for the weekend. Well deserved. We love her singing and acting, and are always glad to see her name on the bill for the 14/48 band. 

Thanks to the bloggers for helping make the hours go by on Friday and Saturday before curtain: José Amador, Holly Arsenault, and Laurie Rose; and to Michelle Bates for all the great pics. See 'em all at the 14/48 Facebook page.