Monday, August 13, 2012

GreenStage: The Taming of the Shrew

Photo: Ken Holmes, GreenStage
Enjoying The Taming of the Shrew is a guilty pleasure; why do I love this play so much, one with decidedly unenlightened text, by our time and place, about the relationship of husbands and wives and parents and children? And what does it say that I especially enjoyed GreenStage's production with its addition of the physical overpowering of Kate? 

I love reading and watching Shrew as a particular story, not a political one. As a polemic on family, the play would be a problem. But as the story of two particular characters, Petruchio and Kate, living in the context of a particular time and place, it resonates, even as I'm shaking my head and chuckling at all the difficulties.

Director Mark "Mok" Moser brings out everyone's bad behavior, and does so in a way that manages to make the characters sympathetic and the action hilarious. By unabashedly dialing up the self-interested manipulation from the people around Kate, especially from bitchy Bianca (played by Madeline Nutting in the most interesting rendition of Bianca I've seen), Kate becomes more sympathetic. She's not the only badly behaved one by a long shot. And she's honest about it. Petruchio sees that and they rail honestly together to negotiate a collaboration that stands up to their society. Meantime the others—wooed and wooing, parented and parenting—go on manipulating each other to get what they want, or what they think they want (be careful what you ask for...). This is a very human portrayal of a town full of randy folk.

The GreenStage production is an extended exercise—an endurance contest—in physical comedy. Props to the director Mark "Mok" Moser for milking so much humanity and laughter from the play. And to Tom Dewey, not just for his energetic and charming portrayal of Petruchio, but for his fight choreography. We have seen Dewey's work around town with his collaborators at Performer's Forge and it's made us appreciate really good stage combat. The wrestling between Kate and Bianca, Petruchio and Grumio, and especially Petruchio and Kate was creative, breathtaking, and funny. Allison Standley as Kate turned in a fierce, bad-ass performance equal to the rigorous physical demands of the role. At the risk of introducing a spoiler, for those of our vast readership yet to see it in its last week (closes Saturday August 18), watch out for the bullwhip.

I've seen this production three times now, and after seeing it opening weekend I thought that the balance of the production was slipping a little too heavily toward being a vehicle for Dewey's excellent choreography. While I completely understand the impulse to wrestle with Tom, it seemed like everyone was taking a turn, and I wasn't sure we needed, for instance, the tussle with the tailor. However, seeing it this weekend, toward the end of the run, the funny business has been punched up and the delivery smoothed out in ways that made it all work.

I also thought Kate and Petruchio's relationship started clicking even better along the way. Somewhere we need to see it dawn on Kate that she and her husband are allies, united in their counter-cultural madness, their attraction, their matched intellects and wills and temperaments, understanding each other while the world misunderstands them. The text is little help here but there's plenty of room in the direction and acting to do this. The first two times we saw this production, we clearly saw him tumble to her; I wanted to see her tumble to him. By this last weekend I thought I saw more of the conspiratorial looks and dawning affection that I want to see from Kate and that make the final scene work as a consummation of their alliance.

All of the performances are outstanding, the more so for functioning as a tight comedic ensemble of ten rather than a collection of impressive individual performances (see: Henry VIII). The cast jelled impressively, given the limited rehearsal time and the brevity of the run. I have to call out Sascha Streckel for her dizzyingly goofy Biondella, outraged tailor, and ball-busting widow; and Nick Edwards for pinching scenes like Rickey Henderson swiped bases.

As someone who has had to negotiate her own relationship with her husband to together craft something far different than what was expected, taught, or prescribed by our family and culture, I have a soft spot in my heart for Petruchio and Kate, and hope they had as happy a 20 years as the Weisenheimer and I have had so far. And it doesn't hurt to reflect on keeping the devotion and spark alive. Maybe we should get a bullwhip...

Monday, August 6, 2012

Pinter resurrected at ACT

The late British playwright Harold Pinter has somehow become associated in the minds of many theater producers with box-office death. This is an error, judging by our experience Friday evening at ACT Theatre. There was a pretty good crowd on hand for performances of Pinter's one-act plays The Dumb Waiter and Celebration. If the happy audience reaction is any indication, we would say that, while Mr. Pinter himself is no longer with us, he's alive and kicking on stage.

It's certainly a help that director John Langs has in his cast two of the best actors working in Seattle, or anywhere else for that matter. Darragh Kennan played "Gus" and Charles Leggett "Ben" in The Dumb Waiter. My Sweetie, the official scorer, and I were sitting in the front row (as is our wont) a mere six feet from Leggett; he was on a cot reading a newspaper and not saying a thing, apart from an occasional expletive, and I couldn't take my eyes off of him. Gus and Ben are surely involved in something sinister, on a job waiting for instructions, but food orders keep coming in through the dumb waiter and its speaking tube. The communication between the two characters is always askew; they can't even agree if one should "light" the tea kettle or put it on. The tension mounts, especially during long pauses (a common Pinter tactic), until the job goes south on Gus.

The delicious cast of Celebration by Harold Pinter, playing at
ACT Theatre through August 26. Photo by Larae Lobdell.
Kennan and Leggett are waiters in a fancy restaurant in the second one-act of the night, Celebration. Leggett doesn't have much to say in this one, but Kennan is a riot as a waiter whose grandfather knew, well, just about everyone in literary, artistic, or Hollywood society. Add in Frank Corrado and Randy Moore as brothers who are boorish, well-off patrons of the restaurant; Anne Allgood and Julie Briskman as their long-suffering wives; Jefffrey FracĂ© and Mariel Neto as the gropey couple at the next table, one of whom, it turns out, had a fling with Corrado's character Lambert; and Peter Crook and Cheyenne Casebier as the eternally polite—up to a point—wait staff; and you have an all-star lineup of local talent having great fun with some wonderful language and skewering everyone in sight.

The double feature of The Dumb Waiter and Celebration continues through August 26, and two other plays, Old Times and No Man's Land, both featuring the same players, start up on the 15th and run through the 26th as well.

Corrado is something of a driving force behind ACT and its on-going Pinter Festival. He's been interested in the playwright since the 60s, and for several years has been working with ACT on a series of Pinter readings at the theater. Well done, Mr. Corrado. We'll be seeing the rest of the festival and urge everyone else to take it in as well.