Saturday, December 8, 2012

A half dozen quick reviews

We see a lot of theater, and some folks find this strange.

A few weeks back I was loitering outside The Sitting Room waiting for my Sweetie, the official scorer, to arrive for our dinner before seeing a show at Seattle Shakespeare Company. Ma Weisenheimer happened to call on the phone at that moment, and in the course of our conversation I told her that we were headed for a play that evening and had another one on the calendar for the next night. Ma W. seemed shocked that we would go out two nights in a row, though it should be noted that, at age 85, she now views a trip out to the mailbox as a major excursion. I also noted that mom watches television every night, but it didn't seem to stick.

Weisenheimer has attended 10 plays since returning from the annual pilgrimage to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (nine plays in 10 days) but, until writing about Inspecting Carol a few days ago had not reviewed any of them. Here, then, are my quickie reviews of recent shows seen, starting with the most recent.

Cardenio, GreenStage. A show so nice, we saw it twice! Cardenio was directed by Tony Driscoll, the sick genius who gets credit (or blame!) for cooking up GreenStage's Hard Bard concept. The shows have become an annual Halloween treat, starting with a wicked Titus Andronicus in 2009, taking violent, bloody plays right over the top with blood splattered everywhere! We saw the opening and closing performances, and it really improved as the actors became more comfortable with the roles and their various blood-squirting devices. Plus, my Sweetie, the official scorer, says she now cannot eat a chicken drumstick without feeling a little dirty. Fantastic, bloody fun! By the way, even though Cardenio closed on Nov. 17, you can still get a Hard Bard Hoodie here. They make great Christmas presents, and support GreenStage and its FREE performances. (Full disclosure: Weisenheimer is the marketing director for GreenStage, but it doesn't make me biased.)

Antony and Cleopatra, Seattle Shakes. A killer cast led by real-life spouses Amy Thone and Hans Altweis in the title roles drew us (twice!) to Antony and Cleopatra, directed by John Langs for the Seattle Shakespeare Company. They were backed up by other outstanding Seattle favorites Mike Dooly, Allison Strickland, Terri Weagant, Darragh Kennan, and Charles Leggett. Just a couple of quibbles. First, we didn't really like the set, especially the goofy, hanging platform that served as Cleopatra's monument where everyone went to die. (Sorry for the spoiler!) It made a lot of noise while being cranked into place, and, when seated in the front row, all we could really see was the bottom of the platform. Second, Weagant and Strickland looked great but didn't have nearly enough to do! Thone and Altweis have great stage chemistry; there were super performances all around.

Avenue Q, Balagan Theatre. I often say that I'm not much into musicals, but I keep finding myself enjoying them. Such is the case with Avenue Q at Balagan Theatre, directed by Eric Ankrim. It's the third collaboration Balagan and Ankrim, and it seems to be working. He directed and played the title role in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog in 2010, and directed Spring Awakening last year; both were successes. Ditto for Avenue Q, which has received great notices and is entirely sold out through its run that ends Dec. 16 (though you can still sign up for the wait list an hour before each day's performance.) Avenue Q swept the Tony Award triple crown in 2004, though the show feels slightly dated today. Does the younger generation of theatergoers know who Gary Coleman was? Is "Diff'rent Strokes" still in syndication? Great performances here, too; we'd single out Justin Huertas, Kate Jaeger, Kirsten deLohr Helland, Rashawn Scott, and Diana Huey. (Full disclosure: Weisenheimer is on the board of Balagan Theatre, but it doesn't make me biased.)

Ramayana, ACT. This epic tale of romance, war, and intrigue from south and southeast Asia was marvelous! Directed by Sheila Daniels and Kurt Beattie, the ACT production featured superb performances, gorgeous costumes, some elaborate yet easily swapped sets, and a great story. My one beef: at three hours with two intermissions, it was too long! This one, too, included a list of Seattle favorites, with Anne Allgood, Cheyenne Casebier, Tim Gouran, Todd Jefferson Moore, Richard Sloniker, and Ray Tagavilla. Oh, another beef: RayTag didn't have enough to do.

The Glass Menagerie, Seattle Rep. I saw the Tennessee Williams classic, directed for Seattle Rep by Braden Abraham, on Halloween night. It was a super production of the play, staged in the Rep's smaller Leo K theater. It really worked there, set in the Wingfield living room, an entirely claustrophobic place to be. Suzanne Bouchard was a tour de force as Amanda Wingfield, with seamless switches between southern belle, manipulative bitch, and violently angry momma. Ben Huber was marvelous as Tom, Brenda Joyner superb as Laura, and Eric Riedmann delightfully smarmy as the Gentleman Caller.

Pullman Porter Blues, Seattle Rep. This world premiere from Cheryl L. West, directed by Lisa Peterson, was a must see for me and my Sweetie, as we both love trains and the blues. The production was a fine spectacle of blues performances set on the Panama Limited train, where three generations of porters worked together, remembering their pasts and trying to change the future. The live band was great and there were wonderful performances all around, but the show especially sparkled when "Sister Juba" (E. Faye Butler) and "Monroe" (Larry Marshall) were on stage singing.

Superior Donuts, Seattle Public. We really loved this show by Tracy Letts, directed by Russ Banham. The burned out, draft dodging, Polish, second-generation operator of a Chicago donut shop has his life altered in many ways by the appearance at his shop of a young African-American would-be novelist looking for a job. Franco gets the gig but also has big debts to gamblers that lead to a horrifying confrontation and an unexpected partnership. Especially powerful performance from Charles Norris as Franco.

Titus Andronicus, upstart crow collective. Titus was the first production in six years for this all-female collective, and it kicked ass under the direction of Rosa Joshi. Amy Thone was fantastic in the title role, and Nike Imoru was riveting as the Goth schemer Aaron. Also Peggy Gannon and Sarah Harlett were immensely creepy as Chiron and Demetrius, who kidnap and rape poor Lavinia and then chop off her hands and tongue. Which made it an especially difficult month for Brenda Joyner, who followed up Lavinia by being daughter to Tennessee Williams' mom in Menagerie. Two beefs: the slo-mo, chamber music, strobe light ending of the banquet where everyone dies didn't really work for me; and Terri Weagant didn't have enough to do.

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