Saturday, July 27, 2013

Rapture, Blister, Burn, blah

My Sweetie, the official scorer, and I have probably seen more than 500 plays in our 22 years of going to theater together. We racked our brains, but could not come up with a single time we had left one before the end. Until yesterday. We couldn't escape ACT quickly enough last night at intermission of the truly awful Rapture, Blister, Burn.

It's probably not fair to review a show we didn't see through to the final curtain. The second act may well have redeemed the play, but the first act gave us no reason or desire to stick around and find out. The script by Gina Gionfriddo, inexplicably nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, is preposterously contrived, and the characters one-dimensional deliverers of a particular viewpoint. Other reviewers have found the script hilarious, and ACT artistic director Kurt Beattie calls Rapture, Blister, Burn "wickedly funny" and "comically distinctive." Well, sense of humor is a highly personal thing. While there were a few good lines in the first act, I mostly found the show intensely boring.

L-R: Kirsten Potter, Priscilla Lauris, Mariel Neto, and
Kathryn Van Meter in the classroom of Rapture, Blister, Burn
at ACT. Photo by Chris Bennion.
I don't blame the artists so much for this. Director Anita Montgomery and the cast don't have much to work with. Kirsten Potter is fine in the lead role of Catherine Croll, a rock-star academic. Priscilla Lauris as her mother has some nice moments and mixes the martinis. Would that the audience could have imbibed as well.

My Sweetie, the official scorer, pointed out an interesting coincidence. Potter also acted in the Seattle Rep's production of Or, by Liz Duffy Adams and directed by Allison Narver, in March and April last year. Or, won several Gypsy Rose Lee Awards from Seattle Theater Writers and took on many of the same issues of women's "proper" role in society, life expectations, and love, but managed to do it in a highly engaging and entertaining way.

If you want to learn about the history of feminist literature, rather than attending the "fourth-rate liberal arts college" of Rapture, Blister, Burn, you would do better to enroll in a survey course at your local community college. You could participate in the discussion instead of just watching, you would earn three credits, and you wouldn't burn an otherwise perfectly pleasant summer evening on a dull and pedantic show.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Dandies, the cult of the closer, and who the frack are you?

Baseball can be a cruel and unforgiving sport.

Mariner first baseman Justin Smoak has been the object of some derision from Weisenheimer, being tagged with the nickname "The Great Smoak" almost since the moment of his acquisition as the big prize in the trade of Cliff Lee, which was followed immediately by his nosedive from über-prospect to just-another-player-who-flopped-upon-arrival-in-Seattle.

The Great Smoak. Photo by
Keith Allison, Wikimedia
Smoak has been enjoying a modicum of redemption this summer. While his figures (.266, 9 HR, .793 OPS as of this writing) aren't exactly Ruthian, they dwarf 2012, in which Smoak batted .217, with 19 homers that boosted his OPS all the way up to .654. (Even Brendan Ryan, the M's recently deposed sub-Mendoza-Line shortstop, has an OPS of .521.) My Sweetie, the official scorer, and I were at the Mariners game Monday night, a 2-1 win over Cleveland. Late in the game Smoak came to the plate, and, as if to emphasize that the player was not yet a household name, a kid sitting several rows behind us bellowed, "Get a hit, number 17!" Were kids in the Bronx in 1927 hollering, "Sock one, number three!" when the Bambino came to the plate? Was Stan the Man ever encouraged to "Knock one, number six!"? I think not. Smoak has a ways to go to win the hearts and souls of the fans.

The 2-1 game qualified as a "dandy" as defined by my Sweetie, the official scorer, who as official scorer is the ultimate arbiter of these things. I have to say, though, that after some 22 years of going to games together (as of next month), we may have arrived at somewhat different understandings of the standards under which a "dandy" can be declared. I'd always thought that a dandy featured five runs or fewer scored, with a final margin of no more than two. Thus, a 3-2 game could be a dandy. But recently I was informed I was mistaken, and that five runs are too many. So a 3-1 game could be a dandy, but a 3-2 contest was a little wild. In addition, it's not a dandy if any errors are committed. The margins were clear on Monday and the game was officially determined to be a dandy. (Don't even ask me about the definitions of "beaut" and "humdinger".) Plus it was a gorgeous night out for baseball and for a ride on the Water Taxi to get home. We had a lovely time out at the yard.

The dandy-ness was nearly botched by the appearance of M's closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who lost that gig for a while because he stunk, and now has it back despite the fact that he doesn't smell any better now than he did in June. Wilhelmsen "saved" Monday's game by allowing a one-out double (though we might have to cut him some slack on that one because 41-year-old Raul Ibañez was playing left field and, while he's having a bang-up year at the plate, Raul doesn't cover as much ground as he used to) and then an inexplicable walk to Jason Giambi, a once-feared hitter who is now 42 and batting .192, before getting the final out on a long fly to right field.

Wilhelmsen had relieved Charlie Furbush who had relieved starter Aaron Harang, who pitched seven innings while allowing just four hits, walking one, and giving up one run on a first-inning homer. He'd also retired the last nine hitters he'd faced, ripped through the sixth and seventh innings on just 11 pitches, and had thrown just 99 for the game. Weisenheimer is admittedly old-school, having grown up watching Bob Gibson and others who would bean the manager if they tried to take them out of a 2-1 game. I leave a guy in there if he's retiring the side in order on five pitches.

Admittedly, we don't know what else might have been going on. Perhaps Harang was truly out of gas, or overcome with emotion at the birth of the royal baby, but all things being equal I leave him in.

The Goose. Now that guy was a
closer! Photo by Bbsrock, Wikimedia
What's even more annoying than the automatic, by-the-book summoning of the closer is the ridiculous production number that heralds his entrance into the fray. For Wilhelmsen the M's have concocted a video presentation based on an ear-splitting rendition of the Hendrix version of "Voodoo Child," which at least shows good musical taste, but for gawdsakes it's as if we had Ricky Vaughn or Goose Gossage coming in rather than a guy who brings back nightmares of Bobby Ayala and Heathcliff Slocumb.

By the way, as I sat down to write this, Wilhelmsen was notching another save Tuesday, during which he gave up singles to the first two hitters to put men on the corners with nobody out in the top of the ninth. A truly boneheaded baserunning move helped the M's turn the rare 5-4-2-6 double play, the last guy whiffed, and the M's had won their eighth straight.

Wilhelmsen has me in mind of a story from my friend Chuck, who tells of drafting Claude Raymond of the Expos in an APBA league after he had notched 23 saves for Montreal in 1970. When the year's cards arrived, Raymond was rated among the worst pitchers, thanks to an ERA of 4.43. Here's hoping no 13-year-olds are duped by "The Bartender's" saves this off-season.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Bard's kings rule the summer stage

It's good to be king! There are some nice shows touring on the summer outdoor stages in the Seattle area, and the ones featuring the Bard's monarchs are the best of the bunch.

Vince Brady, left, as Lear and Sam Hagen as the Fool in the
GreenStage production of King Lear. Photo by Ken Holmes.
GreenStage is running King Lear, directed by Erin Day and featuring Vince Brady in the title role. Brady turns in a stunning and memorable performance as Lear, heart-rendingly depicting the aging ruler's flip-flops from monarch to mental case, from vengeful tyrant to doting dad. Brady is at home with Shakespeare's language, but it's also an intensely physical role. Apart from (spoiler alert!!) lugging the dead Cordelia at the end, he has to play the tics and twitches of age and infirmity, the strength of the king in his more lucid moments, physical hardship in the storm, and he's just on stage all the time. A truly marvelous performance; he's every inch a king.

The rest of the cast is grand as well. Sam Hagen is jaw-dropping in his portrayal of the Fool, truth-teller to the king. It's magical how Hagen makes the wise and hilarious simpleton utterly believable. Daniel Wood is amazing as Edgar and his undercover alter-ego, Poor Tom. Wood often winds up barely clothed in these things, as he did while wearing Superman underwear as Stephano in The Tempest two years ago. Lear is fabulous. Don't miss it!

(Full disclosure: Weisenheimer is marketing director for GreenStage, but it doesn't make me biased!)

David S. Hogan is commanding in the
title role of Wooden O's Henry V. Hogan
is pictured here with Annie Lareau as
Bardolph. Seattle Shakespeare Company
At the other end of the royal spectrum from the aged Lear is the young whippersnapper Henry V. Seattle Shakespeare Compnay's Wooden O is performing Henry this summer, directed by George Mount with David S. Hogan in the title role. Hogan rocks this great character, whether he's giving the Saint Crispian's day pep talk, whacking one of his old drinking buddies for stealing, or skulking among the common soldiery the night before the big battle. I especially enjoyed the great scene where he and Carolyn Marie Monroe, as Katherine, try to overcome the language barrier as they court in court at the end.

Henry had some great special effects, including a couple of explosions, one of which took down a wall of the fortress. Also, at one point during a battle the air cover flew overhead (yes, set in modern times!) and I was looking around for the real plane--jets often fly over Volunteer Park during the shows. The "sense-surround" really worked. Henry V included a strong supporting cast with many favorite actors. And Terri Weagant as Bishop of Ely? I confess!!

GreenStage also is reprising A Midsummer Night's Dream, the fourth time they've performed the popular Shakespeare comedy in their 25 years cavorting in Seattle-area parks. The silver-anniversary version, directed by Ken Michels, is great fun from start to finish. Gina Marie Russell and David Rollison are fantastic as Hippolyta/Titania and Theseus/Oberon and Taylor Davis enchants as Puck. I found the Rude Mechanicals to be especially hilarious. Led by Michael Ramquist as Peter Quince, the director of Pyramus and Thisbe reminded me a bit of Buddy Bizarre, and Ramquist said there may be a touch of Harold Hecuba in there as well. Danni Krehbiel is a hoot as Robin Starveling, and Luke Sayler a riot as Bottom.

Wooden O also is putting on The Tempest, directed by Kelly Kitchens, with Amy Thone in the role of Prospero. Thone is amazing, with a string of lead Shakespearean roles of late, including Cleopatra and Titus Andronicus. Kitchens took a bit of a different tack with Caliban than we usually see, with Brian D. Simmons playing the slave as a crew-cut, t-shirt-wearing, but gouged up human. It was an interesting way to go with the character. I loved the comic relief between Mike Dooly and Donna Wood as Stephano and Trinculo; as we left after the show we heard several patrons proclaim that "the drunk guy was really good!"

In this show Wooden O's effects did not work as well. They had trouble with the sound system and there was some background hum and feedback for a good part of the performance we saw, and with microphones all over the set, some of them delivered louder sound than others, which was a bit distracting. I hope they get those ironed out as the summer goes along.

The kings rule, but all four of these shows are worth a look. They're playing in parks all over the area through mid-August.

GreenStage calendar
Wooden O calendar

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Catching up on theater reviews

For some reason I'm always a little surprised to learn that the West Seattle Weisenheimer has actual readers, and even more taken aback to find out that some of them miss our rantings when we go quiet (as we did for two months between our essays on the Mariners and double plays in late April and the 14/48 festival in late June.) Not even my mom reads this blog; Ma Weisenheimer is not an Internet user. Yet when our writeup of the first evening of 14/48 was posted, several folks that evening mentioned that they were glad we were back.

There's no accounting for taste!

Well, we have been going to theater these past few months. Here are some quickie reviews of a half dozen shows we liked, and one that was not so great.

Photo by LaRue Lobdell
ACT's production of Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz, directed by Victor Pappas, was a marvelous show, featuring sparkling dialog delivered by some fine actors. We were especially impressed with Pamela Reed as Polly Wyeth, well-to-do mom of a Palm Springs family experiencing some strife during the holidays, and with Marya Sea Kaminski as daughter Brooke who plans a tell-all book about how horrible it was growing up with those parents and how they killed her brother. A great tale of family history, politics, and the varying stages of truth. My Sweetie, the official scorer, was bugged all evening trying to figure out where she had seen actor Kevin Tighe, who played father Lyman Wyeth. An Internet search revealed she remembered him from the '70s television series "Emergency."

Dogg's Hamlet/Cahoot's Macbeth, by Tom Stoppard, directed by Teresa Thuman for Sound Theatre Company. Pairing two lesser-known Stoppard one-act plays based on the Bard made for an interesting evening. In the first English schoolboys preparing for their presentation of Hamlet befuddle everyone with their made-up language. By the end we begin to understand what they're talking about, and are laughing out loud at the slapstick juggling of virtually every prop and set piece on the stage. In the latter a power-mad police inspector in cold-war Czechoslovakia keeps a close watch on a group of actors performing Macbeth on the sly in a private home. Robert Hinds played the inspector with malicious glee. Props to a great cast and the usual fun word play from Stoppard.

Often times these days we're choosing our plays because of who is in them. The Language Archive by Julia Cho directed by Shana Bestock at Seattle Public Theater is one of those, and Mike Dooly was the who. Dooly was great as always, this time as a linguist who, ironically, can't find the words, any words, to salvage his crumbling marriage. Julie Jamieson and John Murray were delightful as the last two speakers of a near-dead language, on the critical list because they're not speaking to each other, either! Candace Vance was marvelous as Dooly's frustrated spouse who finds her calling as a baker, and Heather Persinger was a delight as Dooly's lab assistant who is madly in love with him but—of course!—can't find the words to tell him. Seattle Public Theatre had a fine 2012-13 season that also included Superior Donuts and The Understudy, another show featuring Dooly that we didn't review but did enjoy.

The cast of Smoked! Photo
by John Cornicello.
Café Nordo's Smoked! was dinner theater, but in a good way. In our experience neither the dinner nor the theater are much good in these situations, and we would have given Smoked! a miss except that Ryan Higgins and Ray Tagavilla were in the cast. That turned it into must-see theater, and we were pleased with both the show and the food. The play was a send-up of the spaghetti western, and we as the audience were folks who had come into town for tomorrow morning's hanging. While feeding up at the local saloon we saw first-hand the conflict between the baddies from the big agri-business firm that was running the town and the silent stranger who rode in to set things right. The food was tasty and all locally sourced. The drinks were delicious creations, too, and Weisenheimer's home bar now serves up a reasonable re-creation of saloonkeeper Clara Still's concoction "The Pine Box." We'd never heard of Douglas Fir liqueur before!

Weisenheimer is often teased as being a soft touch as a theater reviewer. This recent piece from The Guardian takes to task reviewers who are too quick to rave about mediocre shows. I'll admit that I am way more of a booster than a critic. So it pains me to say that the Eclectic Theater production of Othello, which I'd eagerly anticipated because the wonderful Michael D. Blum was cast in the title role, was an extremely disappointing show. Fittingly for a performance of Othello, we blame it all on Iago. Rik Deskin, who is the company's managing artistic director, was cast in the role despite the fact that he is having memory issues that leave him unable to recall his lines. There was quite a dust-up on Facebook over this, but we decided to go anyway and see how it was handled. Sadly, not well. Director Kim Deskin's attempt to make Rik's memory seem like a feature rather than a bug was clumsy and distracting. Worse yet, even though he was on book Deskin was still flubbing lines, and we saw the show near the end of its run. And the biggest sin of all was that Deskin really didn't do anything resembling acting. With a cardboard Iago Othello just falls apart. The cast was valiant, and kudos to them all for soldiering on, but they couldn't overcome the sore middle finger on the stage.

L-R: Richard Nguyen Sloniker, Mark
Bedard, and Angela DiMarco in Boeing
. Photo by Chris Bennion.
Boeing Boeing at Seattle Rep was a wonderful farce with a great cast. The play by Marc Camoletti, translated by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans and directed by Allison Narver, is the tale of a '60s swinger, played by Richard Nguyen Sloniker, who is dating three stewardesses, played by Bhama Roget, Cheyenne Casebier, and Angela DiMarco. When the flight patterns get tangled up and all three arrive at the bachelor pad at once, hilarity ensues. Further comic relief is provided by the brilliant Anne Allgood, who plays the maid who somehow helps keep the secret, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival favorite Mark Bedard, who plays a school chum from Wisconsin who isn't so used to this swingin' Paris lifestyle. Great set and "futuristic" gadgets helped make this a fun show.

The cast of The Taming of the
, trailer park version. Photo
by Chris Bennion.
Seattle Shakespeare Company closed out its season with an indoor remounting of its Wooden O production of The Taming of the Shrew, set in a trailer park. Aimée Bruneau directed, David Quicksall and Kelly Kitchens were marvelous as Petruchio and Kate, David S. Hogan sparkled as Grumio, and Karen Jo Fairbrook was over the top as Mama Baptista Minola, the reigning queen of the trailer park.

Now you're up to date! We're looking forward to the Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival next weekend!