Sunday, October 25, 2009

GreenStage Titus is bloody good fun

GreenStage's current production of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus includes a couple dozen murders, several rapes, one sliced-out tongue, five lopped-off hands, one chopped-off horn, two slain offspring baked into a pie and served up to their momma, abused pumpkins, wanton out-of-wedlock sex that results in an illegitimate clown child, stabbed flies, a hootenanny, and so much spilled blood that the front row of the theater is declared a "splatter zone."

It's a comedy, and one of the funniest things Weisenheimer has seen in a while.

My Sweetie, the official scorer, declares that the program for the show contains the best ever one-line summary of a Shakespeare play: "Thus begins a series of events that lead to revenge, revenge, revenge, more revenge, and then some pie." Director Tony Driscoll writes that he thinks Titus includes "some of the greatest characters and some of the best verse the Bard ever gave us." He also finds it drop-dead funny. His production is a scream. It's what you might expect Quentin Tarantino or Sam Peckinpah would have done with it. The blood and violence are entirely over-the-top, and the inspired comic touches are too numerous to mention.

Driscoll gets marvelous performances out of a wonderful cast. A couple deserve calling out. Nicole Vernon as Lavinia is probably the goopiest character ever seen on stage. After losing both hands and her tongue she oozes blood for the rest of the show. That's her in the photo at right, shot by GreenStage producing artistic director Ken Holmes. But she gets a LOT bloodier than that! Orion Protonentis is wickedly evil and funny as Aaron, the clown. GreenStage regular Erin Day is delightfully conniving as the Goth queen Tamora and as the dominating empress to Lamar Lewis, who plays Saturninus somewhat less assertively than your typical Roman leader. Tom Dewey plays seven or eight characters and every one of them gets offed, including "guy with dead pigeons."

The cast included several Balagan Theatre veterans, among them Patrick Bentley, who played Titus. Banton Foster (Quintus) and Sam Hagen (Marcus) are fresh off Balagan's critically acclaimed Elephant's Graveyard. In Titus Foster plays banjo for the second consecutive production. Let's keep the streak alive! Johnny Patchamatla (Lucius) was marvelous as Balagan's Othello, the play that got me hooked on the company. And Amelia Meckler is a riot as "Scrub Wench," a role that -- wait, let me check -- nope, it's not in the Bard's original list of Dramatis Personae for Titus. But she's absolutely necessary in the production as a practical matter. Leaving all that blood about would make for slippery footing and force the company to change its name to RedStage. And when Meckler wipes down a Roman column, that baby gets clean!

Titus Andronicus runs through Halloween night. Go see it!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The ministry of silly musicals

I was perfectly prepared not to like the 5th Avenue Theatre's production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat when I took Ma Weisenheimer to a Sunday matinee. While this Joseph is pretty near the silliest thing I've seen on stage (non-comedy category), I came away with a wry smile on my face from a pleasant afternoon of eye and ear cotton candy.

Three great points. Though the tale is based (loosely) on the Bible story, Elvis as Pharaoh (played by Billy Joe Huels) is the closest thing to God in the show; composer Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote quite a variety of music styles into the score, including early disco, reggae, country/western, and Rock 'n' Roll; and the production employed a large chorus of kids who were really great and seemed to be having a smashing good time. Oh, make it four points: Donny Osmond was nowhere to be found.

The audience was full of kids, too, and it's great to see young folks out at the theater. Some of them probably got a bit of an eyeful more than mom and dad expected, especially when Joseph was confronted with a stable of scantily clad Egyptian hotties when he arrived, enslaved, in that land. It's rated PG, and parents are warned about a suggestive scene with Potiphar's wife, too.

Anthony Federov sang Joseph. Federov, who placed "in the top four" on season four of American Idol, was fine as the dreamer. (But do we have to keep having these Idol folks around as transparent ticket-sales devices?) Jennifer Paz belted out her narrator tunes marvelously. Huels, of Seattle's Dusty 45s, was a treat as the King. Joseph's brothers were a great country singing and dancing troupe.

But really, the star was set designer Martin Christoffel, who came up with a wild array of gaudy, colorful sets. The coolest was the one that accompanied Elvis and included a couple of 25-foot-high, guitar-playing, graven images. The costumes, too, designed by Mark Thompson, were acid-trip colorful, save for Joseph and the narrator, who wore white. (The dreamcoat of color makes only a short, token appearance early in act one, with a cameo at the end.

My favorite number was "Go, Go, Go Joseph," which closed out the first act. Swear to God, this was an amazing technicolor ensemble doing go-go dancing straight out of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. A more colorful, strobe-lit prison cell I've never seen. The entire cast did a "megamix" reprise of the tune at the end, this time dressed in white with a bit of a hip-hop undertone.

Joseph was a lot of fun, a good entertainment for a gray Seattle Sunday afternoon.

Zastrozzi gets his revenge

Revenge was never so much fun! The Balagan Theatre production of Zastrozzi: The Master of Discipline by George F. Walker, directed by Nik Perleros, is a non-stop laugh riot of sex, swordfights, and mwah-hah-hahs that are thoroughly entertaining.

Ray Tagavilla was at the center of everything as the title character, a master criminal bent on revenge on Verezzi, played by Chris Bell. These two spent September tearing our hearts out in Elephant's Graveyard at Balagan. In this one, Zastrozzi is hunting down Verezzi for killing his mother, but somehow it all seems so lighthearted!  Verezzi has turned both artist and messenger of God. Aimée Bruneau is a ball of fire as Matilda, Zastrozzi's some-times lover. As you can see in the photo at right, their encounters sometimes get a bit rough. Bruneau is super handy with a sword, a whip, and a thick, Chermann akksent. How real is Bruneau's performance? Word is that on Thursday night, an audience member stormed the stage with offense at Matilda's brief flirtation with said spectator's boyfriend, also sitting in the front row. (It's possible the offended audience member was inebriated. Matilda had a sword.)

The rest of the cast are grand as well. Joe Ivy sparkled as Victor, tutor to Verezzi who has been keeping his charge a step ahead of Zastrozzi for three years. Don MacEllis was marvelous as Bernardo, Zastrozzi's dim-wit henchman. Monica Wulzen was gloriously ditzy as Julia, the virgin pretty much everyone else in the cast wants a piece of.

It wasn't too deep, but it was a fun evening of enjoyable performances. Go Zee Zastrozzi!

(Disclaimer: Weisenheimer is president of the board at Balagan, but it doesn't mean I'm biased! Also, you can still get Balagan season tickets. Just $100 for the remaining eight shows, including Zastrozzi.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

TPS to hand out Gregory Awards Monday

At least one Weisenheimer favorite will get some well-deserved recognition when Theatre Puget Sound hands out its Gregory Awards on Monday at Intiman Theatre. (Disclaimer: Even though the awards are named Gregory, it's not after Weisenheimer.) Terri Weagant, who was marvelous in Balagan Theatre's production of The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe this summer, will be given the TPS "Members Voice" Award for outstanding actress; she received the most write-in votes in the category. Weagant won't be on hand to accept the award; she's taken Search for Signs on the road and is in Alaska.

Similarly, West Seattle's own ArtsWest will be getting the Members Voice award for best production for its staging of The History Boys, directed by Christopher Zinovitch. Weisenheimer didn't see the play, but it's good to see our local company getting some recognition. Those are the "boys" at left in an ArtsWest photo by Matthew Durham.

Several other Weisenheimer faves are also up for awards. Outstanding Actor nominees include Charles Leggett, who was super as Shylock in Seattle Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice; and Paul Morgan Stetler who starred in New Century Theatre's production of The Adding Machine. Hana Lass is nominated for Outstanding Actress for her turn as Ariel in The Tempest at Seattle Shakes.

We're lucky to live in a great theater town with so much local talent.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dunces great, with a surprise ending

A Confederacy of Dunces at Book-It Repertory Theatre was a marvelous production made more memorable by an unexpected ending in its penultimate performance Saturday evening.

About five minutes from the end of the play, a bell began ringing, the house lights went up, and a voice on the sound system suggested it was a fire alarm and we should all leave the building. We all just sat there surprised, wondering if it was part of the play, until a few seconds later Brandon Whitehead, who played lead character Ignatius J. Reilly, said, "I think she's serious." To which the voice replied, "I am serious."

We all shuffled out of the theater, which is in the Seattle Center House, and found several of the cast already out in the closed-down Fun Forest. Whitehead and Samara Lerman, who played Myrna (pronounced "Moyna") Minkoff, decided to put on the final scene for us. That's them in a Weisenheimer photo at right. They're in a car. Imagine it!

I must admit I was a little reluctant to see Dunces. I loved the book, but the characters and the activity were bizarre enough that I wasn't sure if it would translate well to the stage. Mary Machala adapted John Kennedy Toole's novel for the stage and directed this production as well, and I have to say that everything was spot-on.

Whitehead's portrayal of Ignatius was particularly marvelous, though I'm worried about him. The poor guy eats four or five hot dogs on stage for each show, and Saturday was a two-performance day. Maybe they found him some veggie dogs with a little less fat and sodium. Hope so! Also grand was Ellen McLain as Irene Reilly, Ignatius' momma. Betty Campbell was a riot as the elderly and shuffling Miss Trixie, long-time employee of Levy Pants where Ignatius worked for a brief time. Cynthia Geary, who played Shelley in the TV series "Northern Exposure," was a lot of fun in the roles of Mrs. Levy and Lana Lee.

Three cheers for Book-It for an entertaining production, and hats off to an excellent cast for being able to roll with the unexpected and finish a most memorable evening.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bob Dylan can still bring it!

"They say I'm past my prime," sang Bob Dylan performing the tune "Spirit on the Water" early in his show Monday in Seattle. "Let's see what you got; we can have a whoppin' good time." Dylan may be past his prime, but he's still writing and performing dynamite music, and we had a great time at an amazing concert at the WaMu Theater.

After opening the nearly two-hour set with "Gonna Change My Way of Thinking" from the 1979 album Slow Train Coming, Dylan pretty well split the rest of the evening between '60s classics and tunes from his latest, this year's Together Through Life, and the 2006 disc Modern Times.

"Forgetful Heart" was the one slow, quiet ballad of the set, a hauntingly soulful mourning of lost love. Shortly after that came a hard-driving rendition of "Highway 61 Revisited" that showcased some wicked guitar playing by Charlie Sexton.

Dylan has never been known for his purty vocals, and he seemed especially growly on some of the old stuff, singing "Lay Lady, Lay", "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again", and "Like a Rolling Stone" with a rather bizarre, staccato delivery. A few passages in "Lay Lady, Lay" also unfortunately reminded me of the Lollipop Guild! The approach put me in mind of Billie Holiday (no, really!) who was purported to have opined that if you sang a song the same way twice, it ain't music. Dylan sure put a different twist on some of these tunes that are more than 40 years old.

The highlight for me was the grand finale, a rendition of "All Along the Watchtower" that was--dare I say it?--Hendrix influenced! It was another chance for Sexton to turn in some searing guitar licks.

The band was great, a tight group that for the most part played a bunch of good, old blues. Sexton was joined by Stu Kimball on guitar, Tony Garnier on bass, George Recile on drums, and Donnie Herron as utility infielder. Dylan played mostly keyboards, though he did play guitar on a few tunes, and harmonica. They all, including Dylan, seemed to be having a great time jamming on some incredible tunes. Weisenheimer had a great time watching and listening. Dylan can still bring it!