Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Vaudevillians get their own gig

Dr. Dan Von Dandy, left, and Miss Kitty Witless
are the Vaudevillians, doing their first full-length
concert in 90 years through next weekend at
Balagan Theatre.
The Vaudevillians have been regulars at the monthly late-night theater mash-up Schmorgasborg at Balagan Theatre ever since the thing started nearly two years ago. Now the thawed-out pair from the 1920s is playing their own late-night gig--their first full-length concert in over 90 years--at Balagan through next weekend. There are only three performances left, tonight and next Friday and Saturday, June 4 and 5.

The Vaudevillians--The Hottest Act Ever Frozen Alive--are Dr. Dan Von Dandy and his lovely wife, Miss Kitty Witless. Buried in an avalanche during a tour of Antarctica, they survived through a fluke of chemistry and were recently thawed out because of global warming. The travesty is that they came back to the United States to find that modern acts had covered their hit tunes, without giving them any credit. The Vaudevillians thus perform these "modern" hits in the way they were originally intended to be heard.

Their top tunes include "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and "Drop it Like it's Hot." Weisenheimer's personal favorite in the Vaudevillian catalog is "Piece of my Heart", made into a hit by Janis Joplin and also covered by the likes of Sammy Hagar, Mellissa Etheridge, and Faith Hill.

Even though they were frozen all those years, Von Dandy and Witless bicker on stage a lot about sex, drugs, and who gets all the credit. Witless, too, is a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen. That's part of the excitement.

Miss Kitty, aka Jerick Hoffer, recently appeared in Henry V at Seattle Shakespeare Company. Dan Von Dandy, also known as Richard Andriessen, played piano at Balagan's recent Casino Night fundraiser, but it was hard to recognize him without the frostbite.

As noted, they have been regulars at Schmorgasborg, at which they typically do one or two numbers. Weisenheimer was a little concerned that a full-length concert, with intermission, might be a little too much Vaudevillian. Gladly, there was a perfect mix of music, banter, and other schtick to make it a most entertaining evening. Catch 'em if you can. Whatta say, Kitty? Meow!!

Big laughs at Schmee's Silverstein feast

A talented cast and some bawdy material added up to a fun evening of laughs at the Theater Schmeater production of An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein, directed by Julia Griffin.

All 10 one-act plays on the evening were gems:

The auctioneer (Ashley Bagwell) ogles the goods (Alyssa Keene)
in "Going Once", one of 10 one-act plays in
An Adult Evening of
Shel Silverstein. It plays at Theater Schmeater through
June 12. Photo by Regan MacStravic.
Jen and Sherwin play a high-stakes game of who-do-you-save? in "The Lifeboat is Sinking." A forceful Lisa Viertel ultimately convinces Matthew Middleton that it's his mother that needs to be tossed into the drink to save the rest of the family.

"Smile" is a great one, in which Gibby (Middleton) is harshly interrogated by Snooky (Ashley Bagwell), Bender (Alyssa Keene), and Jimbo (Sara Coates). They take Gibby out back and do him in for designing the smiley face and coming up with a variety of grievous pop-culture catch phrases over the years.

Viertel is again brilliant as Georgia, the proprietor of "Watch and Dry," a laundry facility in which nothing gets clean, much to the dismay of Marianne (Megan Ahiers). Marianne is about to turn in Georgia to the Better Business Bureau, only to learn that Georgia really has gone through Marianne's dirty laundry to learn things about her that the authorities would be most interested in. Life lessons, just $2.50 per load.

"Thinking Up a New Name for the Act" is a play with only three words--meat and potatoes--yet the entire domestic scene, murder, trial, and execution are easy to follow. Coates swings a mean frying pan.

Bagwell is at the center of two sex-for-sale segments. He auctions off Keene like a horse in "Going Once."

In "Buy One, Get one Free,"
Bagwell plays Lee,
potential John to hookers Merrilee and Sherilee.
The sketch is funny, you see
Because each line ends in rhyme with tee-hee!

Keene and Ahiers are the two-for floozies.

Michael D. Blum turns in one of the best man-plays-dog performances ever. This time he's a talking dog, Barney, who can't seem to convince his human, down-and-out blues singer Blind Willie (John Q. Smith) that a talking dog would be a more profitable act than blues singer in a deserted alley.

Blum and Viertel also are great in "Bus Stop", in which Blum carries a sign that is modified to read "Bust Stop" and the two of them lustily think up all the alternate names they can for hooters and Johnsons.

Coates is hilarious as a bag lady in the making in "One Tennis Shoe." Finally, Smith and Ahiers are fabulous in "The Best Daddy." This is the one of the plays my Sweetie, the official scorer, and I had seen before. It was part of the first Death/Sex production at Balagan Theatre back in February of 2009.

Hey, I mentioned them all! This is great material and the cast is truly outstanding. An Adult Evening with Shel Silverstein at Theater Schmeater is a lot of fun. It runs through June 12, but tickets have been going rapidly, so order yours early.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Oedipus: you'll shoot your eye out!

Weisenheimer is somewhat averse to Greek tragedy. I can trace this aversion to the genre directly back to a particularly dreadful 1992 production of Jean Anouilh's adaptation of Antigone put on by Intiman Theatre. That afternoon may have been the longest month I ever spent in a theater.

Recent events have me considering giving Sophocles a second chance. Seattle Shakespeare Company did a kick-ass production of Electra back in February. Now Balagan Theatre has come along with its own adaptation of Oedipus, a company-written script conceived and created by Jake Groshong, Ryan Higgins, and Lenore Bensinger and directed by Groshong and Higgins.

The creators take their inspiration from Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles. While it isn't exactly The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) in terms of cramming 37 plays into one performance, there's considerable upside to boiling the Oedipus story down to 90 minutes with no intermission. I have to admit that, knowing the creators as I do (Weisenheimer is president of the board at Balagan, but it doesn't mean I'm biased) I came in expecting something a bit more over the top. Instead they hit us with some straight-up theater.

Highlights were captivating performances by Ryan Fields in the title role and Patrick Bentley as Creon. The scene in which Fields as Oedipus beds his wife/mother Jocasta, played by Joanna Horowitz, was fascinating, touching, and tender, a great example of the company's ability to re-think some pretty challenging material.

If we have a criticism of the show it is that the women of Thebes--Tiresias, Antigone, and Ismene, played by the talented trio of Sharon Barto, Annie Jantzer, and Allison Strickland, respectively--don't have nearly so much to do as do the guys. Antigone spends years leading her dad, Oedipus, around after he's had his eyes plucked out. Does it suck to be Antigone? Yes. My Sweetie, the official scorer, keeps expressing an interest in meeting Sophocles' mother. I'm not sure I'm willing to burn an evening on her, but you can see her influence, through her son's handiwork, at Balagan through June 5.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Annex scores with two nice shows

With all of the theater my Sweetie, the official scorer, and I see it's pretty amazing that we had never taken in a show at Annex Theatre--until this month, when we saw two in six days. Both were outstanding.

L-R Jennifer Pratt as Annique, Jade
Justad as Veronica, and Daniel Chris-
tensen as Micky in Scotto Moore's play
When I Come to My Senses I'm Alive.
Photo: Ben Laurance.
Back on May 14 we saw When I Come to My Senses I'm Alive by local playwright Scotto Moore and directed by Kristina Sutherland. Expectations were high. Moore penned two of our favorites of the January 14/48 festival, and the cast included a couple of Balagan friends, LaChrista Borgers and Curtis Eastwood.

Senses did not disappoint. Moore's sci-fi script explored the notion of human emotions that can be downloaded and enjoyed vicariously, and a super malevolent intelligence that evolved when the system got hacked. Jennifer Pratt was excellent as Annique Farrar, the inventor of the emotion-sharing helmets, Eastwood was delightful as the sleazy TV network exec who wanted to steal it all, and Jade Justad was cool and calculating as the dangerous Veronica Bilious, spy, hacker, and hit-woman extraordinaire.

Kudos to set designer David Gignac, who came up with a big swinging wall that made it easy to switch between Annique's basement, where all the computing takes place, and the TV network offices and other scenes of the show.

We're really enjoying Moore's plays and hope to see more of them.

A few days later we took in José Amador's one-man show El Hijo Prodigo (The Prodigal Son), directed by Mark Fullerton. It's the tale of a man's trip back to his native Puerto Rico after more than two decades off the island. Amador is a marvelous story teller, and his narrative is at turns funny, haunting, gut-wrenching, and touching. Weisenheimer got especially weepy around the end, partly because Pops Weisenheimer passed away in the same year as Padre Amador.

José's performance was a bit on the spotty side, as there were a couple of occasions when he had to struggle to recall his lines. The performance we saw was the last of a run of several weeks, and besides, mastering what is, in effect, a 90-minute monologue must be one heck of a challenge. The story is entirely compelling. We'd love to see Amador continue to refine El Hijo Prodigo, and perhaps add other actors. We imagine it would be fun to meet some of the characters he told us about.

Sadly, both shows have closed. If you missed them, you missed some good stuff. And kudos to Annex for producing almost exclusively new works.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Unlucky M's

Weisenheimer is an admitted baseball stathead.

M's cleanup hitter José Lopez is slugging .278 and his OPS is
.527. Couple of flares drop in for him, he's right back in the
groove. Seattle Times photo by Rod Mar.
As a long-time participant in baseball simulation leagues involving the dice-based board game APBA and then, later, computers, statistical analysis of the game has been a big part of enjoyment of that hobby. I went off the deep end when Bill James was doing his Baseball Abstract in the early '80s. I've given up the sims; this is the first year since 1973 that I haven't been in some sort of baseball replay league. (I retired to devote more time to writing Weisenheimer, Seattle Astronomy Examiner, book reviews for Arches magazine, and to be be board chair at Balagan Theatre. I may be doing something else I can't remember right now.) But I still follow the M's and the Cardinals, and read blogs such as U.S.S. Mariner and Lookout Landing. Both sites are stuffed to the brim with FIPs and wOBAs and wOBArs and BABIPs and UZRs and a bunch of other newfangled statistics that tell us more about players than batting average and ERA.

Thus I read with interest a post yesterday on LL that said, in essence, that the Mariner offense is simply snakebit. Quoting:
We say it every day, this offense isn't this bad. They're getting unlucky. They're getting really freaking unlucky.
This put me in mind of "Bobby," a character in the great film Bull Durham who gets released from A-ball because he can't hit. "Skip," he protests, "I know I'm in a goddamn slump, but I hit the ball hard today. Couple flares drop in for me, I'm right back in the groove."

Sorry. The organization wants to make a change.

I decided to do my own statistical analysis. Even after today's huge five-run outburst (in a loss) the M's have scored just 130 runs in 39 games, a measly 3.33 runs per game. Only the pathetic Houston Astros have scored fewer in all of baseball. Fifteen of the 16 teams in the National League have scored more runs, and they make the pitchers bat over there! (Our DHs hit very much like pitchers, but that's another story.) The Mariners have 21 home runs, again 29th in baseball, ahead of only Houston. And three of those are by Mike Sweeney, so they shouldn't really count. Here's why:

Weisenheimer is convinced that Sweeney is a practical joke played on the M's by the rest of the league. During spring training they said, hey, let's throw a bunch of meatballs to Sweeney, and if he hits .847 or something in March the Mariners might think he's still got it and actually keep him on the roster. IT WORKED! So, mid-May arrives and Sweeney is batting about .172 with no homers and about two RBI. The Internets are calling for his head on a platter, so the league answered with more meatballs, and Sweeney homered in three consecutive games! He can go to lunch on those meatballs for another couple of months. Sweeney is now batting .242 with three home runs and seven RBI. (I know, the Lookout Landing folks would chide me for using these counting stats, but what the heck.) To top it all off, jogging around the bases after those home runs caused Sweeney to get a sore back, and he hasn't been able to play since the big power surge.

In short, Weisenheimer contends the Mariners are not unlucky on offense. They flat out stink. If not for Ichiro and Gutierrez, this might well be the stinkiest Mariner offense of all time. And I'm old enough to have seen some really smelly lineups. I remember Scrap Iron Stinson behind the plate, Dan "Old Whitey" Meyer down at first, Lenny Randle down at third, Pee Wee Briley in left. I saw Mario Mendoza, namesake of the Mendoza Line, play shortstop for a couple of years. (Mendoza actually hit .245, with an OPS of .596, in 1980, so I guess you could say he "erupted" the same year as Mt. St. Helens.) If Mendoza were on this year's team he'd be batting fifth.

The M's are 14-25. If Joe Riggins, the manager in Bull Durham, were here, he'd shake his head, mutter "How'd we ever win 14," and stomp off in a glorious stream of expletives.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Too many good choices

I'm not sure I'm all that crazy about "Internet democracy." Surveys, petitions, and straw polls taken over the 'net must certainly be skewed as all get-out. Yet it seems we're stuck with them.

A fascinating on-line vote that's going on right now is giving me fits because there are too many good candidates, and there's some significant cash to be had by the winner.

Theodor Jacobsen Observatory at the
University of Washington needs a new
roof. You can help! UW photo.
My friend Clarence, who recently became the CEO of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Washington, tipped me off first with a Facebook note requesting a vote for the center so it could get part of a million dollar grant to help renovate their facilities. A few days later, I went with Ma Weisenheimer to On the Town at the 5th Avenue Theatre, and they handed out cards afterward asking for votes so they could get some dough to fix up their lobby. I didn't make the connection at the time, but when I logged on to check it out, I learned that they were competing for the same pot of money.

The pot is $1 million to be doled out by the American Express Partners in Preservation Seattle-Puget Sound initiative. The partners are essentially American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. More than 100 organizations submitted applications for the grants. Twenty-five nominees were selected for the vote, which began April 15 and ends May 12. You can register at the site and are encouraged to vote daily for your favorite.

When I signed on I noticed several other projects of interest. One is the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory at the University of Washington. Weisenheimer has done some writing on behalf of TJO in his alter ego as Seattle Astronomy Examiner. Town Hall Seattle is a worthy pick. King Street Station, Kirkland Arts Center, and the Point No Point lighthouse are all on the list. As we roll into the last 10 days of Chicago-style voting (early and often) it appears the race is between the Schooner Adventuress out of Tacoma and Town Hall Seattle, with the 5th Avenue running a distant third. Alas, the observatory is near the back of the pack, with less than one percent of the vote. There may not be enough astronomers in the area; the number of hits on my Examiner articles would bear that out!

While I've given the observatory and the cultural center my support so far, I think I'll give my remaining votes to Town Hall to see if they can't catch the schooner.

As was the case with George W. Bush, all is not lost for those who don't win the popular vote. The top vote-getter is guaranteed a grant, but the partners will divvy up the rest of the pot among the rest of the nominees as they see fit. I hope the "supreme court" gives something to my favorites, too!

Go fight outside! Balagan's "True West" is a smash

A Hello Kitty toaster gave its life for comedy at Balagan Theatre Saturday night. The innocent kitchen appliance and a vintage Smith-Corona typewriter were among the many things destroyed during the final performance of Sam Shepard's True West, directed by Shawn Belyea and Tim Hyland.

Brothers Austin (Chris Bell, left) and
Lee (Mike Dooly) have some issues
with each other during Balagan
Theatre's production of
True West.
Photo: Andrea Huysing.
Chris Bell and Mike Dooly star as the two brothers, Austin and Lee. Bell's Austin is a successful screenwriter, housesitting for his vacationing mother while working on his next project. His peace and quiet is interrupted by Dooly's Lee, a petty thief and a drunk who has popped in to mom's neighborhood to steal a few things and be on his way.

Things go a bit awry. During a golf match Lee convinces Austin's producer, Saul Kimmer (played by Belyea) to drop Austin's project in favor of his own cockamamie Western tale of two dimwits chasing each other across Texas. The brothers' epic struggle over who's the better man, fueled by mass quantities of PBR, Old No. 7, and bubbly, grows increasingly violent and threatening. Lee says screenwriting is way easier than a life of crime, and bets Austin he couldn't even steal a toaster. The next morning, Austin has at least a dozen of them, including the doomed Hello Kitty model, which meets its end, as does the typewriter and much of the set, at the end of a five iron. But not before Austin has made plenty of yummy toast!

A toaster just like this one gave its
all during the final performance of
Balagan Theatre's
True West.
Dooly and Bell are great, Balagan favorites who really get into these great characters, and into smashing things. The hilarity of the situation reaches a fever pitch when their mom (Betty Campbell) returns home to her house in ruins, and can only lament that Austin forgot to water her plants (they're strewn all over the stage with the rest of the debris) and urges the boys to go fight outside.

Alas, you cannot see True West any more, as Saturday's performance was the last. We got the impression that the brothers may have been a bit more enthusiastic in their destruction on closing night, knowing that the set didn't have to be put back together for another show tomorrow. In fact, the crew was busy at work dismantling the stage within 10 minutes of the end, preparing to build in the final show in Balagan's 10-play season, an adaptation of Oedipus by the theater's company members. We can't wait for that!

FULL DISCLOSURE: Weisenheimer is chair of the board at Balagan, but it doesn't mean I'm biased!