Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wisemen on the case

Weisenheimer continues to court divine electrocution by partaking of theatrical productions that treat the events of Dec. 25, 4 B.C., with something short of reverence. So far, we've made it through Three Men and a Baby Jesus, Inspecting Carol, the Mayan-predicted apocalypse, and now Wisemen without getting singed.

L-R: Matt Fulbright, David Bestock, and Gavin Cummins are
associates of the law firm investigating the paternity of the baby
Jesus in Wisemen. Photo by stone photography.
Wisemen, written and produced  by David Bestock and Eli Rosenblatt (Rosenstock Productions) and directed by Mathew Wright, is a hilarious musical comedy. The premise is pretty simple. Joseph (Rosenblatt), not sure he's buying Mary's immaculate conception story, sets out to find the real father of the baby Jesus. He enlists the help of the Wisemen law firm and its associates Goldberg (Bestock), Frankenstein (Gavin Cummins), and Murray (Matt Fulbright).

Through their investigation the Wisemen learn that Mary (Dorcas Lewis) has "known" just about every guy in town, so there are plenty of candidates for the papa. They also encounter the Pope and a gangsta-rapping Easter Bunny (both played by Bestock), and a cutthroat CEO Santa (Cummins). A madcap trial scene at the end has the actors making rapid on-stage costume changes to hilarious effect. The three wrangle a surprise confession from the real father, but Judge Santa throws out the case on the grounds that Christmas is all about toys.

The original score is great and draws from a variety of styles, from salsa to hip-hop, and the band (Rosenblatt, Sam Esecson, Bryant Moore, and Cameron Peace) is top notch. The Wisemen are good singers, too, and Lewis can really belt out a tune.

We had a great time at Wisemen, and I wish I could tell you to go see it at ACT. Sadly, today is the last performance; they're probably about to intermission as I write this. They debuted the show at ACT last year. Let's hope it comes back for 2013.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Re-Inspecting Carol

I saw Inspecting Carol at the Seattle Rep again last night. As noted in my previous review, I enjoyed the show when I saw it a couple of weeks ago, but my Sweetie, the official scorer, had to be out of town that day. So we went to see it together and I enjoyed it again.

I'm prompted to write a second time because the Rep is doing some interesting marketing around their shows these days. For one, they do follow-up emails with patrons asking them to spread the word. One of the ways they try to get you to do it is by offering discounts to future shows for your friends. So, as a friend/reader of Weisenheimer, just follow this link for a $10 discount on tickets to Inspecting Carol, which runs through Dec. 23. You're welcome!

The cast of Seattle Rep's Inspecting Carol.
Photo by Chris Bennion.
Along with this offer, the Rep encourages patrons to post their own reviews of Inspecting Carol on its blog. One of my favorite curmudgeons, H.L. Mencken, once wrote that "democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." In this case, the Rep is getting it good and hard in this self-inflicted review section. I count 24 reviews on the page as of this afternoon, with the vote running 20 against, just four in favor (and Weisenheimer is one of the four.) Four commenters claim to have left at intermission, and three threaten to cancel their subscriptions or never see another show at the Rep if this sort of rubbish keeps up.

Now, Weisenheimer has been teased by theater-type friends for being a soft touch on reviews, and I'll fess up: I don't consider myself a critic; mostly I (and my sweetie) write because we're writers, because we like theater, and we're boosters for a lot of good work that's happening in the city. I enjoy pointing out what we liked about things. The blog is also our own little scrapbook of theater adventures. We're glad you like it, too!

That said, I think that, as with the comments sections of news sites (which are best avoided, lest one risk losing all hope for humanity), the haters are more likely to take time to write than the praisers. Last night's performance got a lot of laughs and a nice round of applause at the end. We didn't see any sort of exodus at intermission. On the other hand, the balcony was pretty much empty for a Friday night show, so it's safe to say that Inspecting Carol isn't getting the sort of buzz and holiday traffic they might have hoped for. (For the record Misha Berson in The Times rated Carol pretty well, Seattle's Child liked it (except for dirty words!), Crosscut not so much, nor Seattle Met.)

The I'll-never-go-again response is also an interesting one. Weisenheimer admits to a gut reaction along those lines on occasion. We've attended the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for the last eight years. In that time, we've probably seen about 70 plays, and exactly two of them have been stinkers. They were legendary, horrible, painful-to-watch, dammit-why-did-I-get-seats-in-the-middle-of-the-row-so-there's-no-escape bombs, but there have been only two of them. As my Sweetie wrote about Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella at OSF this year: "I'm willing to have a clunker now and again (not too often...these tickets are expensive) if it means we also get plays like Party People and The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler and Equivocation." The theater that takes no chances just stages Guys and Dolls every year.

So. Inspecting Carol is not high art, but it is a lot of fun. Now, with the Friends of Weisenheimer $10 discount you can get in for as little as $15. Don't leave at intermission.

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.

Take and eat...ewww!

At the risk of being struck by lightning I attended a performance of Three Men and a Baby Jesus, the current late-night offering at Balagan Theatre. I'm happy to report that there were no electrocutions and a lot of laughs at the one-act show, written by Balagan company member Matt Smith and directed by artistic director Shawn Belyea.

L-R: Ray Tagavilla, Ashley Bagwell, the Savior, and
Curtis Eastwood in Balagan Theatre's Three Men and a
Baby Jesus.
Somehow they remind me of Steve
Guttenberg, Tom Selleck, and Ted Danson.
The cast is a quartet of Balagan regulars: Ashley Bagwell and Curtis Eastwood, who head up the company's late- and off-night programming efforts; the fabulous Ray Tagavilla; and the hilarious Megan Ahiers.

Bagwell plays the CEO of a toy company, worried for his job on Christmas Eve because an ill-conceived marketing ploy has led to a sizable shortfall in the firm's books. Eastwood is the corporate attorney, whose answer to every problem is booze and strippers. Tagavilla is the newbie from sales who they bring in to try to fix the books. The character is Jewish, so doesn't mind working on Christmas Eve; he lives with his mother and has questionable social skills and some decidedly odd quirks.

Santa Claus (Ahiers) leaves the baby Jesus to this trio's office on the big night, with the task of protecting the savior from the forces of evil while she is out prowling chimneys. Ahiers also portrays a couple of those forces: the corporation's board chair who has the goods to soothe the child, but who also swings between promoting and sacking the lot of them; and a surprise super-demon that is one of the funniest and fowl-est villans yet seen on stage.

The three wise guys are skeptical of the baby's divinity, but are later convinced largely through Smith's interesting interpretation of the Eucharist. But let's face it: bodily functions are what infants are all about. Even so, they find it hard to resist making the kid the center of the ad campaign to save the foundering company. Even though Santa suffers a horrible demise, the show has a decidedly uplifting ending. This fun and funny play is a great alternative to sappy holiday theater fare.

Three Men and a Baby Jesus plays this weekend and next at the Erickson Theatre Off Broadway. Shows are at 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights. Tickets are $10 (though anyone with an Internet connection has probably heard of the password to get in for half price. If you haven't, the box office is always willing to offer hints.)

Check it out!

Full disclosure: Your author is a board member of Balagan Theatre, but it doesn't mean I'm biased!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

"Inspecting Carol" good fun at Seattle Rep

Call me Ebenezer.

I pretty much detest "the season." I get the willies when the holiday decor and detritus show up around Columbus Day. I get grumpy when "Holly Jolly Christmas" is playing in the background at my favorite breakfast café, intruding on an otherwise delightful and lazy 1 p.m. breakfast on a semi-sunny Dec. 1 on Alki. It annoys me to no end when my mailbox is overstuffed with catalogs daily from Halloween through Dec. 23 despite avid participation in Catalog Choice (113 cease and desist requests to 73 different catalogs and five phone books so far. And seriously, why does feel the need to send out a dead-tree catalog? It's Art DOT COM!!! That's in Internet thing!)

It's not that I'm anti-Christmas. I'm perfectly willing to hang up a few lights around the house and bust out the Santa suspenders on Christmas Eve, but I don't really want to be beaten over the head by this stuff for four months every year. I am no longer Ralphie.

Which brings us to the concept of the holiday play. The Seattle Times recently ran a listing of plays in the area for the holiday season. There are 46 of them, and I'm guessing the paper didn't include them all. Four of the shows are straight-up productions of A Christmas Carol, and seven others are some sort of riff on the Dickens tale. (Another parenthetical rant: Why do most of these "holiday" shows close down before Dec. 25? As a congenital Lutheran I know my liturgical calendar, and right now it's Advent; the Christmas season, the 12 days you've heard so much about, runs from Christmas Eve until Epiphany. Not only that, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is chock full of obligations, and all of the shows run during this time. Starting Dec. 26 many people are off school or work with little left to do but take the wrapping paper out to the recycling, and what's going on in the theaters? Crickets. Just nine of the 46 shows on the Times list run after Dec. 25. Harumph.) Most of the 46 have an Xmas theme, a few are light-hearted, such as The Wizard of Oz or The Music Man, but nobody seems to be doing Mamet or Tennessee or Arthur Miller or O'Neill or Sophocles any time after Veterans Day.

Reginald André Jackson, left, and Ian Bell
in Seattle Rep's production of "Inspecting
Carol." Photo by Chris Bennion.
So, here we are in paragraph five and I finally get to the point. If I'm going to a holiday show these days, I want it to be one that sticks a thumb in the eye of the concept, at least a little bit. That's why I was drawn to Inspecting Carol at the Seattle Rep. The show, directed by Jerry Manning, depicts the inept Soapbox Playhouse, a regional company on the brink of bankruptcy and hoping for a government grant to bail them out. They're doing their 12th annual production of A Christmas Carol with little creative oomph (save for the Scrooge character's unilateral decision to do his lines in Spanish one year.) Let's face it: They totally suck. And the Inspector from the NEA is going to be there on opening night to check them out. Kiss your grant goodbye!

The Rep cooked up this show back in 1991. It was written by Daniel Sullivan, artistic director at the time, along with other resident members of the company. They haven't performed it since 2001, though it's become something of a go-to holiday show in itself and is being produced in several other cities around the country this year.

The story builds slowly, with many a good joke during the first act and a half, though I often found myself the only person in the audience guffaw-ing, which always worries me; did I have one martini too many at 10 Mercer before the show? There are plenty of inside jokes about life on and off stage. The last 30 minutes or so are an absolute riot as the play within the play quite literally falls apart.

The fabulous cast is a great draw for this show. Reginald André Jackson is hilarious as the various ghosts. His character Walter Parsons is a newcomer to the production who never gets to learn his lines and who, as the only African-American member of the cast, serves as the embodiment of the company's weak-ass multicultural initiative. He also gets all of the best costumes. Ian Bell is enjoyable as Larry Vauxhall, the character who plays Scrooge in the ill-fated play. Peggy Gannon is great as the stage manager MJ, though somewhat less menacing than she was in her recent role in upstart crow collective's Titus Andronicus. Chris Ensweiler is one of the funniest guys around, and his Phil Hewlit plays Bob Cratchit despite his bad back and worse attitude. And it's always a treat to watch Michael Winters, who plays Sidney Carlton, the actor who portrays Marley in the play within the play. We're giddy with anticipation because Winters is one of two actors sharing the title role in Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production of King Lear next season.

I probably would not have gone to this show in November except for the fact that when I bought the tickets it was a part of a "spiked punch party" package, including cocktails and appetizers before the show. The Rep subsequently bagged the spiked punch, but the show must go on.

Inspecting Carol is a fun and amusing night out at the theater. It runs at the Rep through December 23. The Rep's video trailer for the play is below.

Oh, and true confessions: I'm going to A Christmas Carol at ACT this year. On Dec. 28. I'm also looking forward to Wisemen at ACT, which opens during Hanukkah and ends before Christmas.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

OSF: Animal Crackers

I generally think it's not a good idea to try to out-do the legends. As great as Steve Martin is, Peter Sellers is Clouseau, and I refused to see Martin's remake of The Pink Panther. The Gus Van Sant remake of and the Richard Franklin sequel to Psycho both seemed like bad ideas. Did Hitchcock goof up? Heck, I wouldn't even go see the 2003 version of The In-Laws. What, you're going to do it better than Peter Falk and Alan Arkin? Serpentine, Shel! What's next? Keanu Reeves as Charles Foster Kane?

Now, I recognize that aversion to remakes is a little funny for someone who goes to the Shakespeare Festival every year! After all, the Bard only did 37 plays (more or less) and, barring any amazing discoveries in London attics, there won't be any more. So all of the Shakespeare shows are remakes. We've already seen four or five of them more than once just in the eight year's we've been attending. I'm glad people still do Hamlet even though Olivier played the Dane pretty well. Next year OSF is doing A Streetcar Named Desire, and I don't mind seeing another production, (though I pity the poor fools who have to play Stanley with Marlon Brando peeking over their shoulders.)

Anyway, I had mixed feelings when I heard that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was going to produce the Marx Brothers classic Animal Crackers this year. On the one hand, you probably shouldn't mess with Groucho. On the other, the Captain Spaulding role was played by Mark Bedard, one of the flat-out funniest actors among the OSF regulars. On the third hand, the production wasn't really a remake; according to the Playbill it was "reconceived from an adaptation" by Henry Wishcamper.

The show, directed by Allison Narver, did not disappoint. Bedard was fantastic as Groucho, nailing the voice and the look and the walk. He had a bunch of good Groucho gags, but also was nimble in playing off of the audience and ad-libbing. K.T. Vogt, who was hilarious last year in The Imaginary Invalid, was a scream as Mrs. Rittenhouse; Jonathan Haugen was marvelous as both the butler Hives and the art-loving Roscoe W. Chandler.

Two performances came as delightful surprises. John Tufts and Brent Hinkley were featured on the cover of the Playbill in a scene from Henry V. The next night they turned up as Ravelli and The Professor—the Chico and Harpo characters—in Animal Crackers. And talk about trying to out-do a legend! While Groucho was a genius, he's been aped by many an actor. Hinkley did an amazing job taking up the horn of Harpo, who for my money was the most brilliant actor of the brothers, without uttering a word.

Animal Crackers was a lot of fun, and a great exclamation point on our annual trip to OSF. Alas, there are just three performances left; Animal Crackers wraps on Nov. 4. It's playing in the Angus Bowmer Theatre in Ashland.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

OSF: Troilus and Cressida

Troilus and Cressida is a fascinating play with layers of complexity and irony, and I would love to see it produced more often. It confounds expectations; there is no wedding, no pivotal battle scene, no coronation, no tragic hero; indeed, no hero at all. Every character is deeply flawed and there is no evolution to higher, better selves or resolution to tragic consequences. It is scathing in its disillusion. The ending is a Shakespearean raised middle finger as filthy, horrid Pandarus bequeaths his syphillis on the audience. Yes, I'd much rather see T&C a few more times than yet another production of R&J.

T&C poses the question: is it worth it? The language is about possession, ownership, buying and selling, contracts and value. Is it worth it to fight over Helen? Is it worth it to sleep with Troilus? Is it worth it to fight for Cressida? Is it worth it to get out of bed in the morning? 

Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production, directed by Rob Melrose, was set in Iraq, which is obvious and effective. The lassitude and tawdriness of war was convincingly depicted in this play about war that has no battles, just posturing, looting, bargaining, and score settling. Even as the audience was filing in and throughout the play, soldiers were battling boredom by shooting golf balls, gossiping, and generally goofing off. 

There is no hero in T&C, but there is a seer. Pesky Thersites is a clown character brilliantly played by Michael Elich. He is an observer and truth-teller, like so many of Shakespeare's "fools," and this production did not shrink from his foulness and cynicism about men and women and their exploits in war and love. 

Another strong performance was from OSF newcomer Tala Ashe as Cressida and Cassandra. Cressida is between Scylla and Charybdis for much of the play, and the way Ashe played it you could practically see the wheels turning in her head as she tries to navigate the world of men. She also embodied Cassandra's despair at being disbelieved (I wonder how many people realized the same actor was playing both roles). We hope to see more of Ashe in future years at OSF.

Troilus and Cressida runs through Nov. 4 in the New Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Remembering Sid Snyder

I first got word of Sid Snyder's passing Sunday night from Facebook friends in the know, and by Monday morning the news sites had the story. The former state senator and majority leader had passed away at 86.

I was fortunate enough to work with and for Sid at the Washington State Senate during the 90s. There are probably at least 127 million stories about Sid, starting from his humble beginnings as an elevator operator through the time when he was one of the more capable and powerful leaders in the state. Most of the accounts of his death (this one from the Aberdeen Daily World is more in-depth than most I've found) mention the time in 1997 that he quit in a huff because the opposition party wanted to change the rules in the middle of the game.

That's the first story I thought of, too. It was great political theatre, and by most accounts it was a genuine response to the situation. The "quit" didn't stick; either his legislative assistant never submitted his resignation letter, or the governor did a return-to-sender. In any case, Sen. Snyder was back at his desk within a week or so. Here's a link to that story from

When I worked for the Washington State Senate I recorded
all of the floor speeches in case some radio station needed
the audio for their newscasts. This one, with the scribble
"Sid Quits", was so memorable I held onto it. I only wish I
had a machine that would play it. We used to get all of our
music this way, kids!
I felt certain I had a video of his great resignation speech; I recall him thundering, "This is a travesty!!" It turns out I don't, and TVW online archives only go back to 1998. I do have an audio recording. It's on a cassette, and it turns out that I no longer have a machine in the house that will play it! There's one in our car, a 2007 Acura TL with an XM radio, a jack for the MP3 player, a CD player, and a cassette deck the punk fine young man who sold us the vehicle said was there "for old business guys." Well, guilty as charged. I have a bunch of stuff on reel-to-reel, too (including an unbleeped version of Tommy Lasorda's what-did-you-think-of-Kingman's-performance tirade), and some old radio carts. Might have to hit eBay or the antique stores to find some players!

Anyhow, my personal favorite Sid story happened perhaps five or six years ago, maybe a little more than that. My sweetie, the official scorer, and I often spend quality away time at the Shelburne Inn in Seaview, Washington, which as it turns out is right across the street from Sid's Market, a grocery store owned for many years by Snyder. On this particular visit, I popped across the street for some provision or other. It was after dark as I recall, and yet there was a familiar, 80-ish man restocking the vegetable oil shelf. As I approached I observed that, "They've got you working late tonight, sonny!"  Sid and I ended up chatting for about 45 minutes, right there by the shortening. He knew every customer who passed by, and for most of them had a story about how he'd torn up the family's tab when jobs were scarce or some such act of kindness. Sid said he'd been considering selling the store, but thought he might wait until a couple of his managers, who'd been on board for decades, decided to retire.

That's what you need to know about Sid Snyder: a kind and generous soul, a fantastic raconteur, a great employer, and a tremendous asset to his town and his state. I feel fortunate to have known him, and send my deepest sympathies to his wife (61 years!) Bette, his family, and everyone whose life he touched. That's most of us.

Godspeed, Senator Snyder. If they use Robert's Rules in heaven, they'd better be on their toes.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

OSF: As You Like It

When it comes to productions of Shakespeare's As You Like It, my Sweetie, the official scorer, has expectations for Rosalind that may be slightly unrealistic. As near as I can understand it, she wants Rosalind to be sort of a combination of Emma Peel, Marie "Slim" Browning, Harriet Vane, Annie Savoy, Wonder Woman, Oprah, Pussy Galore, and Elinor Dashwood. That's going to be hard to pull off, though I'd be happy to give Diana Rigg or Lauren Bacall a shot at the part.

Peter Frechette as Touchstone in OSF's
As You Like It. Photo by Jenny Graham.
Erica Sullivan is no Diana Rigg or even Barbara Feldon, but she did a fine job as Rosalind in this year's Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of As You Like It, directed by Jessica Thebus. Christine Albright was great as Celia, Rosalind's best friend and cousin who is banished from the court by the very crabby and paranoid Duke Frederick, played with menacing zeal by Michael J. Hume. Wayne T. Carr was a wonderful Orlando, steadfast in most of his affairs but on the clueless side when it comes to wooing and writing poetry that he leaves tacked to trees all around Arden Forest.

In addition to Sullivan, who goes undercover as a man, Ganymede, when she and Celia flee to the forest, Thebus flips gender roles on two other characters. Kathryn Meisle had the sort of stage presence Sweetie wants from Rosalind in her portrayal of Jacques, the melancholy philosopher; Kimberly Scott was a riot as Charles the Wrestler, who loses in an upset in a hilarious bout with Orlando early in the play.

One disappointment was missing Howie Seago in the role of Duke Senior. We've seen Seago, a deaf actor, many times over the last several years at OSF and have always enjoyed his performances. He was particularly great as the ghost of Hamlet's father in Hamlet a couple of years ago. It's clever the way Seago's characters use sign language, and others in the play translate. The Duke's role was understudied admirably by Jonathan Haugen. Seago was unable to appear in Henry V later in the week, too. We hope that he is back soon from whatever kept him out last week.

All in all, As You Like It was a pleasant romp in Arden Forest. There's just one week left to see it; the show runs through Oct. 14 on the Elizabethan Stage in Ashland.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Otis Redding and Sarah Palin walk into a bar...

We're often in Ashland, Oregon for the Shakespeare Festival this time of year, which means every four years our mostly news-free vacation intersects with the presidential debates. One of my favorite stories is from four years ago, when Sarah Palin tried to get us drunk. It was the night of Palin's vice-presidential debate with Joe Biden, and a generous bartender at a now-defunct joint called T's bought a round of tequila shots for the house every time she called John McCain a maverick. The story of the rest of the night remains a little hazy.

I didn't think about this anniversary until last night, when we were enjoying a nice dinner at Liquid Assets Wine Bar, a favorite haunt in the city, and in the background, from the bar in the back, the sounds of Obama and Romney could occasionally be heard.

Fortunately, we couldn't hear the debate too much because the musical soundtrack was also playing in the restaurant, and it was usually loud enough to drown out the less pleasant noise from the bar.

Otis Redding is no Sara Bareilles or Sarah Palin.
As it happens, one of the songs that played was a cover of the Otis Redding classic "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay". The recording wasn't familiar to me, nor was the voice. An Internet search didn't prove very fruitful; Wikipedia lists quite a number of artists who have covered the tune, with someone named Sara Bareilles the only woman among them. So maybe it was her. The Wikipedia article pegs her style as "slightly edgy, stompy piano-based pop rock that incorporates jazz and soul, with Bareilles finding inspiration from singers such as Etta James and Sam Cooke." While I wasn't hearing anything of the sort in this particular recording, it was kind of OK. I suppose. Better than the debate, in any case.

Now, I hardly ever eavesdrop at restaurants. It is usually fruitless to do so these days, anyway, as so many diners spend more time gazing at their electronic devices (probably looking up who covered Otis Redding songs, lol) than talking with each other and giving neighboring tables dialog to steal. But, as "Dock of the Bay" played on, a guy at the next table observed, "That's not the original artist."

Nope. Not even close. But it made me wonder if the former vice presidential candidate had stopped by earlier in the day.

And that's how I was able to work Sarah Palin and Otis Redding into the same blog post.

OSF: All the Way and Party People

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival took us back to the 1960s and the civil rights movement with two marvelous world premiere plays commissioned as part of American Revolutions, its U.S. history cycle. All the Way was written by Robert Schenkkan and directed by Bill Rauch, and Party People was written by UNIVERSES and directed by Liesl Tommy.

Jack Willis as LBJ. OSF photo
by Jenny Graham
All the Way is the story of the first 11 months of the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, from the assassination of John F. Kennedy through election night, 1964, when LBJ swamped Barry Goldwater. It's a fascinating study of Johnson, played brilliantly by Jack Willis, and portrays the hardball politics it took to pass the Civil Rights Act and the challenges LBJ faced on the way to the nomination that summer.

LBJ is an interesting character. He won passage of the civil rights act through pure force of will and political skill, and many of the programs this year's candidates are arguing about sprouted from his presidency. Yet he was clearly a flawed individual, and his handling of the Vietnam War was ultimately his undoing. The play portrays a moment after the signing of the Civil Rights Act, after which Johnson supposedly proclaimed, "We have lost the South for a generation." Sure enough, in 1964 LBJ won by a landslide, with Goldwater getting just 52 electoral votes, from his home state of Arizona and the rest from five states in the deep South. It's been more than a generation, and they haven't flipped back.

The set was clever and changed deftly from office to hotel room to Senate floor to campaign trail to convention hall. The acting was top-notch all around, but in addition to Willis I'll single out two other great performances: Richard Elmore was truly creepy as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and Jonathan Haugen terrific as Alabama Gov. George Wallace.

Christopher Livingston at Malik. OSF
photo by Jenny Graham.
Party People is a fantastic play created by UNIVERSES, a theater collective including Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, Steven Sapp, and William Ruiz, a.k.a. Ninja. They, along with a host of OSF company members, tell the story of the old veterans of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords, through the high-tech lens of today's hip-hop generation. 

Young men Malik (Christopher Livingston) and Jimmy (Ruiz) pull off a reunion of the Panthers and Lords at an art gallery exhibit that tells their stories. They use multiple video cameras and screens, hip-hop, gospel music, spirituals, dance, and recorded interviews artfully interspersed to tell the stories of the oppression and racism the two groups were faced and were fighting. It also revealed lingering tensions between the groups and their members, even a generation later, as the old leaders had escaped the limelight but were still fighting the fight, and being watched by the FBI.

There's some great musical talent in the cast. Sapp, Ruiz-Sapp, and Ruiz are good. We're always taken aback, too, at the musical talent of Michael Elich. When we first saw him he was kicking butts as Aufidius in Coriolanus back in 2009, but he's a musical guy, too, playing Harold Hill in The Music Man and the pirate king in Pirates of Penzance.  

We're typically skeptical of the use of high-tech effects in theater,  tending to prefer to let people tell the stories. The whiz-bang is sometimes used as a crutch, or employed for no discernable reason, but this production used such tools liberally and it worked. Ruiz was creepy as a clown who was the MC of the reunion and dug at the foibles and contradictions of pretty much everyone in the room. The set was a pretty simple stage with multi-level metal scaffolding at one end, with the word REVOLUTION in big, lighted caps at the top and multimedia screens behind the scaffolding. The show was engaging, fresh, exhilarating, and thought-provoking.

Party People runs at the New Theatre and All the Way at the Angus Bowmer Theatre in Ashland through Nov. 3. See both for some great perspectives on one of the more interesting and challenging eras in U.S. history.

Props to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for its commitment to American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle. The 10-year program will commission as many as 37 new plays--the same number in Shakespeare's canon--about key moments in our nation's history. Two other plays have been produced in the series: American Night in 2010 and Ghost Light last year.

OSF: Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella

When I was in college, my boyfriend and I had a date to go to a faculty piano recital. When we told my father where we were going (expecting to impress him for being so grown up and "cultured"), he said "meh" (or whatever the then-equivalent was), to our surprise. He dismissed the recital saying we weren't going to hear anything beautiful, and that it was just going to be artists working out their own technical studies and pet projects and trying to impress each other.

He was right. We left at intermission.
L-R: Miriam A. Laube as Medea, Laura
Griffith as Cinderella, and Jeffrey King as
Macbeth. OSF photo by Jenny Graham.

Which brings us to Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella (MMC). This is a project of Oregon Shakespeare Festival artistic director Bill Rauch's that he's been working on and thinking about and staging occasionally since college. It's three productions of three discrete plays staged in an elaborate cut-and-paste ping-pong mash-up of scenes. Think three of your favorite movies playing in split screen at the same time with someone else constantly pushing pause and play and flipping between full screen and split. Yeah. Pretty fucking annoying.

Look, we get it. We really do. The insights, counterpoints, rhythms, and themes (hey look! all three plays have kings in them! look! children are discarded in all three plays! look! women are disappointed by men! look! sisters!); the gender and identity stuff; the homage to theater and its forms, especially "populist" theater (whatever); the challenge to the audience to listen and choose; all of that. We do get it. We got it in the first 20 minutes. (The play lasted 180.)

I don't mind being challenged at the theater, intellectually and emotionally. Indeed, I love it. I'm not just looking for "entertainment" as the word is used when accompanied by a sneer. But I do expect art.

Juxtaposition isn't art.

You have to make something with your materials. I can talk to people whose families taught them to make paella and I can source a lot of really fresh, seasonal, top-notch ingredients and I can carefully season my pan and I can lay out three different recipes for paella side-by-side and maybe do a blog post and a video about what I've learned, all of which may prepare me to come up with inspiring and fascinating possibilities for my very own creative interpretation of paella. But until I cook it up in a pan, it's not good to eat. 

You can put a man and a woman right next to each other but unless they make love, they aren't going to make a baby. Unless they use fertility technology, which sounds like about as much fun as MMC (test tube theater). 

You get the idea.

Nothing was created here. It was smart, clever (too clever by half), technically complicated and brilliantly executed. I can imagine that it was stimulating for the artists involved. But in the end, it was just an intellectual exercise, a technical study, an academic endeavor, produced on a very grand scale. No story was told, no characters were created or developed, and whatever was lovely or moving about it came from the individual plays and the valiant performances of actors trying to act while someone else on stage from a whole different play was talking. (Or singing. Ugh.) 

(For an example of a play that does create something while imaginatively placing canonical plays and characters in new situations, we thoroughly enjoyed The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, directed by Bill Rauch here at OSF in 2008.)

The pity is that we think there were a couple of really fine productions buried in MMC. I would love to see Madea staged. Jeffrey King and Christopher Liam Moore were amazing as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, respectively. Please stage that Macbeth. And while I don't have much interest in Cinderella, I'm looking forward to seeing much more of the actor who played her, Laura Griffith, and godmother K. T. Vogt later this week in Animal Crackers.

But here's my final word: I'm willing to have a clunker now and again (not too often...these tickets are expensive) if it means we also get plays like Party People and The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler and Equivocation. Rauch is bringing OSF into the 21st century and clearly attempting to broaden its audience, and taking some risks to do so. And if this kind of exploration and study and experimentation helps Rauch and all the other artists involved do what they do so well (most of the time), then I'm all for it. But it's kind of like sausage-making. I just don't want to watch it.

MMC plays in the Angus Bowmer Theater at OSF through Nov. 4.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

OSF: The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa

It can be a hit-or-miss prospect to set Shakespeare plays in a radically different time and place. We've seen Hamlet as a greaser, The Taming of the Shrew featuring boy and girl gangs, A Comedy of Errors placed in the wild west, and Two Gentlemen of Verona set in a modern prep school. West Side Story is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in 1950s New York. It worked for Akira Kurosawa to set Macbeth in feudal Japan for Throne of Blood, though a stage production of the same at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2010 was an utter disaster that we chose, mercifully, not to review.

Terri McMahon as Margaret Page and
Gina Daniels as Alice Ford in The Very
Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa. OSF
photo by Jenny Graham.
We are delighted to report that, as crazy as it sounds, it totally worked for OSF to transport the Bard's wives of Elizabethan England to the modern-day American Midwest for the world premiere of The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa. This hilarious adaptation was written by Alison Carey and directed by Christopher Liam Moore.

Moore's notes about the show in the playbill call it "a profoundly silly play about deeply serious things." This is an understatement. The central character of Wives is U.S. Senator John Falstaff, hanging around The Hawkeye State after his presidential campaign flamed out in the Iowa caucuses. This leaves him little to do except try to get laid; his targets are every woman on his text message list, with a focus on Alice Ford, the wife of professional golfer Francie Ford, and Margaret Page, wife of farmer George Page. The Pages, solid supporters of Iowa's same-sex marriage law, are working hard at setting up their cheerleader daughter Anne with women, though Anne is straight and has her eyes on male cheerleader Fenton. Throw in a trip to the Iowa State Fair, a 600-pound cow made of butter, and a giant bust of Falstaff carved from manure, and you have the makings of a heck of a comedy.

The actors are all so great it seems unfair to single out any, but I will note a few favorites. David Kelly is a marvelous comedic actor who anchored last year's Imaginary Invalid (alas, unreviewed, but our favorite of the 2011 festival) and is beautifully slimy as Sen. Falstaff. Terri McMahon and Gina Daniels are a riot as Margaret Page and Alice Ford, and concoct several comeuppances for Falstaff, who is easy to fool more than once, when they discover they've received the same sext-message from the senator. (He knows Alice is a lesbian but figures he can convert her.) Robin Goodrin Nordli is a scream as Francie Ford, and especially as her alter ego "Mr. Dodge", a big-money popcorn lobbyist who bears an eerie resemblance to Orville Redenbacher, and in whose guise she approaches Falstaff in order to gather intelligence about her cheating wife, who isn't cheating on her. Brooke Parks is amazingly Teutonic as the German Doctor Kaya, in a feud with Daniel T. Parker's Canadian Rev. Hugh Evans (of the Church of the Unbroken Rainbow) about whose nation's hockey team is supreme. This is not to even mention Judith-Marie Bergan, the Manager of the Come On Inn coffee shop who expects to win a ribbon at the fair this year with her prized boar Sir Sweeney.

Carey's adaptation is true to Shakespeare's story and deftly modernizes it, with all of the dirty jokes and puns we expect from the Bard. Love and marriage win out in the end, regardless of the genders of the participants. Even Doctor Kaya and Slender Shallow, disguised as sheep, find each other and pair up in the end.  The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa is wonderful theater and plays in OSF's Elizabethan Stage in Ashland through Oct. 13.

OSF: Romeo and Juliet

Tuesday we kicked off a two-week visit to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival by attending a performance of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Laird Williamson.

Alejandra Escalante as Juliet. OSF
photo by Jenny Graham.
Romeo and Juliet always seems to be a challenge. It is performed so often—this is the 13th time it has been produced at OSF since the festival began in 1935—and the text is so familiar that one has to wonder what else they're going to do with it. In this case, Williamson chose to set the play around the time of the Gold Rush in late 1840s California. But frankly, I didn't find myself thinking much about the setting during the show. It was still just about two kids from feuding families going ga-ga for each other. 

The two kids are played marvelously by newcomers to the festival. Daniel José Molina makes his OSF debut this year as Romeo, and Alejandra Escalante is in her second year, having played Juliet in Measure for Measure in 2011. It seems the temptation is to either cast the two leads as numbskull teenagers and discount their love, or as deadly serious and forget they're kids. Williamson, Molina, and Escalante strike a good balance between the two. 

The rest of the performances were solid, too, but a couple of them stood out. Isabell Monk O'Connor was great as the nurse to Juliet. Jason Rojas, another new face to OSF, was fantastic as Mercutio. OSF veteran Tony DeBruno, in his 20th season at the festival, was spot-on as the friar, though his note to Romeo doesn't get delivered in time, which leads to a tragic end.

It is not always so, necessarily. The first time we saw Romeo and Juliet in Ashland, the leads were played by John Tufts and Christine Albright; while they finished the play stone dead in the Capulet crypt, they eventually married in real life. Though that 2007 production pre-dates the Weisenheimer blog, it remains memorable in that it was the only time we've been rained on here in eight years attending the festival. While we were under cover of the roof, I was worried about Albright in particular, who spent the night getting drenched wearing naught but a flimsy nightgown for the show. Somehow she avoided pneumonia. They've gone on to be regulars here, and Tufts this year completes a three-year run as Hal, with the lead in Henry V. We look forward to what the future holds for Molina and Escalante.

Romeo and Juliet runs through Nov. 4 at the Angus Bowmer Theatre in Ashland.

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 Fracé 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.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Spinner baseball and a mis-spent youth

It's no secret that I've whiled away about a zillion hours in my life playing baseball board and computer games. The lede of my biography on our business website reads, "Greg Scheiderer began telling stories as the eight-year-old play-by-play announcer for the contests played on his Cadaco All-Star spinner baseball game." My mom's oft-expressed lament was that if I would put as much effort into my schoolwork as I did into those silly games I might make something of myself! Maybe so, but I can still figure batting averages in my head, for what it's worth. Besides, it's all mom's fault; getting sent to my room as "punishment" meant quiet and uninterrupted time to spin a few games!

Weisenheimer spent a zillion hours (roughly) between
the ages of eight and 16 playing "spinner baseball"--Ethan
Allen's All-Star Baseball by Cadaco. As a Cardinal fan it
was a little galling to have to look at Wrigley Field for
all of those games!
I've been thinking about the Cadaco game of late, in part because I came across my beat-up copy of it last summer as we moved back into the house after our remodeling project. I completely wore out my first game and the second has seen extensive play; the box is held together with first-aid tape and I've stuck wood blocks in under the playing field to support the sagging cardboard diamond.

As evidence that most everything is on the Internet these days, I've found a couple of websites, a Wikipedia page, and a Facebook page devoted to the Cadaco game (where it's referred to as "ASB") as well as a Yahoo! group devoted to the ASB game and another for baseball board games in general. For those unfamiliar with the game, ASB is a simple baseball simulation. Each major league player included is represented by a disc based on actual statistics, with possible outcomes represented by wedges on the edge of the disc. The wider the wedge, the more likely a player is to achieve the result. Thus, Babe Ruth has a bigger home run wedge than does Mark Belanger. The disc is inserted in the spinner, you give it a flick, and the result is determined by where the arrow points. It's fully batter driven; it doesn't matter who is pitching.

This week there's been a lengthy discussion on the Yahoo! site about what to do when a spin lands "on the line" of the disc. Many players have developed elaborate answers to this question based on the pitcher, lefty/righty matchups, or which way the wind is likely to be blowing. (The correct answer, of course, is that a "line" is a foul ball.)

The player disc for the great Lou Brock! In ASB Lou is
no better or worse base stealer than Harmon Killebrew.
My first response to my renewed interest in ASB was to load my "Communist League" (as opposed to American and National; I was something of a Weisenheimer already when I created this thing as a little kid!) into APBA Baseball for Windows and see how it came out. One thing is certain: the offense is way down since pitchers matter and mostly elite hurlers are involved. As we near the halfway point of the 36-game season the Armpit (Idaho) Sprays have the best record in the league at 13–5. The Sprays are led by Ted Williams, who is second in the league in batting at an even .400 and leads the loop in slugging (.900), on-base percentage (.583), RBI (24) and has six home runs. Camp Freeman's Lefty Gomez is the loop's top pitcher at 7-3 with a stingy ERA of 0.85.

My baseball-gaming friends and I discovered the dice game of APBA about the time we started in high school. Pitchers, speed, and defense mattered, and the game was more sophisticated, so we switched over and ASB didn't see much playing time. Eventually APBA came out with the computer version, which wasn't necessarily as much fun, but it made the task of keeping statistics a lot easier! Three pals and I went back to the dice in the early '90s when we formed the League For All Seasons, starting out with the 1970 season, which was about about the first year we played APBA. Intending to play a season every three months, we so far have done 29 tournaments of 15 games per team, but haven't played an LFAS for about six years. We still get together and play other board games, but none of us is paying much attention to baseball.

I played a few Communist League games on the computer the other night. In one, Steve Carlton of the Texas Turkies took a no-hitter and a 4-0 lead into the ninth inning against the Jutland Jellicoes. Pinky Higgins broke up the no-no with a 0-out double, Jutland ended up scoring four in the ninth to tie it, then won 5-4 with a run in the 12th.

This little project is my first foray into computer baseball in a while. I dropped out of Puget Sound Computer Baseball about three years ago, no longer willing to put in the study time necessary to be competitive. (Besides, founding team members Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux retired, and it just wouldn't have been the same without them.) I played two seasons of The Century League determining modern baseball's best era, and that project ended 4 1/2 years ago. (It's funny to me that both the Century League and LFAS websites live on, despite the fact that they're connected to a Seanet account we dropped at least four or five years ago.)

I'm about ready for another computer baseball project, and have three concepts in mind. One is a league in which each team is made up of players whose last name starts with the same letter. The X's will have trouble fielding a team. The second is a tournament with the top 64 teams seeded in brackets and playing best-of-seven. The last is a reverse reality in which the damn Yankees are everyone else's farm club. We'd hold a draft at the start of each season and each other club, in reverse order of the previous year's record, gets to swap any of their players for any Yankee. It will be fun to drub them every year.

But first to finish out the Communist League slate. We've been waiting close to 40 years to see how it comes out.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Strawshop kills with Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Strawberry Theatre Workshop was so concerned about the ability of its production of Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist to compete with the Capitol Hill Block Party this weekend that it slashed ticket prices to $15 and offered refunds to those of us who had already paid the full $30. While attendance wasn't a complete bomb, there were still plenty of good seats available Friday night. Those who opted for the sound and fury of the block party, or other weekend options, missed a hell of a fine show at the Erickson Theatre Off Broadway. Strawshop's Anarchist, directed by Gabriel Baron, knocked it out of the window.

Fo's script is based on real events surrounding the bombing of a bank in Milan in 1969, but the rant against bureaucracy and official state abuse of power is just as relevant today, especially in a city where the U.S. Department of Justice is all over the cops for repeated excessive use of violence. Fo encourages producers of the show to insert local references, and Baron, who directed the same play for Strawshop in 2005, takes advantage in a number of spots.

I'll blow you up real good! Ryan Higgins is hilariously
maniacal as the Maniac in Strawberry Theatre Workshop's
production of Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist,
running through Aug. 4 at the Erickson Theatre Off
Broadway in Seattle. Photo: John Ulman.
All six actors in the show turned in superb performances, anchored by the fantastic Ryan Higgins as "Maniac." Higgins plays at times a high-priced psychiatrist impersonator, a judge impersonator, a one-eyed, one-legged, one-handed professor impersonator, and the anarchist maniac (not impersonated). Higgins is a dervish in an amazingly physical, slapstick performance. He's especially hilarious as the professor, with the fake wooden leg, glass eye, several interchangeable wooden hands, and one of the more ridiculous fake moustaches in theater history. His comedy is such a balance to the covering-up coppers that it's a shock in the final scenes when he's just a plain old crazy-eyed maniac forcing the show to its multiple explosive conclusions.

Galen Joseph Osier and Tim Hyland are marvelous as crooked cops, and MJ Sieber a riot as the corrupt superintendent, right out of the 70s in his half-buttoned polyester shirt and coated with cocaine by the play's end. Jason Harber is understatedly funny—for this play, anyway!—as the doofus police officer, though he's in danger of being typecast; I kept thinking about his doofus turn as Schmendiman in Balagan Theatre's Picasso at the Lapin Agile back in 2009. Rhonda J. Soikowski is pointedly proper as the serious journalist of the second act, though in one of the endings the whole show blows up on her.

The set for Anarchist, designed by Greg Carter, Evan Mosher, Reed Nakayama, and Ron Erickson, was a marvelous backdrop of precariously piled filing cabinets representing the reams of irretrievable documents stashed at police headquarters, the requisite bright interrogation light, a messy desk, a phone with a very long cord, one door for needed entrances and exits, and the window through which the anarchist "fell" and incriminating documents and piles of cash are tossed. The double ending is thought provoking. How much do you care who gets blown up? Does that make you just as bad as the other guys?

We're really enjoying watching Higgins these days. He was fantastic in last year's Live! From the Last Night of My Life at Theater Schmeater, though sadly this happened while we were in our non-blogging phase. We can't wait for his next project, Maldoror with UMO Ensemble.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist is a production not to be missed. We let them keep the extra $15, and it was well worth it! If you insist on attending block parties or other such diversions, well, you have additional theater options. Anarchist runs at the Erickson through August 4.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Winter's Tale, Wooden O Productions

I'm trying to remember what I said that made the Weisenheimer think that I don't like The Winter's Tale. I might have been grousing about that whole business in act V scene ii where, after the dramatic build up of act V scene i (spoiler alert!), three Gentlemen come in and blab about how everything worked out, and then we move on to all this Pygmalion/Galatea nonsense in scene iii with the "dead" queen posing as a statue and coming to life to the astonishment of all assembled. I always think Shakespeare must have been on deadline and ran out of time and thought "oh, fuck it," and dashed off 150 or so lines of exposition and then 150 or so lines ripped off from Ovid and called it good. So, OK, I don't love the ending.

But I did thoroughly enjoy Wooden O's production of The Winter's Tale, directed by Mary Machala and playing in Seattle area parks through August 12. Every time the play risks getting mired in Greek tragedy, they dialed up the comedy and the pastoral bits. David Quicksall's performance gave sweet comic relief as Antigonus right up to "Exit pursued by a bear" and as Autolycus after that. Shakespeare gives the Old Shepherd's son no name other than "Clown," and Mark Oram brought clowning skills aplenty. I thoroughly enjoyed the original, live music provided by Sean Patrick Taylor. And I appreciated what they did with the staging and costuming to dramatize the falsely accused queen Hermione's plight, giving birth in prison and being called too soon after to stand trial (costume designer K.D. Schill). Not at all nice. 

Like many of Shakespeare's plays, there are some characters who seem mostly types fulfilling their narrative/dramatic function, and other characters around them who make things really interesting. The most interesting characters to me are Paulina, Polixenes, and Camillo—the ones who must live with, respond to, and conform themselves to the actions of the king Leontes, his queen Hermione, and the next generation, Perdita and Florizel. The actors playing these three characters did not disappoint, drawing out the conflict and humanity of people loyal by family or duty to Leontes, who's bollocksed everything up. In particular, Therese Diekhans' feisty performance as Paulina gave the play spice and flavor, spark and heat. Mike Dooly as Polixenes and Nick Rempel as Camillo were as fascinating to watch when they weren't speaking lines as when they were, showing us throughout the bewilderment and confusion of men struggling with their principles and their loss in the face of being let down by those they love most.

I guess the Weisenheimer is right. It's not my favorite Shakespeare play. But enjoying Wooden O's production and getting a new perspective on the play, especially the Paulina and Polixenes characters...sitting outside on a lovely (if sprinkly) Seattle summer day with a picnic, a Dante's Inferno dog, and the exactly where I wanted to be.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Great wrapup for Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival

The Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival was a big success, with seven more performances to solid audiences at Volunteer Park on Sunday. Weisenheimer caught three of them, and parts of a fourth.

The Queen (Erin Day, kneeling) gets grilled by Wolsey
(Michael D. Blum), the King (Daniel Guttenberg) and
Cardinal Campeius (Charles Gift) in the GreenStage
production of Henry VIII.
The first show of the day was Othello by the Young Shakespeare Workshop, directed by Darren Ley. Weisenheimer set out to watch this play. However, they did a full-on Othello at 2 1/2 hours; they did it in the round, which often made it very difficult to hear; and they did it under some big cedar trees, where it was damned cold this morning! I bailed out for a sunnier spot.

We sat in the sun for the GreenStage production of Henry VIII, directed by Teresa Thuman. There is plenty of court intrigue and power playing during the show, and we were especially taken in by the accusation and trial of Queen Katherine of Aragon because of the electrifying performances of Erin Day as the Queen and Michael D. Blum as Cardinal Wolsey. Daniel Guttenberg as King Henry and Alyssa Kay were strong as well, and the entire cast turned in super performances.

Henry VIII is not produced very often. In fact Day, who serves as artistic director for GreenStage, said after the performance that they've been wondering if this production isn't the first time its ever been staged professionally in the state. Get out and see it this summer.

Curtain call for the cast of Hansel and Gretel.
The 5 p.m. show was Theater Schmeater's production of Hansel and Gretel, directed by Julia Griffin. I missed it Saturday but my Sweetie saw it and reported it was good. I caught it today and it lived up to Grimm's reputation of "frightening children for hundreds of years." This production frightened this adult, too; set after the original story, the witch is remodeling, which means two of the characters are incompetent contractors from the "Short and Sweet Building Company." Having survived a home remodel last year, we have sympathy for the witch.

Amelia Meckler was great as the migraine-plagued witch, Jay Irwin a hoot as H&G's mom Betty Knott, and Monica Wulzen and Nathan Pringle (a chip off the old block) played the title characters. The Schmee as usual delivered fun for all ages.

Wrapping up the festival on the set of Twelfth Night.
The festival rounded out with the production of Twelfth Night by Seattle Shakespeare Company's Wooden O, directed by Makaela Pollock. This was a highly entertaining show featuring Emily Chisholm and Matthew Gilbert as the "twins" Viola/Cesario and Sebastian, Connor Toms as Duke Orsino, Emily Grogan as Olivia, and George Mount as Malvolio. A special shout-out to Justin Huertas, who relished the role of Feste the fool, and the dizzying array of props and costumes at his disposal.

It was a most entertaining festival, and on Sunday we weren't able to attend all of the plays, missing Balagan Theatre's Sally and Thor Save the World (at Summer Camp), Shakespeare Northwest's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Jet City Improv's The Lost Folio, all of which played across the way at the Museum stage.

Not to worry, all of these will be playing at multiple venues through the rest of the summer. Check their websites for dates, times, and places of a show near you. We're lucky to have such great outdoor theater options all summer long!

Disclaimer: Weisenheimer is doing marketing work for GreenStage, but it doesn't make me biased!