Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Henry V - Seattle Shakespeare Company

Henry V
Seattle Shakespeare Company
April 15 - May 9, 2010

Shakespeare’s Henry V is a famous play, and rightly so; it contains some of Shakespeare’s most rousing speeches, and is—especially in this production—a subversive portrayal of both the glories and sacrifices of war.From the moment the opening speech by Artistic Director Stephanie Shine is under way, the audience has already been unknowingly swept into the play. Russ Banham’s smart, specific direction encourages the play’s inherent intention for the audience to actively participate in thought and imagination along with the actors.

Alexandra Tavares as Katherine and Jerick Hoffer as Alice. Photo by John Ulman.

This macho world of war is enhanced by transporting this Shakespearean history to the 1960’s: an atmosphere created partly through the use of stylish suits and ornate military uniforms by costume designer Pete Rush, which encompasses a modern world that the audience can connect to. The minimal but versatile set (Jason Philips) nevertheless gives the feeling of immense distance through Andrew D. Smith's subtle lighting design and Matt Starritt's exquistite sound design—ranging from the shocking rattle of guns to atmospheric sounds that affect the audience almost without their notice.

Throughout this political battle between France and England, the actors examine the human experience, and poignantly and powerfully engage the audience in this discussion of human understanding. Evan Whitfield’s King Henry was skillfully executed, in particular his growing vulnerability, discoveries and moral questioning during the long nighttime scene at Agincourt. Truthfully, positive comments could be lavished on every player in this piece; but particularly it was the tight ensemble work and vivid connections among every character that created such a display of realism and such a strong connection to the audience.

David S Hogan as Bedford and Evan Whitfield as Henry. Photo by John Ulman.

The moments of deep realism are also balanced well with the humor in this play, which was could easily have been downplayed in favor of the tragedy and struggle. However, Banham’s direction accentuates the funny moments as much as the most deeply introspective moments in the play, in interactions such as Katherine (Alexandra Tavares)’s attempts to learn English from her maid Alice (Jerick Hoffer)’s or Fluellen (Tim Hyland)'s use of leeks as a dueling weapon. This balance of introspection and humor enforces the audience’s involvement in the lives of all the characters.

The only shortcoming to the production comes at the last moment, which is a slideshow of iconic images of war (many from the audience’s own lifetime). It emphasizes the brutality of war, yet at the same time overkills the idea to an audience which has already understood this tragedy, more deeply, through the story told by the actors. However, this is a minor weakness, made noticeable by the power and imagination of the past two hours. Banham’s direction, every actor’s skill, and the top-notch design and production team all support the audience’s emotional and active interest, and challenges the individual journey through the tragedy of war and, ultimately, personal life decisions.

Review by Andy Swanson and Kenna Kettrick

Friday, April 16, 2010

On The Town - 5th Avenue Theatre

On The Town

5th Avenue Theatre

April 13 – May 2, 2010

Tickets and Information

Joe Aaron Reid, Matt Owen, Greg McCormick Allen. Photo by Curt Doughty 2010.

With only 24 hours to spend for a vacation, what better place to be than in the city that never sleeps? Then again, having only 24 measly hours to spend in the humongous city of New York may not sound like a full vacation at all, but wait until you see the 5th Avenue Theater’s production of On the Town. On the Town is a musical comedy that tells its audience that when in New York City, you can never prepare yourself for the characters you will meet and the quirky adventures that you can encounter in the city that never calms down.

On the Town, directed by Bill Berry (West Side Story, The Wizard of Oz), tells the story of three young American sailors who are on a 24-hour shore leave in New York City during WWII. The three sailors Gabey (Joe Aaron Reid), Ozzie (Greg McCormick Allen) and Chip (Matt Owen) know they only have one night to kill in the Big Apple so they are excited to make it a night worth living for. It isn’t too long after the sailors get off the ship and start off for their daily adventures in New York when Gabey finds himself enamored with a poster of the beautiful “Miss Turnstile” (Courtney Iventosch) during a ride of the subway. Gabey vows that he will find Miss Turnstile before his 24 hours in New York City is over and his friends Ozzie and Chip agree to help. While all three sailors split up to search the city for Miss Turnstile, both Ozzie and Chip end up enduring a few love encounters on their own. Ozzie gets “Carried Away” with Claire (Billie Wildrick) the anthropologist in the American Museum of National History, and Chip meets the rambunctious Hildy (Sarah Rudinoff) who is a taxi driver that demands Ozzie to” Come Up to My Place” before he helps Gabey find his lovely Miss Turnstile.

With political war posters plastered along the stage and costumes fashionably created for the 1940’s, the set creates an atmosphere that brings the audience back to New York City in the mid 1900s.The music, written by the infamous Leonard Bernstein, is what really gives the flair of the mid 1900’s New York City with its classical, jazzy beats. Of course, it is important to mention that even though the set was cleverly created and the music was undeniably catchy, the talented actors are what really bring this entire production to life. The performances were phenomenal, where the actors did a variety of dancing including ballet, tap, jazz and more. Also, the singing from each cast member made the audience roar with applause after each catchy number was complete. Lastly, the casting choice was pure chemistry as well; especially the three sailors who played off each other perfectly. Chemistry is one of the most important factors in creating a successful theatrical production, and the cast of On the Town could not have been selected more perfectly for each other to make this one of the best musicals that the 5th Avenue Theater has given to the theater scene of Seattle.

On the Town is a show that everyone can enjoy. Though the musical doesn’t follow the same story line of the famous 1940’s movie On the Town (Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly) it is just as catchy and entertaining. It is a musical that will give you a heart warming, but comical look on the mysteries of love and how it can hit you out of no where and in within any amount of time. All in all, the phrase “only in New York” now fully makes sense. It’s the city where anything can happen; no matter the time frame or age.

Review by Darsha Squartsoff

Thursday, April 15, 2010

An Iliad--Seattle Rep

An Iliad
Seattle Repertory Theatre
April 9-May 16, 2010
Tickets and Information

“The first impression is everything,” I wrote last October about the Seattle Rep’s season opener The 39 Steps. Just as important—it seems—is going out with a bang, which is exactly what occurred tonight in the Leo K. Theater with the world-premiere presentation of An Iliad, the Rep's final show of the season.

Photo by Christ Bennion.

Two years ago, Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson set out to create a dramatic retelling of Homer’s The Iliad. The result is a minstrel-like evening of swapped stories that might seem commonplace in an old dive bar if it weren’t for the fact that they tell of the iconic Trojan War. The travel-weary Poet (Hans Altweis) shares tales of Achilles and Hector and Agamemnon—stories that he has memorized, told and retold for over a thousand years to anyone who would listen. Periodic references and comparisons to modern-day warfare serve to remind us of the production’s relevance and magnitude.

Seattle’s own Hans Altweis displays the skill and finesse necessary to capture and captivate the audience for the entire 90-minute journey. His Poet has seen the world many times over, both happily and painfully remembering every detail of every important event in history. Altweis gives weight and meaning to each anecdote, as if there is a hidden message somewhere within.

Photo by Chris Bennion.

Altweis’ performance is framed beautifully by the design teams’ creations. Rachel Hauck’s abandoned theatrical set gives weight to the idea that the weary Poet is here with us by accident, as if to hide from the outside elements. Marcia Dixcy Jory’s costume tells a story of its own with every tatter and worn elbow. Scott Zielinski’s lighting adds tension and mood in the right amounts at the right moments. Paul James Prendergast’s sound design extends the mood and motion into epic proportions. The polish and seamlessness of the production is owed to Lisa Peterson’s direction. Having co-authored the production herself, Peterson brings a purity of vision and imagination to a show that could have too easily become too epic to control.

An Iliad is much more than a recitation of the story we all remember from high school Lit. class; it is a reminder that while times may change, the beauty and tragedy of the human narrative never do. The Poet is the immortal audience, forever blessed (and doomed) to hold the stories worth telling. A story worth seeing.

Review by Kacey Shiflet.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Fences - Seattle Repertory Theatre

Seattle Repertory Theatre
March 26-April 18, 2010
Tickets and Information

25 years ago, August Wilson's Fences opened for the Yale Repertory Theatre. In 2005, August Wilson, a resident of Seattle and a good friend of the Seattle Repertory Theater for 15 years, died of cancer. Five years later, Seattle Rep, the only theater in the country to have produced all of his plays, has honored the memory of Wilson and his play in this wonderful production.

Director Timothy Bond, a friend of Wilson's, has done a fantastic job bringing to life the world that Wilson created with his words. The curtain is left open before the play begins and the audience cannot help but soak up the atmosphere before the first character appears. Between William Bloodgood's set of broken-down buildings and a dying yard with bits of grass clinging to life and an unfinished fence and the bluesy music (some originally composed by Michael G. Keck), the audience is given much metaphorical and literal information on the state of the world in the play, yet they still yearn for more. The anticipation grows until the lights dim and the first words are spoken. As each scene progresses into the next (sometimes being only a night apart, other times having years of separation), Geoff Korf's subtle lighting cues does much to enhance the story; before Troy Maxson (James A. Williams) reveals to his wife Rose (Kim Stauton) that he has been cheating on her with another woman who is now pregnant with his child, the soft white and red light of previous scenes is replaced with a harsher red tone, indicating the fury of what is to come and what has happened in the past.

James A. Williams as Troy Maxson in Fences. Photo by Chris Bennion.

The acting, as is to be expected from Seattle Rep, is fantastic and helps to move the play along at a good clip (which is important for an almost three hour affair at the theater). Williams' portrayal of Troy leaves the audience haunted and unsure of whether they are to pity the man who did the best he could considering his circumstances or hate him for how he treats his wife and son and impedes their own growth. Stauton does an equally fantastic job of playing a strong yet dependent woman who wants the best for her and her family at almost any cost. William Hall Jr. (an actor this reviewer has had the pleasure of seeing before at Seattle Rep in Birdie Blue) plays Troy's best friend and male conscience, Jim Bono. Though perhaps not as outspoken as Rose, Bono tries time and time again to keep Troy on the right path and reminds him when he veers. Where much of the conflict in Troy's life occurs is through his two sons, Lyons and Cory, and his mentally-disabled older brother, Gabriel, played by Jose A Rufino, Stephan Tyrone Williams, and Craig Alan Edwards, respectively. All do a great job of playing not only the obvious side of their characters such as grifter and football player but also emphasizing the multiple dimensions with Gabriel's love for his brother and Cory's desire to overcome his fear of his father while making his own way through the world.

(L-R) James A. Williams, Kim Staunton, Craig Alan Edwards, and William Hall Jr. in Fences. Photo by Chris Bennion.

As to be expected with an August Wilson story, the portrayal of African American life is complicated and difficult, yet there is hope at the end. Seattle Repertory has accomplished much with this production and it is safe to say much of their achievement has to do with their history with the writer himself. Wilson's legacy lives on at the Seattle Rep and you would be amiss to pass up the opportunity to see this play. Catch it before it moves onto Syracuse.

Review by David Dukart