Friday, May 28, 2010

Candide - The 5th Avenue Theatre

5th Avenue Theatre
May 25 – June 13, 2010
Tickets and Information

Leonard Bernstein's musical version of Voltaire's satire has had a long and varied history; its book has been written, re-written, revised and updated since its 1956 debut, in myriad attempts to make a book that matches Bernstein's witty and soaring score. This version is the 1999 adaptation with a book by John Caird, which director David Armstrong believes is the best balance of each part of the show; and indeed, watching the 5th Ave's production, it is easy to agree.

Armstrong's direction lets Bernstein's score lead the way, and in the capable voices of the cast the story unfolds. Veteran Seattle actor David Pichette portrays Voltaire himself, narrating and shaping Candide's story throughout the musical, with a spry sense of humor and unflagging energy. Candide (played with boyish charm and sincerity by Stanley Bahorek) lives in the “best of all possible castles” in the province of Westphalia, in love with the princess Cunegonde (the liquid-voiced Laura Griffith) and tutored in the philosophy of Optimism by Dr. Pangloss (also David Pichette, who easily slips in and out of the two roles).

Cunegonde (Laura Griffith), Voltaire (David Pichette) and Candide (Stanley Bahorek.)
Photo by Curt Doughty.

Pangloss' philosophy of Optimism holds that this world, by logic, must be the best of all possible worlds, and nothing could be better than what it is already. Nearly instantly, this philosophy is tested when the Baron of Westphalia kicks Candide out of the castle to wander in the snow. Candide's harsh entry to the world outside Westphalia, his madcap adventures across the globe, his over-the-top encounters with suffering and everyone he meets eventually cause him to create his own philosophy, a surprisingly uplifting ending to Voltaire's snappy satire. However, that satire is present throughout and offers fodder for both beautiful music—such as Griffith's operatic turn in “Glitter and be Gay”—and comic acting, such as Anne Allgood's darkly hilarious story of her character's long and completely ridiculous suffering. Every actor takes on Bernstein's notoriously difficult music and masters it beautifully, particularly in the large ensemble choral moments, as well as giving Caird's book the justice it deserves.

Matthew Smucker's set provides strong lines and simple but versatile spaces, framing the story well for the actors and for Tom Sturge's light design. Ken Travis' sound design meshed easily with the orchestration, and Lynda L Salsbury's costumes managed to portray myriad countries and styles while staying consistent throughout.

Candide is not a fluffy, easy show—either for the performers, or the audience. Bernstein's score is full of clever lyrics and twisting music, and the subject matter as well as the storyline demands intellectual participation from the listeners. However, this production is well worth it; an audience member who offers time and attention to this sparkling and legendary musical will be well rewarded.

Review by Kenna M Kettrick

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Thin Place - Intiman Theatre

The Thin Place
Intiman Theatre
May 21 – June 13, 2010
Tickets and Information

Intiman's new play, The Thin Place, was created deliberately as an exploration of both Seattle and faith. Artistic Director Kate Whoriskey and Associate Producer Andrew Russell commissioned KUOW reporter Marcie Sillman to interview Seattle residents about God, religion and faith. Interviewees included a young Muslim girl, a gay Christian man from South Africa, a priest defrocked for being both Christian and Muslim, and a survivor of the shooting at the Seattle Jewish Federation, among many others. Playwright Sonya Schneider shaped the interviews into a theatrical narrative following one fictionalized character and involving ten others.

The result is a surprisingly compelling play that offers relatable moments for everyone, regardless of your beliefs. The Thin Place revolves around Isaac, the son of a Pentecostal minister, and his personal discovery and questioning of faith. Isaac is played by Gbenga Akinnagbe, who also portrays the ten other characters—lightly (if at all) fictionalized versions of people Sillman interviewed. Each character is unique, each has something different to say about faith and their relationship with God, and each one opens Isaac's eyes a little further, or gives him a new direction to take.
Gbenga Akinnagbe. Photo by Chris Bennion.

Although one or two transitions are a little confusing, overall Akinnagbe proves adept at embodying each of the ten other people he meets, both as characters in their own right and as they relate to Isaac's spiritual journey. Akinnagbe, with movement/choreography help from Donald Byrd, has precise control over his physicality; he uses it, and his voice, to great effect, in both humorous and touching moments.

Andrew Russell's direction keeps the pace steady and the story clear, and uses Etta Lillienthal's open, breezy set well. Ben Zamora's precise lighting assists the story indispensably, and Matt Starritt's sound design offers aural atmosphere as well as incorporating the real voices of the original interviewees into the play itself.

In the final piece, Seattle initally seems almost incidental. Isaac arrives in the city about halfway through his story, and although we hear about it several times, the play is really more about a spiritual journey, and the beliefs of people who happen to live in Seattle, rather than about the city itself. However, Seattle, and the Seattleites this play was based on, underlie the entire narrative of The Thin Place. Intiman deserves much credit for cultivating locally-based theatrical work, for involving so many local writers, journalists, and citizens, and for boldy creating a world premiere that reaches out to its hometown.

Review by Kenna M. Kettrick

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Charley's Aunt - Taproot Theatre Company

Charley's Aunt

Taproot Theatre Company

May 12 - June 12, 2010

Tickets and Information

Steve West, Eric Riedmann, Nolan Palmer and Anne Kenned. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

It’s an age old story. Two boys try to get girls. Girls won’t meet boys without a chaperone. One boy’s aunt, who is to chaperone, cancels at the last minute. Third boy happens to be playing an old woman in some amateur theatricals, puts on his costume, and assumes the role of chaperone. Hilarity ensues.

Well, it’s an age old story in British farce, anyway. Charley’s Aunt, by Brandon Thomas, debuted in 1892 and has been produced countless times since then, including its original London run of more than 1,400 performances. This incarnation, produced by Greenwood’s Taproot Theatre Company, is directed by TTC Associate Artistic Director Karen Lund. She writes in her director’s notes that “[Taproot] chose this play because we wanted to give you an evening of lighthearted fun and full-throttle laughs”. There is no doubt that they succeed in that goal. Despite clocking in at 2 ½ hours including two intermissions, the evening doesn’t feel long, and you will leave the theatre with a smile on your face.

This production of Charley’s Aunt is dominated by two women: first, the director Lund, and later, actress Llysa Holland. Lund knows her way around a farce, and the first half of the show is carried by her crisp and energetic staging. The show’s leads are young, and as of opening night were still finding the rhythm of the show with the added element of riotous laughter. But Lund has given them all the tools, and after a few performances they should look like old pros. Speaking of pros, the show reaches a turning point when Llysa Holland, playing Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez, arrives midway through the second act. She sweeps in, takes charge of the show, and guides the cast through to the hilarious finale. Although her character is not necessarily the star of the show, Holland gives by far the outstanding performance of the evening.

The rest of the cast are all capable in their roles, and the obvious fun they are having adds to the audience’s enjoyment of the evening. The designs are also solid, though a period play like this unfortunately does not offer much in the way of boundless creativity for designers. All turned in quality designs that do not detract from the language and the action, which should be and are the stars of this farce. The only difficulty posed to a designer is the complicated set that farce generally requires. Mark Lund, Taproot’s residentscenic designer, is very adept at using Taproot’s unique thrust stage to serve a wide variety of shows, and Charley’s Aunt is no exception.

Plays do not generally last more than a hundred years if they aren’t that good. Taproot’s production of Charley’s Aunt shows why the show is still alive and kicking all these years later. There are not a lot of comedies playing on Seattle stages right now, so for an “evening of lighthearted fun and full-throttle laughs,” you can do no better than Charley’s Aunt at Taproot Theatre Company.

Review by Patrick Lennon

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Trip to Bountiful - ACT

The Trip to Bountiful


May 7 - June 6, 2010

Tickets and Information

ACT’s production of Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful is difficult to criticize. Nearly every aspect of the show is spot on. And yet somehow the production as a whole doesn’t feel quite right. It’s almost as if the show is happening in the wrong theatre. This isn’t a show that shows what ACT is all about.

Marianne Owen, Mary Kae Irvin, Paul Morgan Stetler.

Photo by Chris Bennion 2010.

Individually, each part of the show is commendable. The acting ensemble is packed full of Seattle’s best talent, and they rise to the occasion. Standouts are Mary Kae Irvin as Jessie Mae, who brings in a punch of life and energy just when the show needs it (several times), and the fresh-faced Jessica Martin as Thelma. But the true star of the show, deservedly so, is Marianne Owen as Carrie. Ms. Owen turns in a heart wrenchingly beautiful performance, so strong that at times that it almost feels like a one-woman show. It is a difficult journey that Carrie goes on throughout the performance, and we are blessed that Owen is willing to go on that journey with us night after night.

On the technical side, ACT’s usual prowess was in evidence. Christopher Walker’s sound design was sparse but fitting, and Matthew Smucker’s set was clever and effective. Costumes by Frances Kenny capture the period perfectly, especially those worn by Jessie Mae. And special kudos must be given to dialect coach Alyssa Keene; Marianne Owen in particular sounded like she’s lived in Texas her whole life.

So why, if all the individual elements were up to par, did the show not soar? The pace of the production is slow and mellow, but the staging is not to blame. The show’s energy is exactly right for the setting; it ebbs and flows gently like warm air on a lazy Texas afternoon. It is not so much that the energy of the show feels wrong, but that it feels out of place at ACT. This is an old-fashioned show, with a story that slowly unfolds over nearly two hours with no intermission. It doesn’t have the vibrant, youthful quality that has characterized ACT’s recent history.>>>This isn’t to say that the show shouldn’t be produced anymore. On the contrary, Horton Foote’s explorations of longing and the concept of home are gorgeous and timeless. But this American classic would feel more at home at a company like Intiman, or in a larger space where the epic nature of the story and the setting can wash over you. ACT’s theatres are better suited to the work they have been doing the past few years: intimate productions of dynamic contemporary plays. This production of The Trip to Bountiful, although well-done and enjoyable, unfortunately misses that mark.

Review by Patrick Lennon

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Keefee's House of Cards - Printer's Devil Theater

April 30 - May 28, 2010
Printer's Devil Theater @ The Rendezvous Jewelbox Theater
Tickets and Information

Note: No one under 21 admitted to the Jewelbox Theater.

Come for a drink and a laugh and enjoy Keefee’s House of Cards, a spontaneous and interactive blackjack showcase of hysterics, staring Stephen Hando and directed by Jennifer Jasper. Visit the Jewel box Theatre at Rendezvous in Belltown and be transported to Shenanigans Casino in Las Vegas. Shenanigans hutlike Irish Casino may be far from the Las Vegas strip but it’s the perfect place for a night out with Keefee. Enjoy the vegas experience as waitress bring you food and drinks to any seat in the house. And never fear, the refills keep coming – even if you’re on stage.

Stephen Hando as Keefee. Photo by Kelly O.

In this one man show, Keefee (Stephen Hando) plays a sassy and spunky blackjack dealer who enjoys himself, a little booze, and the company of others. Hando is flashy and mouthy as Keefee, the loveable dealer with a heart of gold. Four people are invited from the audience to Keefee’s table, where they then become part of the show. No real money is exchanged – its just for fun. And even if you have never played blackjack before, Keefee explains as you go. Not only does Keefee inform the audience, he says all the things you wish that you could say at a table but never do. But he may put you on hold while one of his wacky friends rings his cell.

Hando and Jasper set out to create a unique alternative theatre experience where you don’t just view the show, you feel like you’re part of it. The production in itself is very much like a blackjack game. The cards are always different, but the house is always the same. Even though it plays in the same venue every night, it is a different show because of the people in the seats and the cards on the table.

Guest Reviewer: Jessie Portlock