Monthly Archives: July 2012

‘RENT’ rocks at The 5th Avenue Theatre

The 5th Avenue Theatre closes up its season with the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner “RENT,” playing through August 19th. The late Jonathan Larson’s marvelous score filled every wavelength of space in the beautiful downtown theatre: “Seasons of Love,” “Without You,” “Today 4 U,” “Light My Candle,” among many others. Director Bill Berry’s cast is full of blood and vinegar.

Martin Christoffel’s set is an urban jungle underneath an underpass, graffitied with lyrics and lines from the show. The layered scaffolding is crawling with the colorful and talented ensemble, who are equal parts props, set, and mob choir. A couple ensemble stand-outs: Eric Ankrim (who is also an associate director for the show) has a gripping solo in “Will I?” and Sarah Rose Davis’s frequent voicemails as Mark’s mother are hilarious. You actually look forward to her return (those glasses!). “La Vie Boheme” is electric.

However, if you have to boil it down to one reason to buy a ticket, here it is. They call her, they call her Mimi. Actress Naomi Morgan is a knock out. She’s angry, she’s tenacious, and she’s tiny and lithe. The fire in her eyes hits the back wall. She attacks songs rather than just sings them, and wins. When she speaks and moves, you get the feeling that if she were to ever let out what was inside, there wouldn’t be signs big enough or lights bright enough. Her romantic yo-yoing with Aaron C. Finley as “Roger” (who is also wonderful, especially during his gripping “One Song Glory”) threatens to overshadow the other relationships at play. It’s strange to feel relief when both pull out their AZT, yet their chemistry is so visceral, you can’t help but guiltily rejoice.

'RENT' plays at The 5th through August 19
‘RENT’ plays at The 5th through August 19
Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka

You pretty much instantly fall in love with Jerick Hoffer as “Angel.” He is the shining light of the stage, filled with irrepressible optimism and fun. He returns to the Balagan Theatre early next year in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” as the starring role, which will undoubtedly be a blast.

Frankly, this reporter would take Ryah Nixon (“Maureen”) as she is any day of the week.

The director makes the case that “RENT” is just as relevant today as it was in the early and mid 90’s when the Tony and Pulitzer winning blockbuster first came to light. But does it actually matter? Do audiences still flock to “Hair” because of its relevancy?

“RENT” encapsulates a time when AIDS was still a frighteningly unknown disease, when people wouldn’t even shake hands with someone infected. In today’s world, while there is still stigma, contracting AIDS isn’t the death sentence it once was and it certainly is no longer commonly called the “gay disease.” But to worry about its relevance is like saying modern audiences can’t get something out of “The Help” if they didn’t have a “colored only” entrance. Relevancy is irrelevant. There is poignancy to watching a group of artist friends trying to live in the moment and realizing that these are teenagers, and many of them will most likely die a very ugly death. “No Day But Today” isn’t a trendy Hot Topic t-shirt to these kids. If The 5th Avenue’s production doesn’t move you because AIDS is soooo last decade, well, maybe you should stick to tumblr for entertainment.

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“RENT” plays July 21 – August 19, 2012 at The 5th Avenue Theatre (1308 5th Ave, Seattle, WA 98101). Tickets (starting at $29.00) may be purchased at www.5thavenue.org, by phone at 206-625-1900, or at the Box Office at 1308 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle.

 

For more reviews and theatre news, check out: http://www.examiner.com/a-contemporary-theatre-in-seattle/jasmine-joshua

Initiman puts on an exceptional ‘Dirty Story’

After a brief hiatus, Intiman Theatre is back and it is pulling no punches. Its production of “Dirty Story” by John Patrick Shanley, a part of its summer theatre festival, is a volatile and gripping show that you must see once and will want to see twice.

Shanley is a genius. Let’s start with that. The man didn’t win a Pulitzer, a Tony, and an Oscar for nothing. And he’s got chutzpah. Fortunately, these are exactly the two traits needed to craft the bold and brilliant political satire that is “Dirty Story.” Shanley manages to tackle the Middle Eastern conflict in a way that has you recoiling in horror and bursting out laughing — often at the same line. Pack up what you think you know and leave it outside. You’re about to empathize with those you swore were wrong, literally after congratulating yourself on a point well-made.

In a sunny Manhattan park, grad student Wanda seeks advice on her novel from Brutus, an established writer with a candle still burning for his unwritten Great Idea. Within a few hilarious moments, Brutus expertly dismantles Wanda’s schlocky, albeit well-meaning, manuscript. Wanda, stubborn and naive, pushes for more, somehow willing to put up with his abuse if she can learn something. And because this is a Shanley play, he eventually invites her up to his apartment and a love/hate relationship unravels with twists and turns that will give you goosebumps. To fully enjoy the impact of this masterwork, nothing more should be revealed about the plot.

Intiman delivers an exceptional cast and crew. Director Valerie Curtis-Newton has puppet-mastered a turbulent and intricate dance that blindsides you a couple times in delightful ways. Jennifer Zeyl’s set is a sparse cage, wire and wood and dirty windows. LB Morse’s lighting design holds several surprises hidden behind glass panes and under seats.

Shawn Law as “Brutus” is riveting, gracefully careening between a fragile artist, a self-righteous philosopher, and a vengeful victim. His restlessness is dangerous and engrossing from beginning to end. Carol Roscoe’s “Wanda” walks the razor’s edge between victim and aggressor, both unassuming and manipulative. Wanda’s ex-boyfriend Frank could easily be phoned in, but Quinn Franzen brings nuance to a cartoon character, a boy who suddenly finds himself at the top and didn’t realize how lonely it was. (Franzen is also playing “Romeo” in Intiman’s R&J and, judging by this role, is most likely quite good in it.) Allen Fitzpatrick as “Watson,” Frank’s aging British sidekick who’s been around the block a few times, is smug and subservient.

Although worth the set up, the play is a little cerebral at first. Brutus and Wanda’s pretentious babble on the nature of story and fiction/non-fiction is reminiscent of stoned conversations you might have had in college. Fortunately there are enough biting battles of wits to break it up and Curtis-Newton’s direction wisely sets a fast pace to get you to the goods. There are a few details that don’t align quite as brilliantly as others, especially when you retrace your steps at the end. Regardless, the play makes for delicious after-theatre conversation, hopefully over a crisp beer and something sinful to eat.

“Dirty Story” is playing at the Intiman Theatre’s black box. Tickets are $30 and it plays through August 25th. Do not miss this.

 

For more reviews and theatre news, check out: http://www.examiner.com/a-contemporary-theatre-in-seattle/jasmine-joshua