Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Teatro ZinZanni

Originally posted here: http://www.examiner.com/review/dinner-at-wotan-s-at-teatro-zinzanni-parties-like-it-s-ragnarok

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Hedwig O’Hara

Still Beautiful

I saw a live production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch a few weekends ago.  If you’ve never seen the movie, you really should because it’s amazing.  Since I posted my review of the stage show on teh internetz in a somewhat official capacity, I couldn’t really delve into how much Hedwig’s story really means to me on a personal level because it would have devolved into emotional dribble.  But here I can do whatever the hell I want, so HA.  The review I wrote is pasted at the bottom.

When I first saw Hedwig in college at a midnight movie theater (said everyone who’s ever seen the movie), I pretty much became instantly obsessed.  I love Hedwig.  I feel her.  I know her in my core.  I’ve really had to overcome my shyness at admitting to be the soul sister of a transsexual woman who was coerced into having a sex change operation that was completely botched, especially considering I am a heterosexual ciswoman.  But my GOD, I gaze into John Cameron Mitchell’s wet, aching blue eyes on screen and, as the poetic lyric goes, I could tell by her expression that the pain down in her soul was the same as the one down in mine.

To be honest, in my projected imaginary mirrorland, I like to think of myself as a mixture of:

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The glorious Hedwig

And:

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The equally glorious Scarlett

There is something about Scarlett’s spoiled and impetuous (and, dare I say, feminist) nature that just charms the hell out of me.  And I completely empathize with what it’s like to chase after the dream of Ashley only to find that he’s a total wiener. (Side note: Yes, I am aware that the novel Gone with the Wind is sentimentally racist.  The film, which thankfully cut a lot of that out, did give Hattie McDaniels a chance to win her well-deserved Oscar, so I’d like to think it helped pay back at least a little karma.)

Anyway, back to Hedwig. I realize that I have not undergone anything tremendously horrific as, say, having my sexual organs permanently disfigured, but I recognize the fear of loneliness and pain of being rejected.  I thought I found my soulmate in every poor sap I ever dated.  If there was a book on my dating life before M Fox, the title would either be You Probably Should Have Joined a Nunnery, subtitled At Least Jesus Would Love You  or Sex Doesn’t Equal Love, You Freaking Idiot. (Spoiler: I am the freaking idiot.)

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The Book of Mormon: some tough love for the tour

The original Broadway cast of "The Book of Mormon."

The original Broadway cast of “The Book of Mormon.”

Let’s just get this out of the way. If you are offended by cursing, genital mutilation, sodomy jokes, or are religiously sensitive, you should not see this show. (Although the Mormon Church took out three full-page color ads in the program with clever tags like “You’ve seen the play, now read the book!” Ten points to them.) Also, if you don’t know what “South Park” is, you probably should just find a nice Spencer Tracy movie to watch on AMC.

And now on with the show.

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World Premiere of “Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam” at ACT

Photo by Chris Bennion

When you walk into an immigration story, you think you know the arc. Horrific stories of a war-torn native land, a degrading journey to a xenophobic world, the struggle to fit in, a dark night of the soul, acceptance of a unique melting pot history and future.

What you don’t expect are jungles and pirates and murder and hip hop and Shakespeare.

ACT’s world premiere of Trieu Tran’s autobiographical one-man show, “Uncle Ho to Uncle Sam,” is the reason why these stories need to be told. Tran’s journey shakes you out of complacency. It forces you to look at the details. For 80 minutes, you’re reminded that everyone’s history is unique and no amount of prior knowledge can prepare you for Tran’s truth.

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Very funny double bill at ACT

ACT –A Contemporary Theatre is in the thick of its Pinter Festival, celebrating the deliciously dark Nobel laureate’s work. While two of the featured works are full length plays set to open later this month, the double bill “The Dumb Waiter” and “Celebration” is open now and runs through August 12. Director John Langs harnessed a remarkably talented pool of actors who navigate Harold Pinter‘s trademark gallows humor with aplomb. If you want to see comedic timing pulled off with stunning expertise, get thee to ACT for this delightful double bill.

First, spoiler alert! “The Dumb Waiter” isn’t a comedy about the exploits of an oafish burger slinger at Johnny Rocket’s. Instead the play takes place in a barely livable underground bunker where two hit men kill time while waiting to start their next job. Darragh Kennan as “Gus,” the junior member of the team, is perfect — his perpetually perplexed face is in and of itself comedic gold. Gus incessantly asks questions, both inane and philosophical, which reminds one of the Death Star cafeteria worker in an Eddie Izzard sketch.

Charles Leggett as “Ben,” the seasoned veteran of the game, is the Abbott to Kennan’s Costello. Leggett’s waning patience is an art form in this show. While Ben bumbles blindly in the dark, Leggett’s “Gus” is measured and confident — at least until you tick him off. Both Kennan and Leggett expertly squeeze every comedic drop out of the silences that awkwardly stretch between them. Meanwhile, the titular inanimate character keeps dropping quizzical dinner orders, much to the heightened confusion and panic of the two men. The audience is transfixed, laughing while inching toward the edge of their seats waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And then it’s over and you’re not entirely sure what just played out. The intermission to follow is good for that “Wait. . . what?” discussion. Still, the acting, the banter, and the ambiance is so well done, it’s hard to be unsatisfied.

Next up is “Celebration.” Inspired by an actual table of raucous diners overheard by Pinter and his wife, “Celebration” is what would happen if every obnoxious person you have ever met decided to have dinner at the same fancy schmancy restaurant. And it’s hilarious. From the drunken lascivious hypocrite, the two-timing yuppie wannabe, and the nosy waiter, to the floozy your beau slept with before you, the embittered foul-mouthed wife, and her wildly inappropriate sister. They’re all there. And they’re ordering more wine. Bon appétit!

While there are excellent performances all around, Anne Allgood as “Prue” (the aforementioned sister) gives one of the greatest drunken monologues in theatrical history. It’s not just a series of filthy one-liners (though the show’s got those, too), it’s got a full-on story arc, impeccably done. How any actor on that stage managed to freeze her or his face is anyone’s guess. Kennan also has a wonderful bit part as a waiter with a most impressive grandfather (just. . . go see it). The audience giggled in anticipation whenever he entered the stage.

Lighting Designer Rick Paulsen did a marvelous job for both plays. The uncomfortable flickering and eerie florescent glow from the grated floor combined with Brendan Patrick Hogan’s screechy sound effects are perfect co-stars for “The Dumb Waiter.” The final smooth-glowing moments of “Celebration” are particularly impactful.

While “Celebration” is definitely the stronger of the two works, there is still something unfocused about its message. Is it meant as commentary on the boorishness of the nouveau riche? Or did Pinter just want to recreate an amusing and outlandish conversation he overheard with his wife? Similar to the many red herrings in “The Dumb Waiter,” the story lacks the crispness of the dialogue. Regardless, the artistic and creative teams behind these productions are top notch and it’s well worth the trip to enjoy some very intelligent, darn-right good theatre.

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Tickets are $5 to $55. All events included in the ACTPass, ACT’s $25/month membership program (ACTPass holders can also get discounts on Henry Woolf’s master class). “Celebration” and “The Dumb Waiter” are included as a double-bill in a subscription package. For full schedule and more information on other special events, visit http://www.acttheatre.org/ (206) 292-7676

Don’t forget to pick up a Pinter Punch Card! You earn points and rewards the more performances/events you attend. Some rewards include commemorative pins, drink and parking vouchers, and a signed poster by the full Pinter Festival cast. Pick up your Pocket Guide at ACT Theatre and then stop by the in the Union Lobby after attending a Festival event to get your Pocket Guide punched.

 

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

‘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