Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Expose Yourself to Live Theatre

The goal was 52 shows. The result was 68.

Want a look at the statistics for the year? Here they are:

# of shows seen: 68
# of theaters visited: 30
# of shows I saw that I didn't like: 13
# of actors I saw who deserve a Tony Award for his performance: 2
# of theaters for whom we now hold season tickets and/or membership: 5
# of theaters which we financially supported: 9
# of theaters where I volunteered my time and/or labor: 4

Please pay attention to the last 3 statistics. You see, I am not bragging. I am just making a point, which is, that exposing yourself to the wonders of live theatre will create a marvelous impact on your life. You will be changed, for the better. Even if your experience never goes beyond your time in the audience, it will still change YOU, in some small way.

So, expose yourself to theatre. You won't be sorry.

Thanks to my husband Randy for graciously posing for this photo.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Show #68 "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" at Lakewood Playhouse

No disrespect is intended to the Lakewood Playhouse, but when hearing that this show was on their season schedule, I would have called this play, "The Most Overdone Christmas Play Ever."
I mean, EVERYONE seems to do this show at one time or another. There are theaters who make this show an annual event. There are churches who perform this in place of an actual Christmas pageant. Imagine that.

The last time I saw this show, it was a youth production at a church where my then-teenaged son performed as the Dad, Mr. Bradley. Next to A Christmas Carol, this is probably the second most performed holiday show around. Can't prove that, but not too many folks will argue the point.

At first, it's hard to see why. The script is dated, with small town church references that come from a bygone era (say, about 40 years ago), and a view of childhood that sometimes strains credibility.

Barbara Robinson wrote the book her play is based on in 1972. Yep, it feels like it. Even with the child actors in Lakewood's production in 21st century dress, it can't disguise the fact that the story should have come from MY childhood days, not theirs.

But, wait. This play is not simply about a family of ruffians who come from a broken home and terrorize the other kids in their town. It's about a Christmas pageant. A re-telling of why we celebrate the season to begin with. A story about a young Jewish couple who travel far from home, can't get a room at the inn, and give birth to their baby son in a barn. It's about Jesus.

Jesus, the baby who changed the world. The savior who still changes the world, by changing people's hearts. Yeah, THAT Jesus.

I guess no matter the format, script, or staging, the story of the first Christmas still stirs our hearts. It should. It was a miracle.

Theatre has its own miracles. One of them is this: that Man (in this case, Woman) can take a "tired old script" that is used, over-used and used once again, and somehow, make it move the audience. It can still bring a tear to the eye of a burnt-out theatre goer who's already seen 67 shows before this one.

Is this miracle thanks to theatre, or thanks to God? I would guess that it's both. God and theatre, working together.

Sound implausible? sounds like the perfect partnership.

Praise God for His indescribable Gift.

Photography thanks to Dean Lapin Photography

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Show #67 "Tacoma's Best Holiday Show" with Ensemble 915

There is a term that strikes terror in the hearts of some actors (including me). That word is "improv."

For those who were big fans of the show "Whose Line is it Anyway?" improv (or the full word, improvisation) can be a barrel of laughs when put in the right hands. Unfortunately, my hands are the wrong ones for this genre of theatre.

Ensemble 915 is an adult actor's class that is offered through the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Tacoma. Every Monday evening, a hardy troupe of actors meet to hone their theatrical skills and take artistic risks in a safe, encouraging environment. This showcase, which is their culminating project for the fall quarter, was an original one-act play written by local playwright Bryan Willis.

The characters were created from improvisations by the actor/students themselves. Stories from their own lives, or the lives of those they know (or totally made up) were put center stage and woven into the story by Mr. Willis. In this case, it was the story of a holiday talent show.

The ensemble of actors ranged from college-aged theatre students to seasoned professionals. It was an encouraging mix of age, gender and ethnicity, but that would explain why the story of a talent competition was conceived for this showcase. That is a story using every type of person imaginable.

The playwright and director (I assume) also hoped for a lot of audience participation. The "emcee" continually asked for volunteers from the audience to come on stage and perform in the talent show. There was one brave soul who came forward and recited poetry. Other than that, the rest of us remained silently glued to our seats. No impromptu performance for me!

All in all, it was an interesting evening. I especially enjoyed seeing a church friend, Paul, get on stage and perform the most moving monologue of the evening.

The best thing about Ensemble 915 is witnessing the fruits of an actor's "continuing ed." All professionals need continuing ed. In some cases (such as in my field: occupational therapy), it's the law. There are no real laws governing acting, but to see actors strive for the highest level of professionalism in their field, is admirable.

Photo courtesy of The Broadway Center for the Performing Arts

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Show #66 "A Child's Christmas in Wales" at Stone Soup Theatre

There must be something completely lovable about a "memory play." That, for those who aren't familiar with this term, refers to a play that is based on someone's memories from their past. "A Child's Christmas in Wales" is based on the poetry of Dylan Thomas, and captures his fond memories of childhood in Wales.

Audiences love this kind of reminiscence. It evokes thoughts of tradition, family and celebration. Stone Soup Theatre has found this particular story hits the target every holiday season. In fact, this is their 5th year in staging this same Christmas show. Tonight, it played to a more-than-capacity crowd.

The young actors involved were students from Stone Soup's Youth Theatre Conservatory. The adults in the cast were professional actors. This much I knew going into the evening. What I didn't know was how much the young actors (ranging in age from 7 years old and up) contributed to the show.

Even before the show began, two young boys in the cast were selling concessions. Not from a table or booth in the lobby, but from center stage. While audience members took their seats, these fine fellows very eloquently offered us cookies and hot cider. Then, three lovely young girls serenaded us with a string trio: 2 on violin and 1 on cello.

As the story opened, these young performers sat in rapt attention as their "mother and father" shared childhood memories of Christmas traditions, family gatherings, cherished gifts and holiday meals. The other adult actors played various roles, as assorted neighbors and relatives. Music was provided by a violin and guitar and from a melodic trio of singers.

But the most impressive part of the evening was watching the children perform in multiple roles, some playing both child and adult characters, and how they also doubled as stage crew, dancers and musicians.

So many times, when there is a play involving adult and child actors, the children are not much more than set dressing as the adults take the spotlight. Not so with "A Child's Christmas in Wales." All actors, both young and not-so-young, were part of a perfect ensemble, all contributing equally to the telling of the story.

I have seen another work by Dylan Thomas, "Under Milkwood," and found the play to be a marvelous actor's exercise, but a bore for an audience member. But "A Child's Christmas in Wales" was just right. Not too long, not too short. Its sentimentality was warm, not corny.

I can see why Stone Soup has made this a staple for their holiday season. And I love seeing a cast playing to a sold-out house.

Congratulations, Stone Soup! You did good. sure picked a great stage manager for your show, too.

Photo courtesy of Stone Soup Theatre

Friday, December 3, 2010

Show #65 "Annie" at Tacoma Little Theatre

Most people would find this very annoying, but I don't.

No, I'm NOT implying that the musical "Annie" is annoying, although some might say so. What I'm saying is that some folks would be driven crazy by the phenomenon that occurs after you see a musical with catchy songs. Yes, the songs keep playing over and over in your head for the rest of the evening. Argghhhhh.....

Luckily, I am one of those types that love the songs from this musical. I don't mind a bit. I might be driving my husband Randy bonkers right now with my "belting" of my favorite tunes from "Annie," but he can take it. He has to. It was part of our marriage vows, you know, for better or for worse.

I first heard the soundtrack for the original Broadway production back in 1977. That was the year I moved from my life-long home in Seattle down to Los Angeles to attend USC. I had a rough time adjusting. It was hard being away from my family and friends. I felt like an orphan.

On a plane ride home to visit family for Christmas, I listened to "Annie" on the airplane's music system. I fell in love instantly. This was the musical that spoke to the "orphaned" part of me. Annie's optimism and spunk was (okay, so this is really corny) actually inspiring.

Other people call the music from "Annie" schmaltzy. I call it toe-tapping fun.

Thankfully, I no longer feel like that orphan. I have my family around me, a wonderful husband by my side and two extraordinary sons nearby. Now "Annie" speaks to the little girl in me who dreamed of singing and dancing in a musical. The same little girl whose eyes were glued to the television as Shirley Temple tap danced and the Mouseketeers sang.

I'm middle-aged now, but still dream those same dreams. No, I haven't got the talent to actually pull off what these performers did tonight at Tacoma Little Theatre. I could never do that as well as they did. That's why I still dream. In my dreams, I can do all that....and more.

That's why Annie's optimism and dreams inspire me even today. That's why I can't help but drive my husband crazy by singing those schmaltzy songs. Try it. It really helps.

Everyone, sing! "The sun will come out tomorrow...."

Photo courtesy of Tacoma Little Theatre

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Show #64 "Oliver!" at St. Luke's Community Theater

I started off the evening not sure what to expect. Would this production of Oliver! be an entertaining, quality show or would I have to endure two hours of amateur-ish performers who had this collective delusion that they were doing theatre?

All I knew for sure was that I was excited about this whole concept called St. Luke's Community Theater Group. It is the perfect blend and partnership between two of my favorite entities: the community of faith and the community of theatre.

The folks at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Federal Way have been doing theatre for years. When they re-modeled and expanded their sanctuary over a decade ago, their then-pastor informed me that the new sanctuary was designed for both worship and theatre. What a marvelous thing!

And it still is marvelous. The stage is built right over the spot where sermons are preached and worship music is sung. Multiple exits/entrances were built into the frame of the sanctuary, as well as an orchestra pit. From the pews in the audience, there was not a bad seat in the house. Yes, this space works marvelously for a large cast musical.

There was no actual preaching going on in the theatre. In the last two pages of the program, there was information printed about the church, their staff and the schedule for worship services. Just a simple, low-key invitation to join them on any Sunday to praise God.

The best part of this whole wonderful arrangement? You guessed it, it was their production of Oliver! It was also marvelous! This "burned out" theatre patron was revived once again!!

I can't say for sure, but the cast appeared to be a combination of St. Luke's church members and other actors from the greater theatre community. The youngest performers were only pre-schoolers, portraying either orphans or Fagin gang-wannabes (or both). The other young actors were anywhere from early elementary school through high school ages. All were professional and focused in their demeanor and were a pure joy to watch.

The adults were a mixed bag of performers, but my friend Mizu and I were pleased with the quality of most of the principal actors. Of course, this shouldn't surprise me. If a community of Christians is going to use theatre as one of their avenues to draw in the greater community of Federal Way, doing "bad" theatre would not help their cause, nor would it necessarily glorify God.

But, praise God, these theatre artists are also believers who can sing, act and dance. I've always believed in using your talents and interests for the glory of God. Here is an entire church dedicated to this very thought!

Oliver! made for a perfect evening of theatre. The music from the show had me singing all the way home. The blending of Christian outreach and the arts made me sing praises to the LORD. Mizu and I discussed on the drive home about the long association between art and the church. (If you don't believe me, listen again to the music of JS Bach and review the art on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.) St. Luke's continues this sacred tradition.

Thank you, St. Luke's. The glory of the LORD shone upon you last evening!

Thanks to Oliver! cast member Mitchell Chinn for posing for this photo.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Show #63 "Three Tall Women" at Seattle Repertory Theatre's now official. I am officially "burned out" from seeing all these theatrical productions. I am kind of impressed with myself that it took 63 shows before it happened. But, it did happen. The crazy lady who has spent this year occupying more theatre seats than I care to admit, is finally petering out.

So I guess it isn't really "fair" to the Seattle Repertory Theatre and to the cast and crew of "Three Tall Women" that I went into this evening's viewing with a sense of "I don't really want to be here."

But, then again, maybe it is fair. After all, I was feeling burned out before I saw "Reefer Madness" (Show #57), but left the theatre that night feeling energized and renewed. Tonight, however, I simply left burned out.

Edward Albee's play is actually an interesting study of one person's life presented with some fascinating and innovative writing conventions. Suppose you are a lady in her 90s, in your last days of life, and you had the opportunity to witness a conversation between your 26 year old, 52 year old and elderly selves? What would you say to yourself? What would you reveal about your present thoughts, future events and past failures? Interesting premise....

But, the story was basically very sad. It was painful. It was even a bit pretentious. But it was NOT what I needed to see or experience tonight. Not after seeing at least 50 other shows this year that captivated me in ways this one wouldn't.

Notice I say "wouldn't" rather than "couldn't." That's how I felt about Albee's story. It CHOSE not to captivate or endear me. It CHOSE to horrify me with the tale of a shallow, useless life.

But, then again.... is this my burn-out speaking, or is this how I might feel even if I were refreshed and enthusiastic?

I choose to believe the latter.

I will also choose to see a couple more shows before the end of the year. I will see the shows that I have very good reasons to attend. And I will enjoy them.

I will also choose NOT to see a few other shows that normally I would attend. I have my reasons for that as well.

Although I have a couple of friends who have seen an incredible amount of theatre this year (many, many more shows than I have seen), most folks I know think seeing 63 shows is quite a lot. It's more than I thought I'd see.

But enough is enough. It's been a wonderful year. There will be a few more blog posts after this, but not at such a rapid pace. I've enjoyed myself at the theatre. I'm just tired. Let me rest, please?

Photograph courtesy of Seattle Repertory Theatre and photographer Chris Bennion

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Show #62 "The Transylvanian Clockworks" by The Outfit Theatre Project

I guess everybody loves a good vampire. Or at least they all seem to love a good vampire story. This is what the folks with The Outfit Theatre Project are counting on, especially this time of year.

Yes, Halloween has come and gone, but The Outfit's run of "The Transylvanian Clockworks" lives on, until Nov. 14th, that is. And it is quite an entertaining tale. It should be, it's the story of Dracula.

Although this play was written by Don Nigro, it is essentially a new and different take on Bram Stoker's classic story. Most of the main characters are the same. Whether this was written in the script, or was the invention of the director's vision, "Clockworks" takes on a steam punk look to it.

Hmmmm...there seems to be a trend here. This past week I watched both a staged reading and a fully-staged show with the steam punk and clockwork themes. A coincidence? Yes. A significant trend? Maybe.

I got to admit, before this year, I didn't even know what "steam punk" was. I had never heard that expression before. Had I seen stories/movies that incorporated such themes? Probably. Did I think I was witnessing something within the sci-fi genre that qualifies as a "movement"? No.

But, after googling the term and seeing what the internet gurus had to say about this phenomenon, it told me that it is considered closely connected to the sci-fi and fantasy genres. So, it makes sense that this "out look" would be employed for Maggie Lee's "The Clockwork Professor." This is sci-fi!

But to employ this with the Dracula tale is surprising. Surprising and refreshing, and probably an appropriate way for a new generation to view this old horror tale. In my opinion, Dracula's story can easily become campy for today's audiences, especially in live theatre. But to make this vampire's story a bit of an anachronism, that might sell it to me.

The only problem I had last evening with "Clockworks" was the late night hour. The show was part two of a double feature at Tacoma LIttle Theatre. After enjoying "Eleemosynary" we stayed to watch "Clockworks" at 10pm.

It was too late for this sleepyhead to think real hard. But not too late for me to appreciate the entertainment value of this show.

Photography courtesy of Scott Campbell of Tacoma Little Theatre

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Show #61 "Eleemosynary" at Tacoma Little Theatre

The world of theatre is certainly no respecter of persons. What I mean by that is: no matter how "deserving" or "talented" or "well-respected" you are as an actor, that doesn't necessarily mean you will be showered with opportunity for meaty, challenging roles in theatre.

If you're a female, that usually is the case. If you're a female of a certain age (translation: OLD), that DEFINITELY is the case.

With the majority of coveted roles in theatre belonging to men, it is refreshing to see a play with substance and humor that contradicts this trend. "Eleemosynary" is one such play.

This show calls for 3 females. One of the characters is a teenager, the other is her middle-aged mom, and the third is her grandmother. All three roles are intriguing, unique and filled with wonder. What a gem of an opportunity for some talented actresses.

Tacoma Little Theatre has followed up their season opener "Sleuth" (a show requiring 2 males) with a show that requires 3 females. That's playing fair....I like that.

And these three actresses' "playing" is more than fair. Their acting is terrific. How do I know this? Let me tell you....

First, this is a show about grandmother/mother/daughter relationships. But, in this eccentric family, there really are no genuine relationships. There is mostly controlled chaos and estrangement. How these actresses could keep a show like this together and keep us in the audience engaged in the story is a testament to their craft as actors. Somehow in the midst of relational (and life in general) chaos, we chose to care about these remarkable women.

Secondly, this show has a lot of exposition. The actors speak directly to the audience in long, detailed speeches. In fact, they speak to US more often than they speak to one another. We who are seated in the cushy seats in the auditorium become the unwitting confidantes for these women. If that doesn't make us uncomfortable, it should actually bore us after a while. But it didn't. If anything, I found myself wanting to hear MORE of what these actresses told me.

And finally, I came out of the show feeling as though I had just met 3 new friends. Each character was complete...and I considered each to be someone I knew and (at least to a certain extent) understood. That is remarkable. Hats off to not only the playwright Lee Blessing, but to the well-rounded performers who brought these women to life.

Photograph courtesy of Elliot Weiner

Friday, November 5, 2010

Show #60 "The Clockwork Professor" with SIS Writers Group

By now, I've gone past my original goal of seeing 52 shows during 2010. Quite honestly, the wind has gone out of my sails a bit since then, but sometimes there are events and shows that make the sailboat fly once more.

This show is one of them.

"The Clockwork Professor" is an original script penned by Maggie Lee, a Seattle-based Asian-American playwright who authored the show "Kindred Spirits" that I blogged about this past summer. When I saw "Spirits" last August, I remember thinking how Ms. Lee had a real knack for fun, intriguing story-telling. After seeing this staged reading of "Clockwork," I KNOW she has that gift.

Truth be told, the main reason I came to this reading is because my son Tim is in the cast. But, after seeing this story, Tim's participation became a wonderful bonus to the evening, not simply the main event.

This is a tale that is part sci-fi, part caper flick, part comedy and part steam punk adventure. Put it all together and it is pure, campy fun. (Although I don't really know if Ms. Lee intended it to be campy, but that interpretation by the director only added to my enjoyment.)

"Clockwork" is part of a weekend-long festival called "Insatiable." This is their 5th annual festival showcasing the work of various Asian-American playwrights who are members of the SIS Writers Group in Seattle. And for those who aren't too familiar with the state of Asian-American theatre, you might be in for a pleasant surprise.

Not too long ago, "Asian-American theatre" conjured up images such as dramas about a) the Japanese internment, b) indentured Chinese workers or c) just about any disenfranchised group of immigrants and their struggles against racism.

Take a look at what we Asians have to offer now. Stories of modern day people, coping with issues that could happen to anyone, anywhere. We have comedies, dramas, adventures, sci-fi steam punk name it. The characters are not necessarily Asians. They could be (and are!!) played by actors of all ethnicities.

Maggie Lee gets that. The SIS Writers get that.

I'm so glad they do. Since the actor's world is probably the last remaining endeavor where one can be hired (or not hired) based solely on one's race, age or gender, it can leave us ethnic minorities out of the mix. I was glad that Tim was able to participate in this reading. I was especially glad he got to play the handsome hero. his character used some stereotypical Asian martial arts moves. That's okay. Most other plays would have had him be the nerdy guy whose only weapon was his pocket calculator.

This is much better. Like the sci-fi inventions in the story, this is a portal that is opening that was once closed to us.

Bravo Maggie!! Keep on writing! The world needs authors like you.

Photograph courtesy of Roger Tang

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Show #59 "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" at ACT Theatre

About 5 years ago, my younger son David and I decided to become season subscribers for Seattle's ACT Theatre. Older brother Tim had just gone off to college, so this would be a perfect Mother/Son sort of activity that David and I wanted to try. After all, how many moms have the pleasure of hearing her high school-aged son suggest, "Mom, let's buy season tickets to a theatre this year"?

The first show of that season was Martin McDonagh's "The Pillowman." For months (even a couple of years) afterward, David couldn't stop talking about that play. It was brilliant. It was funny. It was dark and macabre. We loved it.

Now, ACT Theatre is re-visiting Ireland with another of McDonagh's scripts, "The Lieutenant of Inishmore." This, too, is dark and macabre. It's also brilliant and funny. But instead of taking place in a fictional totalitarian society, this takes place on the island of Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands off Ireland's West Coast.

This is a story set within the violence and rebellion in Northern Ireland during the latter half of the 20th century. Our "hero" is a lieutenant in the INLA, a splinter group off of the better known (to us Americans) IRA. Padraic oozes anger from every pore of his painfully strong body. He fights for a free Ireland, one that is free from oppressors and criminals.

When we first meet Padraic, he is torturing an accused drug dealer. We are treated first-hand to simulated torture that most of us are unaccustomed to viewing on a mainstage in a respectable part of downtown Seattle.

Get used to it.

There's more.

Well....there's no use going on in detail about the other acts of simulated violence. Just suffice to say it wasn't an evening with Rodgers and Hammerstein. It was closer to an evening with the Cohen Brothers or Quentin Tarantino.

The audience hooted and laughed their way through this story of blood, revenge and the love of a kitty cat. (Oh, did I mention that this play is actually a comedy?) Randy and I enjoyed ourselves immensely. With the exception of a few elements in the show that were "over-produced," it was a brilliant piece of work.

What the most amazing take-away I got from this play was that, in the midst of all the violence, fear and bloodshed, I found myself cherishing the people and animals in my life a bit more.

I found myself wishing that David (who is now away at college himself) had been there to enjoy this show with me. I found myself wishing that Tim could have been there, too. They both would have loved it.

But most important, the first thing I did after returning home, was to hug my kitty Penny. If you get a chance to see "Inishmore," you'll understand why.

Photo courtesy of ACT Theatre and photographer Chris Bennion

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Show #58 "Tales of Edgar Allan Poe" at Lakewood Playhouse

For a fundraiser, it was pretty good. Clever, relatively easy to produce, minimal rehearsal necessary and (I am guessing) low overhead costs. Oh...and did I mention the raffle and wine at intermission?

The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe was performed last evening as a radio play. Three microphones were set on the stage and a group of actors entered, dressed in 1940s style clothing, carrying scripts in their hands.

What we were treated to was a re-creation of a radio show, complete with commercial breaks (mostly for Camel cigarettes) and live sound effects. Three of Poe's works were presented, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Raven and The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

A company of eight actors provided all the voice characterizations and effects for these stories. These effects included the jingle for Camel cancer sticks, oops, I mean cigarettes....which, by the way, sounded pretty nice.

So, what was this whole event about? This was a fundraising weekend to celebrate Halloween, the Lakewood Playhouse Friends Fund and Artistic Director Marcus Walker's birthday. The show ran two nights, Friday and Saturday. I hear the Friday night crowd packed the house. A good time was had by all.

I came on Saturday night. We were a bit smaller crowd, but enthusiastic nonetheless.

The actors were fun to watch, or should I say, listen to. As a radio play, I found the show was much more effective when NOT being watched. I either closed my eyes during the show, or looked down at the floor. Imagining the whole experience as though I really was listening to my radio was just the trick needed to really be caught up in the stories.

My friend Corrie and I sat with great attention and interest in the front row of section I. You see, both Corrie's husband Joe and my Randy were actors in this event. This was not the first time Corrie and I watched our husbands perform together at this theatre. But it was the first time I enjoyed one of their shows while looking as though I was asleep.

Afterwards, some of the actors asked me if I was bored during the show. They noticed my "sleepy" eyes and wondered. I told them they did a good job, but when I STOPPED looking at them, their performances improved!

I guess that's the way of radio. It's a treat for the ears, not the eyes.

Thanks to cast member David Philips for this photo

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Show #57 "Reefer Madness: The Musical" at Burien Little Theatre

Seeing 52 shows in 52 weeks is by no means an accomplishment, especially if you run in theatre circles like I do here in the Seattle/Tacoma community. In Seattle, we are a theatre town. There's lots of it here to see and enjoy. Less so in Tacoma, but Randy and I have seen most of what Tacoma/Pierce County has to offer this season.

But, a goal is a goal. It motivates us to do something that we normally wouldn't do. So...last January, I set my sights on seeing a bit more theatre than the usual.

Now that this goal of 52 shows has been surpassed, it came to no surprise to me that, on our way to the theatre last evening, Randy and I confessed that we are feeling "burned out" by all this theatre viewing.

Alas! What heresy is this? Can the woman primarily known (by some) for parking her rear end into a theatre seat at least 57 times during 2010 be growing wearied by the task?

Burn-out is a common symptom of our American society that is constantly moving in over-drive. We move too fast, too furiously and too often. I am no exception. So, what keeps us going even when we want to put our transmission into "park" and just rest awhile?

Simple. Keep going, and experience something that re-fuels your tank. (Sorry about all the bad car metaphors, don't know what's come over me.)

That "something" for me was to see Burien Little Theatre's slam-bang production of "Reefer Madness: the Musical." Talk about re-feuling my tank....this was high quality, high octane entertainment. It is fun, irreverent, off-the-wall and the perfect cure for burn-out.

Just as I was saying a few weeks back about the show "In the Heights," this play is part of the new wave of live theatre. This is the direction live theatre needs to go, if we are to reach a new generation of viewers. In other words, we need YOUNG rear ends parked in theatre seats if theatre is to survive.

I am glad to report that Randy and I were one of the older people in the audience last night. The house was packed, and was I delighted! I was glad to see young people in the audience laughing and applauding along with the geezers like me.

It helped tremendously that BLT had a strong, well-acted and cleverly staged production to offer. It didn't hurt a bit that the music was fun, performances were right-on and the dancing was astounding (if you like "Dancing with the Stars," Reefer Madness will even give you a dose of ballroom dance!).

BLT is a true success story. Only a few years ago, this theatre group was on the brink of extinction. After experimenting with different genres of plays, it wooed its audience back with some tried-and-true shows but has also found a new audience with cutting edge and off the chart shows such as this.

Yes, even us theatre junkies get a bit burned-out. But what brings us back to life is spending time with a theatrical phoenix like BLT and seeing cutting edge entertainment (yes! it needs to be entertaining...not simply "avant garde") like Reefer.

So....I guess I'm good for another couple of shows, for now. least until December 31.

Thanks to Reefer cast member Brad Walker for this photo.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Show #56 "God of Carnage" at Seattle Repertory Theatre

Three words: "adults behaving badly."

That about sums up the opening show for the Seattle Rep's 2010-2011 season.

Well....okay. I will amend that statement. "Adults behaving badly (with jokes)."

THAT kind of sums up what "God of Carnage" has to offer the audience at the Bagley Wright Theater space at the Seattle Rep.

French playwright Yasmina Reza is a familiar name for me, having seen another work by her, "Art." And despite what I just said in the previous paragraph, her humor is actually not joke-driven. The laughs in her scripts are situational and relationship-driven. Usually, I like that. Not this time.

Whenever an author sets out to skewer something (in this case, the slippery journey known as parenting), I am there. Life must be met with humor, it is made for laughter. Difficult moments in life are made for loud guffaws. How else can we manage those hard times?

But, whatever we laugh at, or laugh with, there must always be one thing that remains in the situation. What is that? It is love. Without love, we are lost. So is our humor.

"God of Carnage" tells the story of two sets of upper income couples who knock heads over a playground spat between their sons. Politeness is the ground rule in the beginning, but soon, the gloves come off and mayhem ensues. Sounds like fun......

But what became apparent to me (and to Randy) as the play developed was that there was precious little love between husband and wife in both couples. And, naturally, none of the four persons on stage were friends with any of the others. So, the insults, flying barbs and temper tantrums failed to amuse us.

As I recalled the old sitcom "All in the Family" from the 1970s, Archie Bunker and crew also screamed, insulted and threw flaming arrows at one another. But the difference was, when all was said and done, Archie, Edith, Gloria and Meathead all loved one another. They were family, and they always stuck together when the chips were down. We never doubted that for a moment. Family squabbles were a source for humor.

Not so with "Carnage." By the end of the show, we had no doubt that all four characters probably despised one another, and that both marriages had little to stand on. Where is the humor in that? When we witness their fighting, it is sad....and positively annoying.

Apparently, much of the audience last evening would disagree with me on this. Several people gave the actors a standing ovation. I guess the actors did deserve some praise. With lesser actors, this show would have been totally insufferable. These four professionals showed how skilled their craft really is.

But, sadly, that wasn't enough. Without love in the story, I cannot laugh. Without the foundationa of love, all we can do is hate...and cry.

Photo courtesy of Seattle Repertory Theatre

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Show #55 "The Cider House Rules: Part Two" at Book-It Repertory Theatre

As my son Tim said last evening as we watched Part Two of "The Cider House Rules," it isn't like we were watching another play. We were actually watching one continuous play from our previous viewing of "The Cider House Rules: Part One." Sort of like seeing a 7 hour play with a 3 month-long intermission.

But, I couldn't help but see it as another play. Yes, it had most of the same characters in it, and it picked up where the other left off. But I liked this Part Two even a bit more than I liked Part One. And that's saying a lot, because I really liked Part One back when I saw it last July.

Part Two of "The Cider House Rules" is my favorite part of the story. Homer Wells' life developments and the poignant story of his fellow cider house-ers (the Black itinerant farm workers) is the part that moved me the most. Not to say that other storylines were not moving, but there are just certain themes that touch me more than others.

Take the theme of parent-child relationships. In Part Two, Homer's transition into fatherhood and even painful relationships such as Mr. Rose's with his daughter Rose were powerful themes for me.

Dr. Larch's "honorary" father-son relationship with Homer is summed up so nicely in his statement, "You are my work of art, Homer. Everything else has been just a job." That utterance so eloquently put into words how I feel about my own beloved sons. Nothing else I ever do in my life will compare in importance to raising Tim and David.

And the theme of class, race and privilege was an intriguing thread in the story that was played out in the orchard and in the cider house. Again, this is a theme that I constantly deal with in my own life.

I have no real commonality with the characters in this story, either in regards to race, geography or general family/lack of family background. But this story amazingly spoke the story of my life. Perhaps indirectly, but the thoughts and feelings were still there.

Theatre has that power. People from completely disparate places in life find that what is in their hearts are similar to the other. Their stories are totally different, but at the same time, they are the same.

I guess I've experienced this same phenomenon while watching movies and TV shows, but (if you hadn't already guessed) I prefer to experience this live and in person at the theater. It is somehow more potent when seen with live actors on stage in front of you.

Why? It's because there is also an unspoken relationship between actors and audience. This relationship cannot really happen with a filmed performance.

So...I liked Part Two a bit more than Part One. Oh yes, Part Two had one other thing going for it: it gave us a sense of closure, while still saying "to be continued." LIfe is like that as well.

Photography courtesy of Book-It Repertory Theatre

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Show #54 "Hairspray" at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

I needed to have some fun today.

I had sprained my foot while walking the dog the other day, and was still hobbling around with an ace wrap on my foot and a cane in my hand. Randy was gone for most of the day today, so I was once again on doggie duty.

Doggie and I went for walks in the pouring rain. Well....doggie went for a couple of brisk sprints around the neighborhood, while I limped with cane in hand and rain drenching me and my raincoat.

Granted, this doesn't qualify as the worst day in history, but I still was in the mood for some fun and joy. Some DRY fun and joy. Well...I got it!

Thanks to Tacoma Musical Playhouse, I was able to end my day humming, tapping my non-injured toe and laughing with glee. Yep, I got to watch "Hairspray."

You all know the show I mean. The one about chubby teen Tracy Turnblad who dreams of becoming a dancer on TV's "Corny Collins Show" in 1960's Baltimore. Her friends, both black and white, want to see the Collins show integrated on a daily basis, rather than accept the once-a-month "Negro Day" that is currently offered. Standing in their way is a manipulative TV producer and her self-centered daughter.

But, everyone knows that all's well that ends well, especially in musical comedies like this. Tracy gets on the show, gets the guy and gets the show to integrate. Happy ending.

And the journey to that happy conclusion was pure fun. Just what the doctor ordered.

I have been impressed with the good work that the folks at the Tacoma Musical Playhouse are doing. Their talent comes from all over the Pierce, Thurston and King County regions. Dedicated musical theatre performers will gladly (and repeatedly, show after show) hop onto I-5, drive a great distance and head toward Tacoma for a chance to do some good theater.

I don't blame them. TMP is one of the most successful theaters in this area, with an ever-growing number of season subscribers. If you are a theatre artists, and want to be seen by a large number of audience members (remember, in this business, exposure is everything), TMP is the place to be.

And tonight, the audience was big and appreciative. The cast got a standing ovation from many of us. Why? We laughed, we hooted and hollered, we tapped our toes, we had fun.

Yes, the Pacific Northwest rain was still falling. We didn't care. The cold, wet weather couldn't ruin our evening. We were enjoying "Hairspray," and nothing else mattered.

And there was a bonus. After Randy and I got home, it was HIS turn to walk doggie in the rain. Me? I stayed warm and dry, sat at my computer and gushed about "Hairspray."

Thanks, TMP. You made my day.

Thanks to Hairspray cast member Lexi Scamehorn for graciously posing for this photo!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Show #53 "In the Heights" at the 5th Avenue Theatre technically, this isn't the "local theatre," that my blog endeavors to cheer on and support. This is a national touring company with mostly New York-based actors performing in it, just like the production of "South Pacific" that I viewed earlier this year.

Although it may not qualify as a local production, it certainly qualifies as good theatre. Here's why.

First, this is an innovative show. I have to admit, when it comes to the genre of musical theatre, I am somewhat of an old hat. I like the traditional stuff I grew up watching. Thus explains my enthusiasm and pure joy while watching "South Pacific."

But "In the Heights" even had a traditionalist like me in awe. Imagine using a seamless blend of Latin salsa and hip-hop (in both the songs and the choreography) to tell an urban story of poverty, struggle and hope. Did it work? You bet it did.

Second, this is a show that celebrates a part of our ethnic landscape that is under-represented. I guess Rodgers and Hammerstein never got around to writing their Latino masterpiece...? So, while we Asians have our "Flower Drum Song" and "The King & I" (whose cultural authenticity is deeply in question, but that is the subject of another blog posting!), "In the Heights" is a beautiful and high-voltage testament to our Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters.

Well...okay, the Latino's were half of the cast in "West Side Story," but nevertheless, this was a rare theatrical treat for me.

And finally, this show represents the wave of the future for American Musical Theatre. It's hip. It's high energy. It showcases stories from actors of color (No, we don't have to "give Iowa a try"). It's fast-paced, non-stop entertaining story-telling.

In other words, this is theatre the next generation can embrace. With local theatre audiences made up of mostly middle-aged and elderly patrons, this is great news. It gives me hope.

Even after us old cronies pass on, theatre will live on.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Show #52 "The Lady With All The Answers" at ACT Theatre

I know I've whined in the past about those theatrical events that our local Equity theatres like to market as "plays." You know what I'm talking about, those one-person talk fests that feel more like (at best) an over-long story that should have ended about an hour before it did....or (at worst) an excruciatingly boring lecture by a senile professor who forgot that (s)he had an actual time limit that must be adhered to.

Yes, I am referring to those one-man or one-woman shows that our "big houses" here in Seattle seem to adore. Audiences seem to like them, too. I wonder why. Usually, I find them boring, sometimes pretentious and in general, not very engaging theatre.

Well, guess what. I found the exception to that rule.

Advice columnist Ann Landers is portrayed by the always entertaining Julie Briskman in a funny, warm and thoroughly engaging evening about the life and love of America's favorite advice-dishing twin.

Unlike other one-person shows, "The Lady With All The Answers" boasted a full set design. Landers' letter-filled office was recreated with charm and visual appeal. There was eye-catching costuming: colorful 1970's outfits complete with Landers' trademark bouffant hairdo. There was even musical interludes, as Landers takes out her collection of LPs and plays a few of them on her stereo turntable.

But what I liked the most was Briskman's Landers herself. Sometimes she read samples of letters sent to her over the years. Other times, she discussed chapters from her life, marriage and career. And then there were moments when the house lights would come up, and Landers would really break that fourth wall and look us straight in the eye.

That was when Ann Landers asked US a question! Us! Imagine that!

Thankfully, none of us in the audience were brought up on stage for some comic "bit." No, she didn't throw confetti at us (a la Carrie Fisher). She even kept us so entertained that ACT Theatre dared to put in an intermission after 45 minutes had gone by. They were sure we would all eagerly return to our seats and watch the rest of the show.

Yep, we did...and boy, that second act was even better than the first.

So......okay. I am now convinced. A one-person play CAN be entertaining and can make good theatre. But all the right elements have to be in place: good story, great acting, an appealing main character, humor, visually effective sets, costumes and sound design.

But that's still not enough. The show has got to have something else. Something that will grab me and make me want to stay until the end. Something that will make me sorry that the evening's end had arrived.

I don't know what that "something" is, but "The Lady With All The Answers" had it.

Graphics courtesy of ACT Theatre

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Show #51 "Under the Circumstances" at Tacoma Little Theatre

Nowadays I get pretty excited about the simple phrase "A World Premier." It means, something brand new. Something never done before. Something original.

When I see those words in regard to a theatrical production, it gets my blood pumping. You see, Randy and I also are in the process of collaborating with local playwrights to create new stories for the stage. Our community has loads of talent that are, for the most part, undiscovered. We want to help remedy that. Fortunately, so does Tacoma Little Theatre.

"Under the Circumstances" is a collaboration between TLT, the Northwest Playwright Alliance and Tacoma playwright C. Rosalind Bell. It is a deeply moving and relevant story about friendship, race, culture and the power of words.

Two brave actresses (Julie Novak Weinberger and LaNita Hudson) play writers who carry on a long-distance friendship between New Orleans and Tacoma. Yes! Tacoma!

Both women share their lives, their work and their writing with the other. Their differences in age, religion and race never stand in the way of great sistership. That is, until one of them writes a novel that, unintentionally, wounds the other.

This is a story about the power of our speech. It is also an honest, but artfully worded discussion around the issue of race. Rosalind Bell's poetic script invited us to think, feel and remember alongside these two remarkable women. We listened with rapt attention as they shared their innermost thoughts with the audience; things they, tragically, couldn't seem to share with one another.

But this is not the first discussion on race that I engaged in this past week. The evening before my son Tim and I attended a "Conversations on Race" gathering at our church, Trinity Presbyterian. This is part of an on-going conversation between four churches in the Tacoma/Hilltop neighborhood, attended by Christians of different races and denominations.

I praise God for meetings such as these. What a marvelous way to begin understanding and enjoying one another: to have a open conversation coupled with good food, fellowship and prayer.

But, there is also another way: theater. An engaging but powerful story brought to life by two actors can also spark conversation. And last evening at Tacoma Little Theatre, it did just that.

We held a post-play discussion in the auditorium. We continued the discussion out in the lobby. And several of us (including the playwright and one of the actors) took our discussion to a local restaurant which continued well into the night.

Imagine that, a play that started at 7:30pm that gave birth to an honest (but bridge-building) conversation that lasted until after midnight.

That is one powerful play. Don't miss it. It runs at TLT through Oct. 10. But, I suspect the conversation will run long past that.

Graphics courtesy of Tacoma Little Theatre

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Show #50 "Sherlock Holmes and the Doom of Devilsmoor" at Lakewood Playhouse

Opening night of a new season at the theater....what fun! No matter how much live theatre I experience, either on stage, backstage or in the audience, I always feel that excitement of opening night.

This evening was no exception. One of my favorite theaters in the world, the Lakewood Playhouse (after all, it was at this fine theater where I met my husband Randy), rolled out the red carpet for their new season.

I started the evening with a personal greeting by Artistic Director Marcus Walker, who heartily shook hands with the patrons as they entered the lobby. I was personally escorted to my seat by Duncan Foley, the President of Board. The playwright, CP Stancich was on hand and made merry conversation with Randy and me. And after the final curtain, the Lakewood Playhouse's board hosted a fine reception complete with my favorite non-alcoholic bubbly.

But, there were also the familiar opening night mishaps that occurred as well.

You know the ones I mean. There was the french door on the set that wouldn't close without the poor actors fussing and constantly adjusting. Then there was the wardrobe malfunction that sent Randy (and the wonderful costumer seated in the second row) into hints of stifled laughter. And then there was the actor who entered the stage and promptly stepped on an actress's skirt hem.

These were relatively minor things, but to be honest, it added to my enjoyment of the evening! I kind of like imperfection. I smile when I see an actor stumble his way through an unexpected development and then see his way out of it with grace and humor. Yes, it may temporarily break the spell of the story, but it does something else. It makes us all a little more human.

But, you may counter, don't we want to see professionalism and polish when we pay to see a theatrical production? Well, yes we do.

If a production is overly filled with mishaps, then I would have criticized the show and declared that the cast needed another week of rehearsal. But, this was only a couple of small gaffes, and being opening night, very forgivable. I've experienced many an opening night as an actor, performing on a stage whose paint was still wet, whose doors had just been hung an hour before, and costumes stitched during intermission.

If I were to come back to see this show on closing night and saw the same goofs, that would be another story.

But, this was opening night at the Lakewood Playhouse, and a reason to celebrate! It was a great evening, and even the small errors were something to celebrate. Here's to another great season! Cheers!

Graphics courtesy of Lakewood Playhouse

Friday, September 24, 2010

Show #49 "A Doctor In Spite of Himself" at Intiman Theatre

Did you see the lights flashing? Were you hearing the sirens blaring, and the theatre police yelling, "Goofball Alert! Goofball Alert! If you have no tolerance for silly, artfully goofy and masterfully funny theatre, please step away NOW."

"There's nothing to see here, Ma'am. Just keep moving on...." the Kill Joy Cop admonished.

But, the more he tried to steer the gawking masses away from the riotous comedic gem, the more we wanted to watch, mouth agape and loud guffaws beginning in our bellies.

What am I talking about? Why didn't we hear about this "train wreck" on the evening news? my opinion, we SHOULD have seen this as a top headline. After all, in this bleak economy, with unflattering political battles being fought on the airwaves, and the health care crisis, global warming and Dancing With the Stars weighing heavily on our minds, we all need a break.

The 17th century French playwright known as Moliere had the answer. Write stuff that makes people laugh. Period.

I like that. So, with the Intiman Theatre presenting one of Moliere's best works in the style (love this!) of the commedia dell'arte, AND with Randy and me scoring front row seats, how could we go wrong?

We scored big. A touchdown. A grand slam. A triple crown. A...well, you get the idea.

The Intiman did themselves proud with "A Doctor in Spite of Himself." We had the privilege to see masterful comedy performed by limber, energetic, perfectly timed and shameless (in a good way) actors and musicians who gave their audience the best hour and a half of their theatrical lives. No, really.

It inspired me. It energized me. It almost made me want to sign up for one of those classes on "movement for actors" or something like that. Mostly, it made me laugh.

This season, Randy and I gave up our season tickets to the Intiman so we could enjoy season subscription to four (4!) other wonderful theatres around town. We gotta spread the "wealth" around, after all. I don't regret that decision, because we knew we would still attend at least one or two of the Intiman shows anyway.

We chose to attend "Doctor" because we like Moliere. I am glad we did.

PS. Take notice of the marvelous non-traditional casting in this production. Yet another reason to support this fine show. Bravo, Intiman!

Photo courtesy of Intiman Theatre and photographer Chris Bennion