Friday, January 29, 2010

Show #5 "Speech and Debate" at Seattle Repertory Theatre

Can a show be both painful and uplifting all at the same time? The two adjectives seem, at first, to be opposites. But, as most of us know, opposite concepts are at work simultaneously in life all the time.

Take, for instance, the latest offering by the Seattle Repertory Theatre, "Speech & Debate." This is a compelling and humorous story of 3 courageous students who dare to form a speech and debate team at their high school, in spite of social pressures to do just about anything else.

Now, think back to your high school days. If any of you are thinking, "Ah....those were the happiest days of my life," then stop reading this NOW! I obviously come from a different home planet than you.

But, for the rest of humanity, try hard to conjure up those painful memories you have worked so hard to forget. You know, the ones of uneasy adolescence when "fitting in" and "being cool" were all that mattered. The days when revealing who you truly were, warts and all, was the worst nightmare of your waking life....

Remember the geeks who embarrassed themselves (and their friends) by participating in such uncool activities as drama club, chess club and Speech and Debate team? Perhaps YOU were one of those geeks?

Yep, I was one of them, too. Well, not literally, because my high school didn't actually have a chess club or a speech and debate team. But, we had our geeks, and I was probably classified as one of them.

Thus explains the pain I felt as I watched 3 amazing actors at the Rep recreate feelings (if not the actual circumstances) so many of us non-conformists felt as vulnerable, self-conscious teens.

For 95 glorious and excruciating minutes, I was transported (emotionally) back to the 1970's. LORD, help me!

But I also witnessed one of the more uplifting and celebratory theatrical productions this season. I know the theme of "courageously be who you are" and "follow your dreams, no matter what others think" is a well-used idea in literature. Idealistic, yes. Realistic, well....not always.

Our teachers and life coaches may be cheering us on with this message, but our peers are not. Most folks are more invested in seeing us "fit in" and "get with the program" than anything else.

Am I guilty of this? I work in the public schools, and teach special education students. Am I doing what I can to encourage their uniqueness and celebrate their wonderful personhood? I hope so.

My students don't fit into the norm. They will never be homecoming queen or class president. But, they are (unabashedly) who they are. I like that. I need to learn from that.

You know what is truly "cool"? Being who you REALLY are...and being unashamed.

Let's see anyone try to debate that.

Graphics courtesy of the Seattle Repertory Theatre

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Show #4 "Firesign Theatre" at the Broadway Center

Okay, okay.....maybe this show really doesn't qualify (strictly speaking) as "theatre," but hey. These guys call themselves a theatre, they act, write scripts and tell convoluted and strange stories.

I guess it qualifies.

For any baby boomer who might remember the weirdest comedy act to hit the 1970's, this evening was a true delight. For some of us, it was a trip down pre-Alzheimer's memory lane. It was an ex-hippie love fest evoking laughter and groans courtesy of an old vinyl LP. It was a drug-less college reunion sponsored by the Dept. of Redundancy Dept. and the Natural Guard.

Mind you, I didn't spend a whole lot of time during the 1970's listening to Firesign Theatre's albums. I listened enough to remember most of the dialogue from "High School Madness" featuring Porgie Tirebiter and his pal Mudhead. I surprised myself when I was still able to sing along to the theme song.

But, it definitely surprised my husband Randy that I even knew of Firesign Theatre at all. For someone who is as "straight" as I am (translation: not into drugs or alcohol during college...or any other time in my life), it is a wonder that I am familiar with a comedy group whose fan base mostly listened to their work while stoned or drunk at parties.

That's me...a woman full of contradictions.

For those readers (are any of you even out there?) who still have no clue as to who these Bozo's are, Firesign Theatre is an off-beat comedy quartet who perform "radio style" stories using only their voices and occasional sound effects to entertain and spoof just about everything in society.

Popular with the counter-culture youth during the 70's, they still perform to this day. Only now it is different. Counter culture youth have turned into gray-haired grandparents. Instead of battling the "establishment" (sorry, that's a 1960's term, huh?), they now fight middle-age spread and male pattern baldness. I saw plenty of that from where I sat in the audience at the Broadway Center in Tacoma.

But even from my aged vantage point, their mixture of new comedy material and classic stuff from their albums was still pretty darn funny. Funnier, in fact, than it was back in the 70's.

Wonder why that is?

Maybe it's because I don't have to pretend to be hip, cool, stoned or drunk to belong to the crowd that listened to their stuff. Maybe I am no longer embarrassed about being "straight", uncool, unhip or (gasp!) a G-rated Christian who laughs and is entertained by a variety of things, both straight-laced and otherwise.

It is possible that most of the audience members tonight were ex-stoners. Maybe some of them are current stoners. Randy made comments intimating that I looked like I didn't belong there tonight, that I was too "straight."

I disagree. If I laughed and enjoyed myself, I belonged there. Just like I belong at the "legitimate theatre" watching Shakespeare or at a church service singing praises to God. I like to think I break the mold.

Perhaps that's what I like most about Firesign Theatre. They broke the mold, too.
So, let's hear it for Turkish towels! (Don't ask.....)

Photo courtesy of Firesign Theatre

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Show #3 "Tom Sawyer: the Musical" at Lakewood Playhouse

Okay, I admit it, I'm a stage mother.

No, not the evil kind that you hear about in the gossip columns, who bully the director and producer into giving her "baby" the starring roles with the most time on the stage.

I'm the type of stage mother who will talk up (to anyone who will listen) the artistic virtues of her talented actor son. Well...not to brag, but I've talked to my friends who are directors, producers, fellow actors and managing artistic directors of Pierce County community theatre groups about Tim.

I can't help it. He's my son. Did I mention that he is talented?

So, as the Lakewood Playhouse closes their run of "Tom Sawyer: the Musical" this weekend, I ventured out to see this wonderful production for the second time. You see, my Tim is the one playing the nefarious Injun Joe.

"Tom Sawyer," for the most part, is a knee-slappin', old fashioned good time of a story. You know, the white-washed fence, the fishing trips with Huck, the charming pre-adolescent romance with Becky Thatcher....

But then, there's Injun Joe. A politically incorrect characterization, if I ever saw one. (Yeah, yeah, yeah....I know! Mark Twain was from another era, another time, another historical culture. So, we won't dwell on that.) But, nevertheless, he is the dark and tragic figure in a musical that celebrates boyhood adventures, family values and the good ol' days.

Mind you, it was a lot harder than I thought to watch my son play such an evil character. That must be a testimony to his acting ability, because I found myself (Whoa! I'm an actor. I oughta know better!!!) blurring the line between real life and stage life. My son, the criminal outcast. My boy, the victim of racism and hate. My progeny, the bad guy. What a way to break a mother's heart.

I guess the audience must have been caught up in Tim's performance as well. When Injun Joe brandishes his knife and fights with Tom and Huck, he meets his unfortunate end. The audience applauded as Joe fell to his death in the cave.

But not me. I couldn't cheer.

It wasn't for the reason you think. Yeah, I had my heart broken by Injun Joe's tragic life, especially considering the rampant racism of his day. But when Joe plummeted toward certain doom, it meant only one thing to me: Tim's character is dead. HE WON'T GET ANY MORE STAGE TIME!!!!

Sigh....once a stage mother, always a stage mother.

I guess I really must be one of those evil stage mothers after all. Maybe...but I'm not ashamed.

Show #2 "Over the River & Through the Woods" at Tacoma Little Theatre

Let me say this up front: I really love watching my husband Randy on stage.

Now, let me also say this: I really don't like it when he has to grow a beard as part of a role he is playing on the stage (he's so much more handsome clean-shaven). I'm also not a real big fan of smearing white make-up in your hair in order to look older and grayer (I also had to do that for my last role on stage), but alas....some things must be endured for the sake of art.

Last night, the Tacoma Little Theatre opened the delightful comedy "Over the River & Through the Woods" to an enthusiastic and welcoming crowd. At intermission and after the show, I heard such comments as, "I haven't had a show tug at my heart strings like that in a long time!"


The audience was right. This is a show that will have you laughing 'til you cry, and will move your heart 'til you cry. Believe me, there was a whole lot of crying going on. And I mean that in a good way.

"Over the River" is a story about a young Italian-American man, Nick, who has Sunday dinner every week with both sets of grandparents. The audience roared with laughter as everyone recognized their own family squabbles within the story ("Why haven't you gotten married yet, Nick?"). Watching the four grandparents hover over their grandson probably conjured up memories of their own family...or gave them a glimpse into their own future.

A glimpse into my own future....ah yes. That is what tore up my heart more than anything else. Here was my bearded husband, all made-up to look like a man in his late seventies. I painfully watched him as he laboriously shuffled about the stage, saw him rise from the living room sofa with great effort, and witnessed his physical weakness and growing infirmity. Yes, I saw a glimpse of the man he will become one day, and the elderly wife I will soon be.

Thus explains my aversion to white beards and to white special effects make up smeared into the hair. During the show I was in last year, "The Theory of Everything," I stole a look at myself as an old woman. Last night, I saw Old Age in Randy.

It amused me, it moved me, but it also frightened me a bit. But, guess what? It really wasn't a "downer" at all. It was beautiful.

I look forward to growing old with Randy. I look forward to the day I can say that we've had a good, long life together with no regrets. I looked at Randy, and the actress who played his wife, the wonderful Syra Beth Puett, and I saw a beautiful future for us both. Instead of fearing old age, I felt I could welcome it one day.

Wow...can seeing live theatre be that powerful? Can it do all that for my heart?

Yes, it can.

Photo courtesy of Tacoma Little Theatre

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Show #1 "Snowbound" at Breeders Theater

Imagine a cold warehouse full of wine barrels. Imagine about 10 or 12 rows of cold, hard metal folding chairs. Imagine yourself watching a theatrical production while bundled up in your fur-lined winter coat and long underwear, sitting on a cold chair in a freezing warehouse.

Torture? One might think so.

But wait! Imagine yourself also eating some yummy hors d'oeuvres and savoring a glass of wait, savoring SEVERAL glasses of wine over the course of the wet winter evening.

Now, complete this picture with most of the metal chairs filled with laughing audience members and a friendly wine-tasting hostess...and you've just described the best theatrical gig I have as the Highline Times/Des Moines News theater reviewer.

Breeders Theater, an enterprising troupe of actors (and one chief playwright), performs at the E.B. Foote Winery in Burien, WA twice a year. This January's offering is "Snowbound," a mystery/comedy about a group of stranded travelers taking refuge from a snowstorm in an old country inn. One of the guests may be a killer. The other guests complete the story with their soap opera lives and constant suspicions. It's all played for laughs...and judging from the preview audience's reactions, they sure do get the laughs.

But, that's not what's important. The real issue is that here is an ingenious group of artists, who have combined their affection for good wine with their love of theater. Host a wine-tasting event and perform silly theater and charge everyone $20. Voila! You've got an instant box office smash. Brilliant!

And here's the best part. Because I represent "the media" by reviewing these shows for the Highline Times, I get invited to the free preview, get to nosh on hors d'oeuvres and taste wine. And for good measure, I invited my son Tim along for the ride. He enjoyed the wine immensely.

Normally, I am a heat-seeking vacationer. Cold? Winter? Hard metal folding chairs? Oh, puh-leeze! But not this time. Gimme that cold every January. It's Breeders Theater time, and I'm loving it.

Want to know more about BT? Look them up at

They'll thank you for it. By the way, they've got a July show, too. Not as cold, but just as fun.

Photo courtesy of Breeders Theater

Monday, January 11, 2010

Can I Do It?

2010.....a new year. Some say it is also a new decade. Regardless, a new year is a time for new goals and new dreams.

I have one.

A few weeks ago, a couple of local theatre artists in the Seattle/Tacoma area shared on the website for Theatre Puget Sound that they had seen 52 shows in 52 weeks during 2009.

I counted the number of theatrical productions I saw in 2009. It numbered 46. Darn! Not quite 52.

But, as an advocate for live theatre in Seattle and Tacoma, I loved the concept of seeing at least 52 shows in 52 weeks. "I want to do that in 2010," I thought. So......let's see if I can!

Now, one disclaimer here. I won't necessarily see one show every week. BUT, I will try to see at least 52 shows before 2010 is over. Another disclaimer: I may also include in the 52 shows, any show that I might be directly involved in, both as an actor and behind the scenes.

Stay tuned, theatre fans. I promise to write a little something about each theatrical experience this coming year. Are you ready? Are you excited? Does anyone even give a rip (other than me)???

No matter. I care! I'm excited! I'm raring to go!!

If I don't prove anything to myself by this endeavor other than "set goals, believe in yourself and dream big", it will all be worth it.

So...let the viewing begin.