Sunday, March 28, 2010

Show #16 "Noises Off" at Tacoma Little Theatre

Underwear, underwear....everywhere there is underwear.

What is it about underwear that makes the Brits want to put it front and center into their comedies? It seems to be a recurring theme in their farcical literature.

As I viewed TLT's production of "Noises Off" last evening, I noticed that the underwear count was quite high. A character named Brooke spends a good part of the show running about in nothing but her corset and panties. Before the show began, I jokingly referred to her as "Underwear Girl." Ahhhh...little did I know.

There is also Underwear Boy. He's a wimpy fellow named Fredrick, who is the guy-who-drops-his-pants character that seems to be a required part of all self-respecting British farces.

Then, to my surprise, a couple of bonus underwear folks showed up in the story. Selsdon the bumbling burglar flashed his boxers underneath his open bathrobe in Act 1. And poor Poppy suffered a minor strip-down when it looked as though she would be needed on stage in Brooke's place.

Fortunately for all actors (and audience) involved, these underwear models were, shall we say, in good health, and had nothing to be ashamed of in showing off their bodies on stage. Lucky them.

I, for one, am elated that I am never cast in such parts as these. As I see it, there is definite comic potential in seeing a middle aged woman skipping around in her control top panties and shapewear. Just don't offer me that role.

One of my plus-sized friends once compared her body to a situation comedy. I compare my body more to a Shakespearean tragedy. In other words, I have no sense of humor about my shape.

Thankfully, there are actors who can view their bodies less seriously. In this genre of theatre, the British farce, a successful production needs very talented performers with razor sharp comic timing, excellent physical skills and personalities that don't mind exhibiting their skivvies.

For this, I can rejoice. If they're willing to do the dirty work in their undies, then I will never be called upon to do it myself.

So, if you're an actor who desires to do farce, keep this in mind. Stay in good health, keep your weight within a healthy range and lose some of your excess modesty. You never know when you and your BVDs will be pressed into service.

Photo courtesy of Brynne Garman

Friday, March 26, 2010

Show #15 "Fences" at Seattle Repertory Theatre

Packing ourselves into the car and traveling from Tacoma to Seattle is always a hefty trip. But Randy and I feel it is well worth the time and effort it takes.

For the past several years, we have been season subscribers to the fine theaters in Seattle. We've seen some things that we have absolutely loved, and others that...well, we haven't exactly adored.

But, the drive home from the shows is always filled with lively discussion. We don't always agree, but our car talks serve as our own private "Siskel and Ebert At the Theatre."

Last evening, we attended opening night of August Wilson's "Fences."

What a production! From the moment we stepped into the Bagley Wright Theatre, we commented on the amazing set design. The pre-show (and "during-the-show") music immediately made us smile.

Then, an unbelievable cast of actors took the stage and mesmerized the entire audience for 2 1/2 hours. August Wilson's playwriting contains dialogue and monologues that can only be described as poetry.

So, with all these elements in place, it should have been the perfect evening at the theater, right?

But, to my consternation, I spent the entire evening wondering if I even liked this play.

Afterward, Randy and I proceeded to have our post-play car talk. He, too, admitted that he wasn't sure if he liked the play. He described the production elements as "brilliant." But, did he like the show? He didn't know.

We discussed the characters, themes, and the actor's performances and wondered what statements Wilson was making about each. We critiqued the actor's performances and shared what different choices we might have made had we directed the production.

We reflected on our own families and other families we knew from all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. We debated our views on child-rearing and the effects parents have on their children's choices in adult life.

Finally, as our car continued southbound on I-5, Randy mused, "Here we are debating whether or not we liked this play. But look at us, we're still talking about the show. We never talk about a show this much..."

It's true. "Fences" sparked more discussion than any other show we've seen. Something about it cuts to the heart and jump-starts the imagination like no other.

But, I still haven't decided whether I liked the show or not. But, with some theatrical experiences, maybe that's not the point.

Production photo courtesy of Chris Bennion and Seattle Repertory Theatre

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Show #14 "Second Chances for Grace" with Breathing Space Ministries

This is my second viewing of this show, in case the title sounds a bit familiar to the reader.

Hey...I didn't pledge to watch 52 DIFFERENT shows in 52 weeks, just 52 shows, period. But this viewing of "Grace" was such a different experience than my first, that I just had to blog about it again.

I last saw "Second Chances for Grace" on opening night of this extended run at the Market Theater. My son Tim (who portrays both Joseph Ying and God) told me that the show (permanently) lost a cast member to illness, and that they were only notified of this in the last hour. So, much of the opening performance consisted of panicked and confused actors trying to significantly alter a script to make up for the absence of a key player, and trying to make the adjustments live before an audience.

Sadly, their efforts that night, though valiant, had less than stellar results.

But, here it is, weekend #2, and the cast has fully recovered from the loss. They once again have found their momentum, feel comfortable with the altered script and are finally able to put their heart, soul and humor back into the story.

What a difference a week makes!

With their renewed energy came my renewed interest and enthusiasm. The actors came alive in a way that they couldn't on that difficult opening night. And the best part is, Grace's story of God's love and healing came alive as well.

We all face obstacles and unplanned potholes in our road in life. We may sometimes trip over our feet, but Who is it that picks us up and helps us back onto the path: God Himself.

Just like He did for "Second Chances for Grace." What a recovery! What renewal!
Grace's story was given new life.

I can't wait for Episode 2. Stay tuned.

Thanks to Breathing Space Ministries for allowing me to take this photo!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Show #13 "Arne Zaslove's Rock n' Roll Midsummer Night's Dream" at Burien Little Theatre

I'm no expert, but I do know this: actors and directors have tried just about everything when presenting Shakespeare. I have seen the Bard's work set in Outer Space, Victorian England, 1940's Italy, Japan, Bosnia and even Tacoma, WA (remember "10 Things I Hate About You"?)

This is a production set in an American high school in the 1950's. Not sure how the enchanted forest figures into a high school setting, but this is when suspension of disbelief definitely comes into play.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" is always fun, no matter who puts it on. From a high school drama club to a professional theatre company, this is the one Shakespearean show that everyone is good at. You could probably set the story just about anywhere in the world. After all, which part of the world is most likely to have a forest full of fairies?

You could set it in just about any era of history. As long as there have been lovers, enchanted myths and bad actors, there is Midsummer.

So, I had fun watching this group of performers twist and shout their way through the evening. Familiar songs, such as "Love Me Tender," "Rockin' Robin", "Rock Around the Clock" and "Chapel of Love" made it even more fun for all.

But what I enjoyed most, is the wonderful language of Shakespeare. No matter the setting, no matter the "level of theatre" (amateur, professional etc.) and no matter the budget, these beautiful words are what get us every time.

It inspires me. It doesn't just inspire me to read his words more often, it mostly inspires me to get back in the saddle and try to perform Shakespeare again one day.

I have only attempted to do this once, when I appeared in a production of "As You Like It." I need to do it again. I can do it. It isn't easy, but I CAN do it.

Thank you, Burien Little Theatre, for bringing us the Bard. Your actors are an inspiration to me. Just beware, you may have unleashed a Shakespearean actor/monster into your midst...

Graphics courtesy of Burien Little Theatre

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Show #12 "Second Chances For Grace" with Breathing Space Ministries

There are so many good reasons for me to see this particular show.

First, this is an independent production put together by a Christian ministry team. Their purpose, as shared by their mission statement is to be "a Christian theatre, multi-media entertainment ministry dedicated to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ through testimonies of salvation, grace, and love."

"Grace" is their inaugural theatrical production. As a Christian artist, I applaud this type of venture both on artistic and religious grounds.

Secondly, Breathing Space Ministries is the brainchild of Kiki Yeung Johnson and her husband Kevin Johnson. I also applaud the independent spirit of those theatre artists who tread off the beaten path and create something new, original and straight-from-the-heart. The fact that Ms. Yeung is also a fellow Asian American artist makes me applaud even louder.

Thirdly, "Grace" is a dramatization of Ms. Yeung's personal testimony of her struggles and triumph over such hardships as hemolytic anemia, hypothyroidism, hyperthyrodism, and chronic fatigue that lead to compulsive and binge eating, and an obsession with perfection and staying thin. For anyone to put her life up on display in order to encourage others who may also struggle with eating disorders and personal chaos is more than admirable. Again, I applaud this.

Lastly, my son Tim plays her younger brother Joseph and (gulp!) God. Once again, I applaud very, very loudly. I mean, how many women can claim they are the Mother of God???

From a strictly theatrical viewpoint, there were a few gaping holes in the fabric of this play. Tim tells me that one of the actresses fell ill and her contribution to the story had to be edited out at the last minute. That explains some of it.

But even aside from that, there were times when the play just didn't work. The scenes were awkward, some of the actors were poorly cast or simply not up to the task of portraying their roles on stage. A curious and annoying addition of a sock puppet failed to add humor to the script. It only added to the confusion and awkwardness.

But, somewhere toward the end of the story, my heart was suddenly moved.

God came into the heart of the story and dwelt among us. His message was of His unconditional love toward Grace (Ms. Yeung's character). He sought her, spoke tenderly toward her and wrapped her in His loving arms. Just like He does to all of us.

What a wonderful way to end a play. But, it really isn't the end. "Second Chances for Grace" is simply episode one. There will be other episodes in the near future, continuing Ms. Yeung's story of love and healing. God was at work during this play and will be at work in the future.

For that, I applaud again. In fact, for my Heavenly Father, I give a standing ovation. Bravo! And Praise the LORD!!

Graphics courtesy of Breathing Space Ministries

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Show #11 "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" at Theatre NW

I had not seen the original movie upon which this evening's musical comedy was based. So, I came to "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" without any pre-conceived notions about what this story was about and how it all should be performed.

The only thing I heard (and I heard it from many, many people) was that Theatre NW's production was very good. Probably the best thing they have ever done in their 2 seasons of existence as Tacoma's newest professional theatre company.

Having seen most of Theatre NW's shows these past couple of years, I will heartily agree. "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" is an absolute scream.

Last evening was their second to the last performance before concluding a (sadly) poorly attended 3-weekend run at the Theatre On The Square. I am not quite sure why that was, but it is a dirty rotten shame.

Since the closure of the Tacoma Actor's Guild in 2007, Pierce County has been without professional theatre. We have enjoyed the steady presence of some strong community theatre. Occasionally there will be an enterprising group of artists who will endeavor to produce some theatre in alternative spaces, such as parking lots, empty commercial buildings and coffee houses. With only one exception, these groups haven't lasted.

I'm still relatively new to Pierce County. The greater Seattle area has always been my artistic stomping grounds. When I peer into the vibrant arts scene in King County, I see what Tacoma artists only dream of.

I see a city where performance spaces of all shapes and sizes abound. I see a place where I think nothing of climbing a staircase of a third floor walk-up into a room furnished with garage-sale furniture for audience seating and a simple platform for a stage. Lighting effects are switches on the wall that turn on overhead lighting, just like in your kitchen at home. Sound is piped in from a large boom box in the back of the room. But the show? Fantastic work from dedicated actors willing to take risks to present something new and different....and loving every minute of it.

I also see a city where I enjoy professional theatre by such fine companies as the Seattle Repertory Theatre, ACT, Intiman Theatre and the Seattle Children's Theatre.

I hope Theatre NW and the dream of professional theatre in Tacoma doesn't die. The performance I attended last night was almost full, but I suspect many of those folks were using comp tickets. "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" did not sell well at all, so the theatre was "papering the house" for the final weekend.

But, I also hope that "alternate theatre" is planted and begins to grow in Tacoma. I know there is a place, even in these tough economic times, for cutting edge theatre that goes beyond the usual Neil Simon, William Shakespeare and British farce that is offered elsewhere.

In the light of the poor attendance (despite glowing reviews from both the media and audience) suffered by Theatre NW, I know artists will be reluctant to step onto a new path. But, the ironic thing is this: during economic hardship, sometimes that is the best time to risk a new venture. Doors are closing all around us. But that might be the ideal time to open a new door.

I just read an article that noted that during economic downturns, like the Great Depression, movie attendance goes up. If this is true of movies, why not live theatre?

One does not fail because you tried and it didn't work. One only fails when you quit trying.

Please, Theatre NW, keep on trying. And to all the rest of us artists in Tacoma, please START trying. We're in this together, and our audience is out there. We just have to keep on wooing them.

Graphics courtesy of Theatre Northwest

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Show #10 "The Wedding Singer" at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

Sigh.....since when did the 1980s become an historical era?

At one of the elementary schools where I work, the student council recently organized a "1980s Day." The publicity encouraged students and faculty to wear retro clothes from the 80s, including sweaters with big shoulder pads, spandex leggings (I hear they're still in style, however!) and big hair.

This all would have been rather amusing, especially considering I still have some of those outfits in my closet, until I realized that none of my students there had even been born during that decade.

I was no longer amused.

"The Wedding Singer," of course, is a rollicking musical, dancing adaptation of the 1998 Adam Sandler flick of the same name. The Tacoma Musical Playhouse put on a thoroughly enjoyable opening night last evening, complete with the teased hairdos, hefty shoulder padded floral dresses and men in pink.

The songs were a musical love fest to 80s pop. The characters were a cavalcade of newsmakers and stereotypes from that era. All of it made me smile....that is, until I realized once again how "long ago" that era really was. Most of those dancers on stage either hadn't been born or were just pre-schoolers during the 80s.

Again, I was no longer amused.

I know, I know...I should lighten up. This middle-aged dinosaur should accept the fact that shows like "The Wedding Singer" are the younger generation's "Grease." Retro. Nostalgic. Bygone era. Good old days. Historic.

So, one day when my grandchildren are celebrating "2010s Day" at their school, how will my sons feel? Will they smile? Or will they just feel old?

I'm hoping they'll smile. If they feel old, what will that make me, pre-historic?

Photo courtesy of Tacoma Musical Playhouse