Friday, April 23, 2010

Show #21 "An Iliad" at Seattle Repertory Theatre

I really do understand why theatres choose to do one-person plays. They're cheap to produce. After viewing the production of "An Iliad" at the Seattle Rep last night, I could easily see where the savings took place.

The show was performed on a rather bare set. The only things that were on stage were things that were already hanging around the theater: a tall ladder, a simple table and chair, a mop and bucket, a shelf of old paint cans.

Actor Hans Altwies' props included a worn suitcase, a liquor bottle and a drinking glass. His wardrobe consisted of something the costumer most likely pulled from their storage closet.

Simple. A producer's dream.

But was it an audience member's dream? I think not.

My dear hubby Randy said it was one of his favorite shows he has seen in recent memory at the Rep. I had a hard time staying awake and focused.

Randy joined other theatre-goers in the standing ovation. I was glad it was finally time to go home.

Maybe it's just me, but I am having doubts about this trend of local theatres putting on one-person shows. "Namaste Man" and "The Year of Magical Thinking" at the Intiman and "The Night Watcher" at the Rep all had me underwhelmed.

Sure, some of these performers were more engaging than others, and I will admit that Mr. Altwies was by far the most engaging of them all. My hat is off to him.

But, it wasn't enough. Yes, in a good theatrical piece, I look for a compelling story and an interesting exchange of ideas (An Iliad had this), but I also look for relationship and dialogue. A singular performer has a difficult time filling in this gap for me.

There is another reason I don't really like one-person shows. I enjoy Seattle theatre because I love watching Seattle actors. I like to see my favorite professional actors play another part in another play. Part of me wants to think it is possible for these marvelous professionals to make a living in this town.

With shows that only have a cast of one, that isn't much of a casting call.

Everyone's budget is tight, I know this. (I work for the public schools, so I see it everyday.) But filling a season with a ho-hum assortment of plays with smaller and smaller casts is like putting more and more students into a teacher's class. It might save money, but it doesn't meet some people's needs as well.

No offense to Mr. Altwies' fine work. He acted his heart out for us. And he's one of those Seattle actors I enjoy seeing play another part in another play. Really, he is. But, will someone please cast a co-star (or two) to share the stage with him???

Graphics courtesy of Seattle Repertory Theatre

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Show #20 "Endgame" at Tacoma Little Theatre

This genre they call "absurdist theatre" really messes with your mind.

You sit in your theater seat with several other brave and adventurous souls and look for anything that resembles a play. I think we saw one tonight...?

I searched for a plot. It really wasn't there.

I listened for a profound thought or moral to take home with me. If there was one, I missed it.

I waited for a twist ending. I later realized the entire play was twisted.

I tried to find sense in the whole thing. I was told, "no, this doesn't make any sense. It's absurdist theatre." Silly me.

So, without any theatrical conventions (or reasonable writing conventions, for that matter) to hang my hat on, my mind had to fill in the blanks. Boy, was my mind busy tonight!

I pondered whether playwright Samuel Beckett inspired Oscar the Grouch. I asked myself if the end of the world is appropriate fodder for a comedy. I wondered if "absurdity" was even related to "comedy."

I cringed when I saw how the lead actor reminded me of an old college boyfriend. I sighed as I discovered that the 3-legged stuffed dog on stage looked almost like "Rudy," my son's stuffed dog from his childhood.

So, with my head swirling in a tale of Rudy and my old college boyfriend facing the apocalypse on Sesame Street in a rather non-comedic fashion, it caused me to ponder the Big Question: how the heck did Beckett win the Nobel Prize for writing stuff like this?

Evidently, I am not an intellectual. I don't "get" absurdist theatre.

But I do "get" Oscar the Grouch. And the apocalypse. And Rudy.

But let's not mention that old college boyfriend, please........

Graphics courtesy of Tacoma Little Theatre

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Show #19 "Flower Drum Song" at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

"52 Shows in 52 Weeks" is my on-line diary of support for live theatre in the Seattle/Tacoma region. And for this occasional actor, what better way to show that support than to participate in one of the shows myself?

Last evening, the Tacoma Musical Playhouse was filled to capacity for the opening of the rarely-produced Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, "Flower Drum Song." Asian-American playwright David Henry Hwang has lovingly updated this story while incorporating almost all the beautiful songs from the original show.

Judging from the reaction from the gushing members of TMP's audience, I guess we were a hit.

Or should I say, "they" were a hit (meaning the FDS cast and crew)? I won't exactly include myself in this equation...not yet. You see, I spent most of the show backstage carefully watching the actress playing the role of Madame Rita Liang. Oh yes, I made an occasional appearance in a crowd scene, and even got in a few spoken lines during a moment taking place in a fortune cookie factory.

But, the rest of the time, I was studying. Why?

I must study Madame Liang. On closing weekend of this show, I will be replacing the actress in that role.

Am I ready? Can I do it? You bet. I must admit, I am a bit nervous about singing those solos, but as an actor, I am more than ready to put on that character and make those scenes come alive.

But, in the meantime, I will remain in the background, watching (yes, watching, so this show DOES count toward my 52) and studying.

Madame Liang has a line in act 2 when she is reminiscing about her days in Hollywood. "They called me the Queen of the Oriental Crowd Scenes!" she exclaims. For weeks 1-3 of this show, that's me.

But on Saturday and Sunday of week 4, watch out. I get to try Rita Liang on for size. So far, I haven't even had a single rehearsal to run through this part. But I'm ready. And from what I can see, Rita Liang and I will fit together nicely.

And it won't even take a hundred million miracles to do that...just preparation and hard work. That's what's happening everyday.

Graphics courtesy of Jessilyn Carver

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Show #18 "H.M.S. Pinafore" at Lakewood Playhouse

I was all set to enjoy a fun, fluffy evening of Gilbert & Sullivan's musical silliness. There was even the bonus of having Randy come along with me for the ride. (He doesn't think G & S shows are his cup of tea.)

We sat in one of my favorite sections at the Lakewood Playhouse. I had already read the program and took note of all the marvelous artists working on this show. So, I sat back and waited for the spectacle to begin...

Then I looked directly ahead of me and observed a young father with his 3 year old daughter sitting in front of us. Uh oh...what are we in for tonight???

My concern was well founded. I wondered what a wiggly pre-schooler was doing here, past her bedtime at a show that probably holds very little interest to her young sensibilities?

Then about 15 minutes into the first act, I had my answer.

Just as the chorus of singing beauties entered the stage, the little girl stood up, pointed at one of the actresses and shouted, "Mommy!"

Then, in response to that call, "Mommy" glanced toward her precious girl and surreptitiously waved at her.

I understand that a youngster wouldn't understand theatre etiquette, but Mommy should have known better. Her on-stage greeting only lead to more and more distracting behavior.

As the evening wore on, the patrons seated directly in front of and next to this little girl grew more annoyed. It was obvious to all of us. I, too, became quite annoyed, as she prevented me from enjoying some of the finer moments of the play.

It wasn't until the second act, when this child started to cry that her father finally scooped her in his arms and carried her out of the theatre. But by that time, it was too late. She had already spoiled the experience for too many paying customers.

Now, I am not anti-children. I raised two fine sons, but never brought them to live theatre until they were mature enough to understand proper audience behavior. It is patently unfair of any parent to expect this sort of propriety from a child this young.

Should theatres have a policy about babies and young children in the audience? At the risk of some people shouting "bah humbug" at me, I would say, yes. And what about cases like this, when a parent is one of the actors in the play? Well, my stage debut occurred in a play about the Vietnam War. My character, along with others, used a lot of raw language to tell the story. I did not feel this was appropriate for my young sons to watch. Even though this was one of the most exciting days of my life, Tim and David had to stay home that day.

Moms and Dads, there will other times your precious children can see you on stage. Think first about what is appropriate, both for your child and the rest of the audience, cast and crew.

It's about being a respectful actor. It's about good parenting.

Graphics courtesy of Samantha Camp

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Show #17 "Ching Chong Chinaman" at SIS Productions

Ahhh Sooooo....what can I say about those wonderful Asian stereotypes?

It all depends...on who is expressing them. I have indulged in them on occasions, usually in a humorous manner. My Asian friends and relatives regularly tease one another using some of the worst Asian stereotypes in the book.

But we can do that, right? 'Cuz we're Asian, therefore (so the logic goes), we can't be racist toward ourselves, can we?

But, if a white person tries to throw any of those stereotypes on us, watch out! They had better fear for their lives. Remember, we're Asians. We all know martial arts.

We're also real good at math. And we all speak English remarkably well, even those of us born in the US. And, for some strange reason, we all look alike.

And I, as an honorable Japanese-American wife, submissively serve my caucasian husband in a manner that would make Madame Butterfly proud.


So what's the point here? Well, if you haven't figured it out already, here it is: cultural stereotypes, when placed in the right hands, can entertain, inform, educate and make hilarious comedy.

Lauren Yee's marvelous script had the heavily Asian audience roaring their approval. But, I also noticed the non-Asian members in the crowd enjoying themselves every bit as much.

Ms. Yee has learned at a young age that you can make more effective social commentary with nose-tickling soda pop than with editorial vinegar. Written as her senior thesis in college, Ching Chong Chinaman shows Ms. Yee to be a playwriting prodigy.

At this moment, she is a young graduate student, whose plays have been produced throughout the country. Ching Chong Chinaman opened in New York this week as well as here in Seattle. She displays wisdom and success beyond her years.

But that shouldn't surprise us. She's Asian. That means she's real smart.....right?

Production photo courtesy of SIS Productions