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