Showing posts with label Theatre Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Theatre Review. Show all posts

Sunday, January 6, 2019

REVIEW: Heartwarming ‘Matilda’ Could Be More Magical

Review of Village Theatre's "Matilda."
Nava Ruthfield as Matilda (Mark Kitaoka/Village Theatre)
THEATRE REVIEW
I didn’t know much about the story of Matilda before seeing Village Theatre’s production of the musical, but what I did know is that the main character develops telekinetic abilities that she uses as a way to get back to the people who have wronged her. Also knowing that the story is based on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name, I came to the theatre expecting to see something magical and I did; it just took a while.

The story of Matilda is a clever one that is played out with an upbeat tone even though it features some dark material, but should be praised for its positive messages about the importance of reading, standing up for what you believe is right and having sympathy for others. The show begins with a chorus of children singing the praises of themselves stating “My mommy says I’m a miracle” and “My daddy says I’m his special little guy.” Then the parents join in singing about the trials of being parents in unison and then overlapping with the kids. It’s as unique as it is catchy, but the point of the scene is showing how most kids are loved by their parents. That’s not the case for Matilda Wormwood.

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Review of Village Theatre's "Matilda."
Nava Ruthfield (Matilda), Ann Cornelius (Mrs. Wormwood),
Chris Ensweiler (Mr. Wormwood), and Maddox Baker (Michael).
(Mark Kitaoka/Village Theatre)
The next scene shows Mrs. Wormwood (Ann Cornelius) at the doctor’s office finding out that her “condition” is actually a case of being nine month pregnant and is about to give birth at any moment. She makes it clear that she doesn’t want another child as she has a ballroom competition to attend. Mr. Wormwood (the great Chris Ensweiler) arrives right after the birth of Matilda and is disappointed that she isn’t a boy.

The story fast forwards years later and things haven’t changed much. Matilda’s brother is too interested in the TV to notice her, Mrs. Wormwood gets annoyed listening to her stories and Mr. Wormwood continues to call her “boy.” Matilda’s only friends are the ones she reads about in books and Mrs. Phelps (Shaunyce Omar) the local librarian who unlike her mother, loves listening to Matilda’s stories.

School isn’t much better for Matilda (played by Holly Reichert or Nava Ruthfield depending on which performance you attend). She and the other “miracles” have high hopes for school only to have them dashed by the older kids telling them horror stories about the school principal Miss Trunchball (Basil Harris) who was a champion hammer thrower who tends to throw kids around as well. She demands discipline even when the kids haven’t done anything wrong. (Her relationship with the children isn’t much different from Miss Hanigan’s from Annie.) At least her teacher, Miss Honey (Marissa Ryder) is nice. She loves to teach and appreciates her students’ clever personalities.
There is much to like in Matilda. As always, the set design is amazing. This time around, Matthew Smucker replaced traditional curtains with giant chalkboards that open from different angles giving the sets a whimsical look. The library scene features a literal floor to ceiling wall of books. Special effects include story characters coming to life accented by fog and lights. (You have to feel bad for conductor Josh Archibald-Seiffer and the ochestra trying to see their music sheets at times.)

Review of Village Theatre's "Matilda."
The "kids" and Miss Trunchbull (Basil Harris)
(Mark Kitaoka/Village Theatre)
The Wormwood family are over-the-top caricatures, but Ann Cornelius is especially good in her solo musical number, “Loud” singing about the virtues of highlighting one’s looks. And Basil Harris’ characterization as Miss Trunchbull almost steals the show. In fact, the title of the show could easily be changed to Trunchbull and I don’t think anyone would care. He’s hilarious and earnest in this once-in-a-lifetime role.

There are a number of songs that resonate too including “Naughty” where Matilda sings about how sometimes one has to do something naughty to make a difference and “When I Grow Up” has a multi-generational message of not waiting until one “grows up” to become strong enough to make a difference.

However, it is unfortunate that this version of the production misses the mark somewhat. For starters, unlike Annie, half of the students are played by actual children while other older kids are played by adult veteran actors. The mix doesn’t really work. When the older ones are introduced it’s unclear if they are fellow students, ghosts from the past, or just what. It’s hard to accept a bearded man or one who is bald to be a child. Both kids and adults are good in their roles, but the adults overshadow the younger ones at times. Meanwhile, the younger ones ham it up on stage with over exaggerated movements and facial expressions in hopes of getting a laugh. They haven’t learned about the art of timing of a joke and it’s uncomfortable at times.

Although there really isn’t any reason to keep the setting of the story in England, it is and because of that, we get a wide range of English accents from all of the actors making it difficult to understand what they are actually saying at times. Many of the songs are well-written with great lyrics, but they get lost. It all sounds like a lot of mumbling.

Review of Village Theatre's "Matilda."
Miss Honey (Marissa Ryder) and Matilda (Mark Kitaoka/Village Theatre)
Thirdly, the show is slow moving focusing on scenes that seemingly don’t forward the story, while others that are crucial to the story-telling get lost. (For instance, Matilda continues to share a story with Mrs. Phelps throughout the show, and it turns out that it is important, so pay attention.) The fact that Matilda can move things with her mind doesn’t come into play until the second half of Act II after the intermission. It almost feels like an afterthought.

Finally, there is a lack of connection between the characters. It’s odd that Matilda gets angry when things are “not right” but isn’t really sad that she isn’t loved by her parents. The kids at school never really seem like they are friends with each other. One proudly states that she her “best friend” is Matilda, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of that. Miss Honey lacks chemistry with her students too, but does better with Matilda one-on-one. To be fair, this may have to do with Miss Honey’s fear of failure. The best interaction between characters is between Matilda and Mrs. Phelps which seems genuine and natural.

Matilda continues its run at the Everett Performing Arts Center through February 3, 2019. The theatre is located at 2710 Wetmore Avenue in Everett, 98201. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 425.257.8600.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

'Noteworthy Life' is Not Your Typical Musical

The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes
"The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes" (Mark Kitaoka/Village Theatre)
THEATRE REVIEW
Maggie: “Maybe you’re in a new musical.”

Howard: “Is that good?”

Maggie: “Not if you want anyone to see it.”

Those are lines from Village Theatre’s world premiere show, The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes about a guy who finds himself stuck in a musical. That statement is very true for a lot of new shows as it takes some trust going to a new show when you don’t already know some of the music. But in this case, I think it is an exception. Much of the music featured in the new production is toe-tapping and catchy and for that matter, it's one funny show too. That’s not to say that it a perfect production, but certainly an entertaining one on many levels.

The premise of the show is that Howard Barnes is an average Joe kind of guy. There’s nothing really special about him. He’s a single, hockey-loving guy still nursing a broken heart of a previous relationship when suddenly he finds himself in the middle of a musical which sort of plays out like an extended dream sequence. At about 90 minutes in length, it is one of the shortest musicals out there, but it plays with no intermission. I suppose that’s so you don’t lose continuity or something.

The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes
Perhaps ironically, this show is at its best at the beginning when things are pretty simple. Howard (Joshua Carter) lives in New York City (the set of his apartment is great) and his odd neighbor brings him some of his mail that got delivered to him by mistake. That’s when Howard starts to hear music. He goes to bed and suddenly he’s magically brought to the city streets where everyone around him sings “Welcome to Today,” a catchy little tune that will stick in your head for a while (a good sign of a new musical). Then Howard is magically brought to his office with some mysterious co-workers singing around him, but nobody else notices them. He has an awkward encounter with one co-worker, Maggie (Taryn Darr) who he clearly has a crush on, before he’s brought to a hockey game. And who should show up to said game? Maggie. The crowd is shouting to the players on the ice when suddenly one of them shouts at Howard to “Shoot the Puck,” a metaphor for “ask the girl out on a date!” The crowd, still seemingly interested in the game, continue to encourage Howard in song to “shoot the puck” while Maggie watches the games oblivious of what is happening around her. This is not only one of the show’s best songs, but it is the best scene in the musical period. This is when the play is its simplest. A musical is happening all around Howard, but he’s the only one who can hear it. Very clever and I wish the rest of the show was like this, but it’s not.

Howard gets transported again back to his apartment and his ex-girlfriend Grace (Jasmine Jean Sim) shows up in his closet wearing a wedding gown. She simultaneously teases him about being commitment phobic while encouraging him to live life to the fullest. She pops up over and over again in the show and it’s hard to figure out if she is the show’s villain or if she’s doing work as a godmother type of character.

The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes
Eventually, Howard confesses to Maggie about his dilemma, who surprisingly takes it well. It is here that the show feels like a whole different one going down a rabbit hole or a trip similar to the one Dorothy had to during The Wizard of Oz. Maggie is now an unrealistic character trying to help Howard to get out of “his musical.” In order to do so, they must find the great Von Schwartzenheim (Jeff Steitzer who is ALWAYS great on stage) who has written the best musicals ever known, on how to escape. In my opinion, this is a mistake. Some of the scenes that follow work really well while others fall flat. The show manages to poke fun at other forms of theatre (the “Let It Out” number with the “experimental” artists is especially great) while also including a variety of characters and lines from such well-known musicals. This is actually pretty fun for those who have seen a lot of musicals over the years. Many of the characters in this show pop up as characters they played before including Mallory King as Mary Poppins, Sarah Russell as one of the Dreamgirls and Greg McCormick Allen as the Musicman. Other musicals represented include Annie, Peter Pan, Hairspray, Cats, Chicago, Avenue Q and even Hamilton! The show even breaks through the fourth wall involving the audience a bit.

All in all, this is a fun show that is unlike any you have seen before it, but it also feels unpolished as is. There are a few too many clever ideas here and I appreciated many of the things they bring up like the problem with dance sequences or those boring songs thrown in your favorite musical which feel as if they are only there to extend the length of the show. Some of these references work while other don’t. There are also a few crass lines that take the innocent quality away from the show and some scenes that while are entertaining, don’t really make much sense to the story at all. Of course, everything ends up happy in the end, but this isn’t a show for families.



The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes continues its run at the Everett Performing Arts Center through November 18. Tickets can be purchased online or by call the box office at 425.257.8600.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Taproot's 'Baskerville' is a Hilarious, Yet Faithful, Sherlock Holmes Adventure

Review of "Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery."
Michael Patten and Reginald André Jackson (Photos by Erik Stuhaug)
THEATRE REVIEW

While perhaps not intending to, Taproot Theatre’s production of Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery offers a unique alternative to the usual Halloween fare around town. Of all of the Sherlock Holmes tales, The Hound of the Baskervilles is the most Halloween-ish story with a mysterious creature killing people in swampy area. Baskerville takes the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mystery and turns it into a family-friendly Halloween special. Though it only runs through October 20, chances are fairly good that it might be extended and continue throughout the month. I have no way of knowing for sure, so you’ll want to get your tickets now just to be safe.

Review of "Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery."
Eric Hampton
Director Scott Nolte puts a little of his own sense of humor into this show which is already hilarious while also being faithful to the source material. In the story, Dr. James Mortimer pleads with Sherlock to investigate the death of his friend Sir Charles Baskerville who died on the grounds of his own estate reportedly attacked by a gigantic beast. Some say the death was part of curse. Mortimer tells Sherlock that he fears for Sir Charles’ nephew, Sir Henry, the sole heir of the estate, who plans to move into the now-vacant home. Fearing that Henry might suffer the same fate, he asks Sherlock to look into this mystery, something Sherlock has no trouble getting interested in.

Review of "Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery."
Michael Patten, Elizabeth Keck, 
Nick Watson and Reginald André Jackson
In Baskerville, the story is given a comedy treatment with all 35 characters being played by only five actors. Okay, to be fair, Michal Patten and Reginald Andre Jackson play Holmes and Dr. Watson. It’s the other three actors who portray the other 33 characters. This calls for quick costume and character changes throughout along with a few technical mishaps and hi-jinx. The other actors are Nick Watson, Elizabeth Keck and Eric Hampton. Together, this troupe creates the perfect ensemble comedy where Sherlock is the main character, but not necessarily the star of the show. The honor is pretty much evenly spread between the five.

Baskerville is different in another way too. This Sherlock is bit different than what we usually see. Yes, his deductive reasoning is still uncanny to be sure, but this detective is more playful and fun. He’s smart, but not overly intellectual. The story also presents a unique friendship between Doctor Watson and Sir Henry (Nick Watson), a cowboy from Canada. There is also a large section of the play where Sherlock doesn’t appear at all, making this friendship even more important. If played by less talented actors, the story would surely drag.

Designed by Richard Lorig, the cartoonish set with it’s bright blue and purple colors serves as another character and plays multiple roles as well with quick change projections designed by Mark Lund. There is a lot going on here leaving a lot of room for mistakes, but the production I saw was nearly flawless.

As of now, Baskerville continues through October 20. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at (206) 781-9707. Taproot Theatre is located at 204 N. 85th St., Seattle 98103. Parking can be a bit tricky, so be sure to look at the Theatre’s suggestions on their website and leave early enough before the show to find a spot.

Friday, July 20, 2018

‘Sweet Land’ is a Satisfying Experience

Hugh Hastings, Michael Winters, Pam Nolte, Molli Corcoran, Tyler Todd Kimmel, 
Daniel Stoltenberg, April Poland and Chris Shea. (Photo by Erik Stuhaug)

THEATRE REVIEW

Seattle’s Taproot Theatre often takes chances presenting plays and musicals based on works that are not that well-known instead of tried-and-true favorites. It can be difficult to drum up interest in such productions. Even though the theatre’s current production of Sweet Land is based on the 2006 movie of the same name, it is an independent movie and not too many people are aware of it, but they should. Taproot has the distinction of being the west coast premiere location for the musical which just might be the start for this new show.

The story of Sweet Land is a simple one. In 1920, a young German woman named Inge (Molli Corcoran) agrees to cross the sea to marry Olaf (Tyler Todd Kimmel) a Norwegian man whom she has never met. She knows very little English and on her journey has worked hard with one phrase, “I could eat a horse” finding that it isn’t as useful as she might have thought. The plan was for Olaf to pick up Inge at the train station and head straight to the church to be married. But there is a hitch. Still bruised from World War I, many residents of Park Rapids, Minnesota as suspicious of Germans thinking that Inge could be a spy. This includes Pastor Sorenson (Hugh Hastings) who refuses to marry the couple unless they can come up with some sort of references for the girl, preferably from a clergy member from her hometown. The justice of peace in town also refuses. The couple can’t get married and they can’t live in the same house as it would appear to not only scandalous but also against Inge’s and Olaf’s own religious upbringing.

To make matters even more difficult, Olaf is extremely shy and actually avoids his bride who is having her own hard time fitting in. Alvin and “Brownie” Frandsen (Chris Shea and April Poland) take in the girl to live with their rather large family while things get sorted out. Brownie shows Inge how to read American recipes and despite his uncertain feelings for Inge, Pastor Sorenson agrees to teach Inge English using the Bible as his guide. Still, suspicion and prejudice abound.

Molli Corcoran, Tyler Todd Kimmel (Photo by Erik Stuhaug)
On top of everything else, Sweet Land has a rather “sweet” message about the value of sexual purity of all things. As the audience, we get to see how this innocent romance between two strangers bloom. Both Inge and Olaf avoid any act or behavior that could be considered improper. The romance grows naturally and the two long for the day when they can finally be wed to experience all the joys that marriage has to offer. The story is a refreshing one and speaks volumes to many people today who hardly scoff at a one-night-stand.

I haven’t seen the movie and suspect that it is considered more of a drama than anything else. But the stage play has plenty of laughs in this fish out of water comedy. Kimmel and Corcoran are especially good as the potential love birds. I don’t know if Corcoran spoke German before she was cast in the play, but you’d never know if she hadn’t. Both she and Kimmel are very animated and their facial expressions are tell us everything that they are thinking without saying a word. The story moves at a good pace and music is pleasant enough and doesn’t pull the audience away from the story. There is an auction scene that is tied to a musical number that is especially good at creating tension. The musicians include Michael Matlock (piano), Dexter Stevens (reeds), Emily Ravenscraft (violin) and Leah Pogwizd (bassist). The cast is rounded out with Jenny Cross, Michael Winters, Pam Nolte and Daniel Stoltenberg, all equally good.

The only negative I found with Sweet Land is the portrayal of Pastor Sorenson. While on one hand he is scene a pillar of the community and one that is fully involved in helping the various neighbors during their crop’s harvests. On the other hand, he is shown as a judgmental jerk who assumes the worst about Olaf and Inge’s relationship and even spreads rumors about the two. Haven’t we had enough stories about judgmental clergy members? Isn’t it time to have stories that represent pastor and priests with good hearts and good examples for a change? They do exist.

Tickets can be purchased online, by phone at 206-781-9707 or in person at the Box Office. Tickets range from $27-$50 depending on the performance. The theatre does offer some discounts, so be sure to visit their website to take advantage of them. Sweet Land is recommended for those age 12 and older. Taproot Theatre is located at 204 N 85th St. in Seattle.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

REVIEW: The 'Gin Game' is More Exciting Than it Seems

Review of "The Gin Game" at Village Theatre
Marianne Owen and Kurt Beattie in The Gin Game (Village Theatre)

THEATRE REVIEW

At first glance, The Gin Game seems to have everything working against its success. The play features only two characters interacting within an old folks’ home with the action happening around a fold-up card table. Watching two seniors playing cards doesn’t sound like much to get excited about, but this Pulitzer Prize-winning play is full of surprises.

Some might mistake The Gin Game as a romantic comedy, but actually, the play has been described by some as a tragi-comedy which starts out rather benignly and then builds to strong finale. Weller is a fairly new resident at a home for seniors, but he acts like he has lived there for years. He’s lonely and bitter and plays solitaire to amuse himself. He doesn’t like any of the “old” people living there. One day during visitor hours, Weller meets Fonsia, an even newer resident to the home, skipping out on the festivities. Neither of them have any visitors to talk to. They strike up a conversation which leads to a friendly game of Gin Rummy. At first.

The two couldn’t be more different. Weller is outspoken, foul-mouthed and cranky. Fonsia is timid, a little religious and kind. Fonsia admits that she hasn’t played cards in years but Weller assures her that she’ll get the hang of it pretty quick. And she does. Fonsia has an impressive streak of beginner’s luck. Soon, though, the conversation becomes less about the game and more personal. As they chat, each begin to learn how alike they are. Weller begins to remind Fonsia of her former husband and in turn, Fonsia has some mannerism that remind Weller of his own mother, and these are not happy memories.

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The Gin Game stars Kurt Beattie and Marianne Owen, two Seattle theatre icons and real-life married couple. They play off each other beautifully with the help of director Jeff Steitzer. As is often the case at Village Theatre, the set design almost serves as a third character. The set (designed by Bill Forrester) is hugely over-sized for its small cast but it is incredible looking like a rundown dollhouse with most of the action happening on the sun porch.

Review of "The Gin Game" at Village Theatre
(Village Theatre)
Full of humor, the first half of the play is very enjoyable to watch. The duo's timing is perfect. Unfortunately, the second half of the play contains equal parts of humor and tension. We see that a thunderstorm in rising up in the background as a nice piece of foreshadowing. The two characters spar back and forth with more intensity and even more curse words. The more Fonsia asks to not take the Lord’s name in vain, the more Weller does it. The final scene gets pretty uncomfortable and then, poof, it’s over.

Although good, The Gin Game feels unfinished as if there is a lost third act to the production hidden away somewhere. Those wanting a more solid ending will be frustrated. Still, this is one play worth seeing these two local masters of the stage verbally chew up the scenery.

The Gin Game continues playing at the Everett Performing Arts Center through March 25. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 425-257-8600. The Arts Center is located at 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett, WA 98201.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Take a Chance on 'Mamma Mia!'

Review of "Mamma Mia!"
Sarah Rudinoff, Kendra Kassebaum and Lisa Estridge in Mamma Mia! (Photo: Mark Kitaoka)

THEATRE REVIEW

It really shouldn’t be a surprise that Mamma Mia 2 will be coming to movie theaters this summer. It is the sequel to the 2008 movie which was a huge hit mainly for the music and secondly for the cast. (It certainly wasn’t because of Pierce Brosnan’s singing.) Of course, this all came about after the stage musical that made its debut in London in 1999. Since then, the musical has had many tours around the world, but the current 5th Avenue Theatre production is the first in the Northwest to receive the rights to create its own refreshed version of the show. Many of us are only familiar with the film version, and for those, just know that this is a lot better.

Mamma Mia is different from a lot of traditional musicals in that all of the music comes from the pop rock group ABBA music library of hit tunes. There’s not a bit of new music added to the show and ABBA fans couldn’t be more satisfied.

Mamma Mia begins on the Greek island of Kalokairi. Sophie (Eliza Palasz) is preparing her wedding to Sky (Jordan Iosua Taylor) and would very much like to have her father walk her down the aisle. The problem is, she doesn’t know who he is. But she has a pretty good idea after reading selections from her mother’s diary. She invites three men from her mother’s past to her wedding and to stay at her mother’s taverna in hopes of finally meeting her dad.

Review of "Mamma Mia!"
Eliza Palasz and Jordan Iosua Taylor (Photo: Tracy Martin)
The story is set sometime in the 1990’s taking place twenty years after the “time of the flower power” and the birth of Sophie. For a story centered on a wedding, the institution of marriage is questioned a lot. Sophie’s mother, Donna, is played by Kendra Kassebaum (a real stretch since Kassebaum looks too young for the role!) who struggles to make ends meet on her little island paradise. The show hints of her strict Catholic upbringing and the shame she must have felt being an unwed mother in the 1970s. Her friends and former backup singers Tanya (Lisa Estridge) and Rosie (Sarah Rudinoff) share in her pain. Tanya has had at least three failed marriages and Rosie has never found a husband. The three (possible) fathers don’t fare much better. Sam Carmichael (Paolo Montalban) is divorced and Bill Austin (Matt Wolfe) would rather travel the world. Only Harry Bright (Cobey Mandarino) has a “better half” that he leaves at home.

At first it appears that Donna and Sophie have a great mother/daughter relationship, but then we quickly learn that mom would just like to keep her past in the past and not discuss details on who Sophie’s father is with her daughter. Though Sophie is determined to get married, she hasn’t had any real role model of what a real marriage looks like. Donna thinks Sophie is rushing things and Sophie thinks Donna is against all marriages in general. Though not so blatantly expressed, questions like “Do you need to be married to be happy?” and “Can you stay happy if you are married?” do arise throughout the show.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Taproot’s ‘Camping with Henry and Tom’ is an Enlightening Experience

Camping with Henry and Tom at Taproot Theatre
David Pichette as Henry Ford, Rob Burgess as Thomas Edison and Frank Lawler as
 Warren G. Harding in Camping with Henry and Tom. (Photo by Robert Wade.)

THEATRE REVIEW

Taproot Theatre has opened its 2018 season with Mark St. Germain’s clever Camping with Henry and Tom. Like last year’s production of Relativity, also by Germain, Camping with Henry and Tom is a “what if” story based on a real event with real flawed people, but their conversations have been reimagined. Here, the story is about auto manufacture Henry Ford, inventor Thomas Edison and President Warren G. Harding who find themselves lost in the woods while on a camping trip in Licking Creek, Maryland.

Directed by Taproot founder Scott Nolte, Camping features one the theatre’s best stage sets created by Mark Lund complete with Ford’s Model-T smashed into a tree. The brilliant cast includes David Pichette as Ford, Rob Burgess as Edison, Frank Lawler as Harding and Kevin Pitman as Colonel Edmund Starling. Ford and Harding do most of the talking in the production and perform a verbal seesaw taking subtle (and later, not-so-subtle) jabs at each other. Ford seems to know just how to get under the president’s skin and Harding reacts as if on cue to Ford’s delight. As the two debate about the issues of the day, they both badger Edison to side with them, but he doesn’t bite. He is having none of it and often calls each other’s bluff. It is at these moments when the play is its best. However, unlike Relativity, Camping feels uneven.

Camping with Henry and Tom at Taproot Theatre
Rob Burgess and David Pichette. (Photo by Robert Wade)
While overall the dialog is witty and pretty believable, but at times it feels as if the author wasn’t sure what he was trying to say with the play. At one point of the play, Edison’s character shares some boyhood memories that are truly disturbing, and it is meant to be so, but how this short scene relates to the rest of the play is unclear. The play also suffers from the use of two somewhat unsavory characters which I assume is a fairly accurate portrayal of the actual people. No doubt Ford was brilliant, but he was also stubborn, hard-headed, convinced pretty heavily that he is always right and had some far out views about the afterlife. President Harding isn’t much better. At first he seems to be a fairly level-headed man, but the more he speaks (and the more his skeletons come out of their hiding places) the less appealing this man of leadership appears. It’s hard to watch such a play when you don’t really have anyone to root for.

Camping with Henry and Tom isn’t a bad play, and all the actors involved do a bang up job, but compared to Germain’s other plays, including the amazing Best of Enemies (also based on real events and presented at Taproot), this play lacks heart and hope. With that said, despite the fact that this play takes place in the 1920’s, some of the discussions feel quite contemporary and any history buff who enjoys learning more about such characters or can't get enough of political drama, will no doubt enjoy this production.

Camping with Henry and Tom continues through March 3, 2018 at Taproot’s Jewell Mainstage theatre. Due to some strong language and adult themes, the play is recommended for those age 14 and up. Tickets range from $27-$50 depending on the performance and can be purchased online or by calling the box office at (206) 781-9708. The theatre is located at 204 N. 85th St. in Seattle, WA 98103.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

You Simply Must Go 'Into the Woods'

Review of Village Theatre's "Into the Woods."
Arika Matoba (Little Red Ridinghood) and Kevin Vortmann (The Wolf). (Photo: Mark Kitaoka)

THEATRE REVIEW

While a cursory glance of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods may appear to be nothing more than a musical comedy featuring a mashup of fairy tale characters, by the end, you’ll realize that there is a lot more to this story. Its messages are deceptively deep and though I knew going into it that this production had some dark undertones, I had no idea. And just because the play features Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t mean that this production is one for the kids. Well, maybe if you left after Act One.

Just to clarify, Into the Woods isn’t a “naughty” production but most of the humor will go over little one’s heads and there is a sharp tonal shift that comes between the first and second act that not only challenges the notion of a “happily ever after,” but also presents these characters as real, flawed people who need to take responsibility for their own actions. Themes include parents making mistakes while trying to do what is best for their children, learning how to be content with what you have rather than what you want and reaping what you sow.

Review of Village Theatre's "Into the Woods."
Allison Standley as Cinderella. (Photo: Mark Kitaoka)
This musical features multiple storylines that crossover each other. Unlike the Disney-fied and perhaps sanitized versions of the Grimm Brothers fairy tale classic stories, Into the Wood presents a more traditional view of these character warts and all. These stories include:

  • Cinderella (Allison Standley) who longs to go to ball and get away from her evil stepmother (Cheryse McLeod Lewis) and stepsisters Lucinda (Marissa Ryder) and Florinda (Arika Matoba). Instead of a fairy godmother, Cinderella visits her mother’s grave and is visited by her spirit (Corinna Munter).
  • Jack (Rafael Molina) who loves his cow, Milky White, more than anything, struggles to find a way to keep her despite his mother’s (Jayne Muirhead) pleading with him to sell her so they won’t starve. Let’s just say that there will be a beanstalk in his future.
  • Little Red Ridinghood (Arika Matoba) is challenged to either follow her mother’s advice to “not stray from the path” or listen to the Wolf’s (Kevin Vortmann) instructions on how to find beautiful flowers to give to her grandmother (Corinna Munter).
  • A baker and his wife (Trey Ellett and Christine Marie Brown) have hope of breaking a curse that prevents them from becoming parents if they are willing to do a few unsavory tasks for their next-door neighbor, the witch (Mari Nelson).
  • Rapunzel (Molli Corcoran) sings out happily though unable to leave her tower. She sings a different tune once she gets out.

Review of Village Theatre's "Into the Woods."
Marissa Ryder (Lucinda), Cheryse McLeod Lewis (Cinderella's Stepmother),
and Alexandria Henderson (Florinda). (Photo: Tracy Martin)
Each of the character’s stories lead them to go “into the woods” which is sort of a metaphor for taking risks in life and coming back a changed person, whether for good or for bad. Some of the characters do the right thing while others do not.

I have to say that while watching this production that I really liked the first act, then I found myself not liking the middle and then come back around full circle for the time the play wrapped up. The stories and pretty familiar for the first half where most of the stories we know end on “happily ever after” but Act 2 ventures beyond with a real crisis that affects all of the characters. Some choose to ignore it, others run away and others face the obstacle head on. Without giving anything away, the story does end on a positive note.

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Review of Village Theatre's "Into the Woods."
Christine Marie Brown, Trey Ellett and Mari Nelson. (Photo: Mark Kitaoka)
Matthew Smucker’s sets and Melanie Taylor Burgess’ costumes for Into the Woods are some of the best I’ve ever seen and the photos do not do them justice. The revolving stage features woods that contain trees that are made out of ladders and leaves that are really pages from a story book. The woods change appearance from being warm and magical to stark and grim. Many of the character’s costumes feature a patch quilt look. As for the characters, some truly over-the-top as is the case of the prince brothers played by Kevin Vortmann and Matthew Posner. (Their song, “Agony,” about dealing with the fairer sex is spot on.) Others, like the Baker’s Wife, are more realistic where you sympathize with them one moment and then are angry with them the next. The stand out though is Arika Matoba who is able to present Red Ridinghood’s lines with dry humor and perfect comedic timing and yet still remain innocent. As for the music, don’t expect to walk away with songs stuck in your head as Sondheim’s musical numbers are more poetic than toe-tapping.

Into the Woods continues playing at the Everett Performing Arts Center through November 19, 2017. The theatre is located at 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett, WA 98201.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

'Relativity' Presents a Thought-Provoking "What if" Story About Albert Einstein

Review of the play "Relativity" at Taproot Theatre.
Dennis Bateman & Candace Vance in Relativity at Taproot Theatre. (Photo by Erik Stuhaug)

THEATRE REVIEW

Mark St. Germain’s play, Relativity brings a unique theatrical experience to Taproot Theatre about the life of Albert Einstein with themes of public vs. private, genius vs. eccentric and good vs. great. Though “relatively” short, this play tackles a lot of ground that is sometimes comedic, sometimes heartbreaking but wholly thought-provoking.

Based on real history events based of the life of Einstein, Relativity is actually a fictional tale of “what if.” History books share information about Einstein’s two sons and one daughter who was born in 1902. However, there is no mention of her after 1904 leaving many to speculate what happened to the girl. Did she die? Was she given up for adoption?

Relativity takes place during an interview with the professor in his home in 1949. Dennis Bateman plays Einstein wild hair and all. And quite believably too. Though famous, Einstein is rather reclusive separating his public life from his private life. His live-in maid, Miss Dukas (Pam Nolte) serves as a watchdog keeping out unwanted guests. However, she meets her match when Margaret Harding (Candace Vance) arrives home with the professor one afternoon in December. Harding is a reporter for the Jewish Daily who has been turned away from Miss Dukas twice in the past. Undeterred, Harding gets Einstein’s attention on the campus of Princeton University and follows him home. The conversation begins rather cordial but soon becomes more intense as Harding pushes for answers on whatever happened to Albert’s daughter which later turns into a debate on whether or not Einstein, considered by many to be a “great” man, could be considered a “good” man as well.

This is Bateman’s debut performance at Taproot having performed at the 5th Avenue and Village Theatre as well as many episodes of the radio drama show, Imagination Theater. He’s a fantastic addition. Vance on the other hand has performed in many Taproot productions and is a favorite of many. The two spare back and forth well. And though this is manly a two person play, Nolte does get a few choice moments as well. The play is directed by Pam’s husband and co-founder of Taproot Theatre, Scott Nolte with a set design by Mark Lund that compliments Einstein’s character very well.

Relativity plays through October 21, 2017 (but don’t be surprised if it gets held over) at Taproot Theatre’s Jewel Mainstage Theatre located at 204 N 85th St. in Seattle, 98103. Performances are held at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and special matinee performances are also presented on Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets range from $27-$47 depending on the performance and can be purchased online or by calling (206) 781-9707. Taproot offers a $5 senior/student discount off of regularly priced tickets. This play has a age recommendation of 12 and up.