Black Magic, Zombies, and a Giant Invisible Robot
Seattle Shakespeare Company at Center House Theater
Through April 8.
The old Macbeth-as-cursed-play thing doesn't bear mentioning except for this unfortunate story in director Russ Banham's program bio: "Acting credits include the Broadway production of The Merchant, with Zero Mostel, who died upstage right at the first performance. The production is considered among the most cursed in Broadway history: Two other actors died during its run and on closing night the fire curtain broke loose and came within a hairsbreadth of injuring the remaining principals." And you think: "This guy wants to take on the unluckiest show in the history of theater? Dude's got guts."
If he does, it doesn't show. The direction is conservative, with two small embellishments: a pagan theme (accentuating the play's 20-plus references to birds and augury, amping up the incantatory ritual of the soliloquies) with some heavy-metal flair (noisy guitar effects, Lady Macbeth's black toenail polish). Both are good choices—pagan metal is the closest modern analogue to Macbeth's creepy, black-magic crazy train.
The production's primary pleasure is Hans Altwies as Macbeth—he is, without a doubt, the best Shakespeare actor in the city. (His raging badass performance in last season's Romeo and Juliet was the best Mercutio you'll ever see.) Altwies declaims and slings around the archaic English like it's the most natural thing in the world. His comfort with Shakespeare's language makes us comfortable, too. Whenever he leaves the stage, he takes his magic with him and whoever gives the next line reminds us that we're in a theater.
The play should belong to Lady Macbeth. But while Jennifer Sue Johnson is a very good actor, Altwies refuses to be overshadowed. Their dynamic is the whole show. The rest of the production is as insubstantial as a ghost. BRENDAN KILEY
Wheeldon, Duato, and Balanchine
Pacific Northwest Ballet
Through March 25.
Christopher Wheeldon is such a hugely famous choreographer (presently wrapping up a long, productive residency at the New York City Ballet) that in January he announced plans to start his own company. The New York Times called the audacious move a "minor earthquake." Ballet companies tend toward place names, not name names, and now everybody's fretting about whose ballerinas and donors will be poached. But before last week, his dances (fairly conservative, technical yet warm) had never been seen in Seattle. Peter Boal, as ever, to the rescue.
Wheeldon's Polyphonia looks fine on the PNB principals (I saw the forever-languishing Louise Nadeau, who always dances in the same swoony manner, but she isn't in this weekend's lineup), though it's becoming obvious that the men in the company totally dominate the either calcifying or immature women. When you find yourself annoyed at a pas de deux because you can't see Batkhurel Bold or Jonathan Porretta behind the little lady, something's clearly not right. In any case, Polyphonia contains some wild lifts and elaborate burrowing backbends, and you should probably see it. There's just no guarantee you'll enjoy yourself.
Nacho Duato's Rassemblement, a barefoot voodoo fantasia from the repertory, is being revived to showcase a 20-year PNB vet, angular giantess Ariana Lallone, who's fantastic as a priestess/mourner. But the piece traps Bold (everyone's favorite Mongolian) in pools of fetishistic stage-right light for five minutes at a time: the sleeping slave. Bold's naked torso gets way more attention than his athletic ability, which is problematic in a ballet by a Spanish choreographer about abject Haitians. The evening wraps up with La Sonnambula, a Balanchine masque from 1946, in which guest artist Miranda Weese (or Nadeau or Patricia Barker) stalks about as the enticingly erotic Sleepwalker, candle held stiffly aloft. The recent FDA warnings about baroque sleep-aid side effects like eating and having sex while asleep have endowed this kitschy little ballet with a nearly inconceivable quality: topicality. It's uncomplicated, but funnier than ever. ANNIE WAGNER
SPF 1: No Protection
Theatre Off Jackson
Through March 24.
The inaugural Solo Performance Festival (SPF 1, whose posters feature a little black dog pulling the pants off a cartoon kid, revealing her waist-high tan line) opened three weeks ago to a smallish audience. Each night of SPF presents two different solo shows by the likes of Mary Purdy, Jonah Von Spreecken, Keira McDonald, et al. But the final performance, Saturday, March 24, seems the most promising, if only for the titles: Hell Songs from the Floating World and Giant Invisible Robot.
On Friday and Saturday, Mark Boeker will perform his very good Hell Songs from the Floating World (seen at On the Boards' Northwest New Works Festival), a series of sketches that begins with his "Sensitive Zombie" character—a sad-sack, brains-eating romantic who is nostalgic for his pre-zombie days, back when he used to dance and love his girlfriend. Boeker also plays a waiter in hell, a survivor of an alien invasion hiding underground, and other macabre clowns.
On Thursday and Saturday, Ontario's Jayson McDonald will perform his Giant Invisible Robot, about an imaginary boyhood friend who becomes—disconcertingly—a real adulthood friend. BRENDAN KILEY