Frank is sitting at dinner with his wife, mother-in-law, and coworker, trying to tell a joke. It's not going well. "I open my mouth with a prepared speech and it sounds like death 'cause it didn't come out when it went in my head," he confides to the audience. "I let it spoil and then when I let it out, it stinks like day-old herring you forgot to put back in the fridge."
Kvetch, a comedy at Theater Schmeater, begins when Frank, an anxious Jewish husband and salary man, invites Hal, a sad and newly single coworker, to dinner. Hal accepts. Frank, as usual, freaks out.
Frank says he just wants to be a mensch, the kind of guy whose house is always open, where jokes are told and people kvetch over coffee. But even he doesn't like his home. His wife is a dithering wreck, his mother-in-law is surly and gaseous, and he is incapable of making normal conversation—that's what he tells us, anyway. Kvetch, by British playwright Steven Berkoff, is a series of asides from each of the characters, interpolated into their banal actual conversation. Frank's wife tells us he's a scowling bully, Hal hopes no one asks him what he does at night (watches TV, visits hookers), and the mother-in-law says they're all irritating twerps. The mother-in-law is right.
But their twerpiness is the play's comedy and charm. The characters' inner lives have a spastic—and uncomfortably familiar—grace. The tension between the spoken and the unspoken comes to a climax after dinner, when Frank and his wife are in bed. She fantasizes about being savaged by garbage men and he, to his surprise, starts to fantasize about Hal.
The production is energetic—sometimes overmuch. Cristopher Berns is piercingly whiny as Frank and one fears that Andy Clawson, as the nervous Hal, might suffer an onstage aneurism. By contrast, the overall experience is somewhat flat. Eh. Kvetch gives no cause for complaint.
A Boy in the Beastly City, a shadow-puppet show at Theatre Off Jackson by Scot Augustson, is a psychosexual drama of a lighter, less apologetic, and more fanciful kind. Augustson has been performing shadow puppetry for 10 years under the name Sgt. Rigsby and His Amazing Silhouettes. His best puppet plays (and Boy is among them) happen in a fantasy demimonde of randy preachers, merry drunks, and lovable hookers—a kind of nostalgic sinner's paradise, just across the tracks from Bedford Falls.
Ostensibly about a boy from the jungle ("a Rousseauian noble savage") who ventures into the sinful city to find his lost pet monkey, Boy is really an excuse to revel in the lewd funhouse of Augustson's imagination. The titular hero stays in a très gay YMCA, meets a priapic zebra, and hears the tale of Chicken Jenny, a singing poulet turned Parisian whore. (Chicken Jenny is a beloved recurring character in Rigsby productions. In this one, she takes a murder rap for one of her johns and goes to the gallows singing "La Vie en Rose.")
Wit and nostalgia are the dominant Rigsby aesthetics: The silhouettes appear on an elaborately framed, sepia-colored screen. Four actors sit at a table on one side of the stage, performing more than 40 characters and Foley sound effects. The gentlemen (Stephen Hando and Evan Mosher) wear suspenders and bow ties. The ladies (Shannon Kipp and Keri Healey) wear brooches and stylish coiffures. Sgt. Rigsby is classy and bawdy—and profoundly fun.
The Breach at Seattle Rep, about the flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, has received hostile reviews. The Times called it "clunky and didactic," the P-I called it "messy," and the person I saw it with called it "horrible." This review is a week late (last week's paper belonged to do-gooders who bought stories in the Strangercrombie charity auction), but allow me to pile on: The Breach is also maudlin and facile. Awkwardly constructed from three vignettes by three playwrights and directed by David Esbjornson, The Breach wants to dramatize the experience of a few Katrina victims but doesn't tell us anything we couldn't have guessed. To wit: Drowning is bad, getting stuck on a roof is bad, and well-intentioned but clueless journalists are irritating.