Springtime for Hitler
Anne Frank, Cabaret, and Breast Milk
Next Stage at Richard Hugo House
Through April 20.
Last year, Hugo House took its theater off the rental market—adding to the scarcity of stage space mentioned in the column on the left—and chose two resident companies. As reported in The Stranger last June, Hugo House passed over a few favorites (including Annex Theatre and Strawberry Theatre Workshop) for two relative unknowns: SiS, an Asian-American company, and Next Stage, which had yet to stage anything. Demonology is its first play. The results are middling.
Demonology, which premiered in New York in 1996, begins in the regimented office of Joe DeMartini, a baby-formula executive who is terrorizing a new temp (and, it turns out, new mother) named Gina. Her hair is too wild, her demeanor too casual. When she bends over to find a brush, her round bottom blows DeMartini's uptight, corporate mind. You can infer the rest of the polemic: Gina is feminine, fecund, a symbolic threat. DeMartini begins to unravel, secretly chugging bags of Gina's breast milk and hallucinating. Then come acts of corporate sabotage and the mystery: Is Gina a pro-breast-feeding guerrilla, or is DeMartini undermining his own business?
Playwright Kelly Stuart has written a mildly amusing satire, though it suffers from sledgehammer politics. (A representative line from Skip, the office sleazebag, describing feminism: "Have you seen Planet of the Apes, where the apes take over the earth? Substitute 'apes' for 'women.'") But this inaugural production, directed by Mark Jared Zufelt, shows some promise: Alex Samuels is comically robotic as DeMartini and Maggie Brothers's Gina is as easy and unforced as breathing. BRENDAN KILEY
The Diary of Anne Frank
Through May 17.
It's impossible to discuss this staging without mentioning the celebrity involvement, so let's get it out of the way: Lucy DeVito, the 25-year-old daughter of Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, plays the 13-year-old Anne Frank. And she does it well. DeVito's Anne is a fidgety, talkative ball of hyperactivity, and not at all a saint. She gets bored when the family holds religious ceremonies, and she's constantly at odds with her mother.
With one notable exception, the rest of the cast follows DeVito's lead. Stranger Genius Award–winner Amy Thone, as Anne's embattled mother, keeps a smart stressed-mom stance for most of the play, not the Tragic Mother of an Antigenocide Icon that many actresses become. If only Matthew Boston got that memo; his Otto Frank is flat and dead, bringing a whiff of community theater to Intiman's stage.
But at least it's a gorgeous stage. The Secret Annex, designed by Nayna Ramey, is a multilevel wooden construct, at once enormous and claustrophobic. The sound design is also remarkable: The audience jumps at a sudden pounding on a door or an unexpected buzzer.
You know how things are going to end. People are in tears. They give it a standing ovation. And then they file out of the theater, right past the little poster by the door, suggesting that they help end the genocide in Darfur. PAUL CONSTANT
5th Avenue Theatre
Through April 13.
Nick Garrison was born to play the emcee in Cabaret. He is known for his preternatural ability to embody the feminine (the Glenn Close part in Fatal Attraction at Re-bar, the nurse in Loot at Intiman) and the not-quite-masculine (the mannish woman Randee Sparks in his self-written solo work and, most of all, Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch). He is a master of improvisation, which you've got to be to play the emcee, since the emcee interacts with the audience as if they (we) are sitting at tables in a late-Weimar-Republic-era cabaret in Berlin. He has enough in his repertoire, enough presence, to sustain being onstage almost constantly, even walking through scenes he has nothing to do with. And he can sing like a motherfucker.
But you can't help thinking that, with his bald head and skeleton-y pallor, Garrison would be more at home in the Sam Mendes revival of Cabaret of a decade ago, in which everything was black, bleak, stripped to a chilling bareness, right down to the cabaret girls and boys in their underwear, who squirmed around on the stage in the former Studio 54, their eyes sunken holes, their expressions all heroin-blank and depraved. There is nothing depraved about this production of Cabaret, to its detriment. The tables are red, the chairs are red, the banisters are red, the pants are red, the jackets are red, the ties are red, the suspenders are red, the feathers on women's hats are red, their dresses are red (with red sequins), their gloves are red, the stripe on someone's purple fedora is red, and the emcee's pants, jacket, vest, and top hat are red. We are supposed to be in the dark heart of a distorting time, but the whole thing looks like a commercial for strawberries. The production gives Garrison nothing to work with and, in turn, his performance seems half-hearted. Tari Kelly, as Sally Bowles, is a zero. But Suzy Hunt (as Fräulein Schneider) and Angie Louise (as Fräulein Kost) are captivating. CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE