Strawberry Theatre Workshop at the Erickson Theater
Through Aug 9.
History cannot make up its mind about Leni Riefenstahl. The inscrutable Nazi-era filmmaker who made Triumph of the Will has been lauded as a genius and vilified as a monster, usually in the same breath. But according to Leni, the electric new play about the director and her polarized legacy, Riefenstahl was, more than anything, a tough lady living in tough times. "I am hated not only for my art, but for loving my art," she proclaims during a reenactment of her postwar interrogation at Nuremberg. "I am on trial for bad timing, talent, and pride."
Sarah Greenman wrote Leni as a conversation between the clever, naive Leni the Younger (Alexandra Tavares) and the steely, wry Leni the Elder (Amy Thone). They discuss, argue about, and reenact scenes from their life for hidden cameras, which project onto screens leaning on the stage. Together, Thone (who won a Stranger Genius Award in 2007) and Tavares are a Janus-faced marvel—their acting crisp and muscular, their relationship charged and wary.
Leni the Younger isn't a Nazi, but a coquettish filmmaker who happens to work for the Nazis. So what if she has to bat her eyes to coax another million marks out of Hitler? That, she says, is the price of being a woman artist. Leni the Elder is a stern but disappointed creature (the defeat of the Nazis ended her career) with a veneer of cold humor. She looks at her younger self with bitter longing, knowing that Leni the Younger will define the aesthetic of modern film—as well as be arrested, pilloried, and detained for four years of "de-Nazification." More than 100 filmmakers worked for the Reich, Leni the Elder declares, "and I was the only woman." For that reason, she says with swelling rage, the Allies targeted her: "No one cornered Albert Speer in a dark room, and asked, 'So did you fuck the Führer?'"
Hell hath no fury like a genius scorned—Leni evokes the fury brilliantly, but doesn't parse the scorn. Leni is Leni's. BRENDAN KILEY
Sitting in Circles with Rich White Girls: Memoirs of a Bulimic
Brownbox Theater at Rainier Valley Cultural Center
Through July 20.
Chad Goller-Sojourner is a poet and self-described "spoken word performance artist." Many of his poems have been incorporated into this hour-long solo show. There's certainly been enough drama in Goller-Sojourner's life to warrant autobiographical treatment: He's an African-American gay man born in 1970 in Tacoma, adopted by white parents, and raised in mostly white schools. Things get even more complicated when he develops bulimia, and school officials send him to a support group full of white girls to talk about it.
The stories are fascinating, and it's still refreshing to hear a man speak candidly about his body-image problems—Goller-Sojourner is distressed by his "boy tits"—and the race politics are moving. At one point, he proudly lifts his head into the spotlight with a beatific grin and announces: "I am white because the first people who loved me were white." That moment is touching and troubling and has the clear, true ring of an idea being articulated for the very first time.
Goller-Sojourner is obviously nervous onstage, and possibly a little uneasy with Tyrone Brown's direction, which mostly involves standing in different spots and talking. Aspects of the play, like a powerful meditation on the near-OCD thinking he brings to his daily weigh-ins, and a hilarious explanation of how a Hawaii trip that happened to coincide with the 1984 Olympics resulted in an epic fast-food binge and purge, are sharp, but the whole feels more like a character sketch than a defined story arc. Sitting in Circles is an outline for a groundbreaking play. PAUL CONSTANT
A Streetcar Named Desire
Through Aug 2.
"I want to find the humor in Stanley," director Sheila Daniels told me in an interview a few weeks before Streetcar opened. "Brando didn't find it."
Daniels—and actor Jonno Roberts—did. Those able to tear themselves from the image of Saint Brando will see new dimensions in Tennessee Williams's icon of masculine inadequacy and rage. He's funny and loutish—still a sexual tiger, but more vulnerable. This Streetcar inspires thoughts of a prequel, when we find out how Stanley became Stanley.
Daniels's production also shines a light on Mitch, mostly thanks to Tim True, who plays the victim of Blanche's dishonesty and Stanley's cruelty with a sad, mumbling grace. Angela Pierce as Blanche, gives a slick, orthodox performance, and sails through Blanche's late-play mad scenes without succumbing to the crazy-person caricature that has wrecked so many Blanches, Ophelias, and Lears. Chelsea Rives is a quiet triumph, keeping Stella simple and doomed.
The wound in this Streetcar—and it's a gaping, festering one—is the "Blue Piano," the occasional music Williams describes in his stage notes as "tinny piano being played with the infatuated fluency of brown fingers." Daniels and sound designer Joseph Swartz apparently read this as "portentous chords laden with heavy reverb that bludgeon—and occasionally make a mockery of—the play's pathos." The ominous notes that followed Blanche's revelation that her first husband was gay are egregiously goofy.
But Daniels has coaxed quality, multihued performances out of her actors. We will begin to remember them once we have forced ourselves to forget that goddamned piano. BRENDAN KILEY