A Frenzy of Acting
Reefer, Robots, and Molière
The Imaginary Invalid
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through March 22.
In the winter of 1673, Molière collapsed onstage while playing Argan, the main character in his last play, The Imaginary Invalid. Argan is a hypochondriac; Molière, who had late-stage tuberculosis, was the opposite. He insisted on finishing his performance—despite pleas from King Louis XIV to stop—and expired a few hours later, coughing uncontrollably, blood oozing from the corners of his mouth.
The irony is almost perfect—it would only be improved if the imaginary invalid were obsessed with his lungs. Instead, Argan is obsessed with his bowels, as the dozen or so fart jokes (and at least three rip-roaring sound effects) keep reminding us. A rich old fool, Argan surrounds himself with predatory doctors and uses his invented maladies as a means to power—for attention from his wife and nurse, and to force his daughter to marry one of his physicians' doltish sons.
This Imaginary Invalid, adapted by Constance Congdon and directed by David Schweizer, is a reasonably faithful production (minus a few secondary characters), the kind of thing you'd show to drama students as an example of authentic French farce. The best thing about it may be the set, by Riccardo Hernandez, with its puffy white walls and floors—the play seems to happen on a giant, silky mattress. Unfortunately, the rest of the production feels a little textbook: accurate but workmanlike. Most of the actors go through their Molière motions, deadpan and histrionic in all the right places, but never achieve liftoff.
The three exceptions seem to be having all the fun: Alice Playten as the deadpan, whiskey-voiced servant Toinette, Ian Bell as the doltish doctor's son (who crosses his eyes, clucks like a chicken, and has, as his father says, "an intellect unburdened with a sparkling wit"), and the magnificently spastic Zoë Winters as Argan's daughter, Angélique. A cross between Britney Spears and Raggedy Ann, Angélique is the perfect frustrated lover, frolicking one second and bawling the next. During one of her bipolar freak-outs, she jumps with glee, switches emotions in midair, and hits the ground despondent. That moment is a tiny jewel, exactly what you want from farce—the marriage of extravagant caricature with authentic emotion. BRENDAN KILEY
RK Productions at Live Girls! Theater
Through March 22.
Are weed jokes still funny? I mean, is it funny to talk about "the munchies" and forgetting stuff and... are there any other ones? Because I can tell you that, as a 25-year-old lady who's not particularly interested in los marijuana-drugs, I do not usually laugh at weed jokes. Because I don't usually laugh at anything that I already heard one million times before even graduating from high school. (Huh-huh. High school.)
I mean, yeah. You really like Doritos. I get it. Yes. You are not so motivated today. You spilled Slurpee on your favorite Sublime shirt, maaaaaaaaaaaaaan. Bummer. Know what else I don't think is funny? Prison rape. Dropping the soap? Not funny.
Luckily, plenty of Reefer Madness: The Musical isn't weed jokes and soap-droppage. Good singing, for example. And commentary on the retardedness of the drug war. And cute dresses. And Kate Jaeger (who directs and stars as Mae, the reefer-house madam), whose presence I always love. The production also deploys interesting old-timey propaganda, including "Hasheesh goads users to blood lust" (William Randolph Hearst), and "Makes darkies think they're as good as white men!" (Harry J. Anslinger). In light of current antidrug campaigns—like, you know, that "oops, I got so high that I forgot to not squish my little sister with the car" commercial—overblown warnings like "REEFER gets you RAPED and YOU WON'T CARE" don't seem so far-fetched. Can we just legalize that shit already? So it will stop being a big deal and maybe I can stop having to hear 100 unfunny weed jokes per day? Please?
Let's take back the funny jokes. One Dorito at a time. LINDY WEST
R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots)
Open Circle Theater at Theater Schmeater
Through March 22.
The concept at the center of Karel Capek's 1921 play R.U.R. is radical even for this age of DNA and cloning: that love is an independent substance, and that it will persist even without us.
Robots, originally designed to service and realize a human utopia, revolt. They kill all but one of their oppressors, and transform the world into a robot (slave) society. (Yes, Hegel is even here). In this posthuman/slave society, however, two things happen to the robots: They begin to fear death and develop feelings of love. And because these feelings are dawning on them, the play ends on an oddly optimistic note: "Tomorrow is a brighter day." For Capek, then, love is more important than humans. Death is the night that leads us to the light of love, and the production of this emotion, and not human life (or thought), is the cosmic imperative. At the end of all things is love.
Open Circle's performance of R.U.R., the play that gave our language the word "robot," fails to fully explore its inhuman (and antihumanist) core. Part of this failure can be attributed to Aaron Allshouse's interpretation of Alquist, the construction worker whose life is spared. Allshouse gets the character broodingly right for most of the play, the human period, but loses him in a frenzy of acting that erupts during R.U.R.'s posthuman period. This is a disaster because the truth Alquist learns from the death-fearing robots—life has never been about humans or robots but about this substance, emotion, and condition we call love—is shattered by Allshouse's moaning, wailing, and general stamping about the stage. The birth of this delicate truth needs a cooler, less dramatic performance. Love brings peace, not calamity, to the world. CHARLES MUDEDE