Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through Dec 16.
It has practically become a genre of its own: An African-American woman at the end of a long life reminisces and regrets her way through an hour-and-a-half play. The last example of this genre in Seattle was the horrible Etta Phifer's Testimonial Shoe Kismet at ACT Theatre last June. The latest is Birdie Blue at the Rep and, on the whole, it's an improvement.
Velma Austin plays Birdie Blue, an old woman tiring of looking after her third husband, who's becoming infantilized by Alzheimer's (played to so-believable-it's-hard-to-watch effect by William Hall Jr.). She's also got an estranged son (a very menacing Sean Blake), a snooty sister (blissfully underplayed by Sean Blake in drag), and an abused neighbor boy who likes to wear Birdie's clothes (Sean Blake again, sweet and conflicted this time).
Cheryl L. West's script gets the most out of her characters, protecting them from the cloying aroma of sainthood. Thankfully, Birdie is a bit of an asshole—she nearly beats her husband when he shits his pants—and she unleashes a bitter, antiwhite tirade that's refreshing to hear from an elderly African-American lady. Austin, onstage the entire time, perfectly conveys the weary rage that develops in a caregiver.
Birdie Blue has a pseudo-surprise ending, one that's supposed to invoke a scandalous hot-button issue, especially for the gray-haired Rep audience. Austin's performance, though, is so clear and empathetic that there's no controversy in the conclusion; it's just the story of an imperfect woman making a difficult decision. To get people talking about its "surprise" ending, Birdie Blue would have to make a bigger deal of Birdie's choice and risk turning itself into just another issue play. But it's better than that—Birdie Blue is a showcase for three actors doing very good work. PAUL CONSTANT
The Big Friendly Giant
Seattle Children's Theatre
Through Dec 30.
The play was about a big friendly giant. And a girl who can't sleep and lives in an orphanage, and her name's Sophie. And then the Big Friendly Giant took her to Giantville and he was the only friendly giant. There were evil giants and they were awesome. The evil giants ate people during the night. They had to find out a way to stop the evil giants. They mixed the dreams that the Big Friendly Giant caught and then he blew the dream to the Queen of England. It was funny when the queen was asleep and she grabbed for the little stuffed-animal dog and her feet stuck out of the end of the bed.
Well, after that, the queen met the Big Friendly Giant and she told the air force to capture the evil giants, which I thought was evil, because the evil giants are cool. So then, everybody from everywhere dug a hole, 25 football fields wide—or maybe 5—and 25 swimming pools deep. (They didn't show us, but that's okay.) Once they had captured the giants, they put them in that hole. And then it ended happily ever after.
I didn't really like the last scene, because the evil giants didn't get a happily ever after. Evil people never get a happy ending. KESKAH GOETTING, AGE 10
The Dina Martina Christmas Extravaganza
Through Dec 31.
I've been reviewing Dina Martina shows since before you were born—since before I was born—which raises the question, "Why bother reviewing her yet again?" Let me lay a little perspective on you: On this wonderful road that is the Dina, there've been shadowy, unhappy potholes, especially during her Christmas shows. I wouldn't want you to stumble into one.
See, there've been moments—moments you probably never read about, or even suspected—when the seemingly infallible psycho-drag magic of Dina spiraled into dark and futile territory. During one recent-ish Christmas show, we glimpsed the terrible future and found that Dina will be a shivering indigent sleeping in a vestibule. Once, she plunged us into hell. Once, she shot herself in the head. (Um... this is Kreesh-mish?) She concluded one holiday show with a scene so depressing, my fingers refuse to type it. Some shows seemed to have ended before they began.
But this year's Extravaganza is Dina distilled to her finest; all the Dina you want, none of the alarming suicide aftertaste. She's every bit the camel-toed Christmas angel your heart hungers for, wielding a big bag of strawberry-flavored gummy bacon and mispronounced holiday cheer. She's worked up fresh songs and video interludes, and from the first beat of her opening number ("If you're looking for Kreesh-mish, it's all over my face..."), it's X-mess gold. My cheeks burned and cramped, I tell you, from laughing so hard. She waxed melancholy at moments (two, specifically—"The Christmas Song" and her colorful rendition of the Ice Castles theme), but it was a harnessed, yuletide-appropriate melancholy that made you want to hug the stuffing out of her, not make a mad dash to a crisis-prevention hotline. It's perfect Dina in a perfect dose, and among holiday shows, it has no equal. ADRIAN RYAN