Fake Foliage, New-Age Clown Gods, and Basement Kitchens
Through Aug 28.
This production of Tennessee Williams's Mexico drama, which is about God and sex and alcohol and sanity, isn't exactly what you'd expect from the overheated playwright. It lacks atmosphere. And so does Paul Owen's set, which is crowded with plastic plants. It's only when night falls—in the third act—that the glow of the lighted cabins approximates a lazy equatorial mood. Jon Jory's direction keeps the action determinedly temperate. When passion leaks through, it's thanks to the actors and not the way the show has been designed.
Jory's strategy in casting The Night of the Iguana seems to have been to hew as closely as possible to type. Giving John Procaccino the role of the tortured Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon was brilliant—Procaccino's nervy virility brings magnetism to Shannon's obsessions, and smartly avoids scuttling off into neurosis. Laura Kenny is hilarious as a hollering Baptist tourist, and on the upper and lower bounds of the age range, Clayton Corzatte and Lada Vishtak are both adorable.
But casting according to type has its risks, and one is compounding negative character traits. I'm not fond of the character of Hannah—her supposed wisdom is so bound up with her chastity and class that it's hard not to see her as an example of Williams's preference for spayed, unthreatening female characters. She's the most annoying character in the show and she's played by Suzanne Bouchard, one of the most annoying actors in Seattle. Filling the role of a shabby-genteel artiste with a husky-voiced actor who projects the same brand of beatific sludge no matter what role she's playing may have seemed appropriate, but it's intensely dull to watch. Tennessee Williams has the Reverend Shannon address Hannah as "Miss Thin, Standing-Up Female Buddha," and if the words make you wince, Bouchard's performance will make you shudder. ANNIE WAGNERJoe Bean
Lola Productions at UW Ethnic Cultural Theatre
Through Aug 21.
A self-described "rock fable" based on the Book of Job, Joe Bean was churned out in a frantic few weeks by Bainbridge Island High School theater kingpin Bob McAllister and local musician Mark Nichols. And it shows. Even as a full production in the big city, Joe Bean feels undeniably like, well, high school: sporting high-school production values, a high-school level of analysis, and a degree of enthusiasm for its own material that only a high-school drama club could rival.
This show takes a monumentally inuential and potentially explosive text—brimming with harsh questions about piety, suffering, and the nature of God—and heads in the least interesting direction possible: to a land where all faiths blend into one gooey mess, God is a pretty blonde in owing purple robes, and hordes of happy white people hold hands and sing tinny approximations of gospel music. There's breakdancing (awesome), some truly excellent singing (16-year-old Samantha Chapman is a standout), and, unfortunately, some fairly mortifying motivational rapping. With its sacred subject matter and pseudo-rock-and-roll style, the show feels like one of those awkward, nondenominational attempts to hipify Christianity for the young folks. There is no book and no exposition to speak of—instead, every word is set to music neither powerful nor memorable enough to convey the story's central anguish.
Perhaps it's telling of my own moral fortitude, but the only character in Joe Bean that I actually like is the Devil. Snappily dressed and appropriately hot (as the Devil should be), Jason Kappus slouches through this hippie nerd parade wearing a deeply sympathetic bored sneer. When Joe announces that he's more spiritual than religious, Satan warns God: "If we don't do something soon these New-Age clown gods will usurp us." Can I get an amen? LINDY WESTTrue West
Through August 27.
Sometimes non-theatergoers make the best critics. Dragging a drama neophyte to a play is like taking an atheist to church—your date savagely refuses to indulge in false praise, doesn't have an ounce of reverence for the conventions, and is unashamed to call bullshit, fragile egos be damned. With all the rhetoric about "attracting new audiences," theater-makers would do well to heed the criticisms of the uninitiated.
I was inclined to be gentle and indulgent toward this earnest but mediocre production of True West, but my date—who hadn't seen a play in seven years—cut to the bone. This is his (lightly paraphrased) review:
"The press release called it a 'comic masterpiece,' but I kept wondering when it was going to be over. The story wasn't that good—bad thief brother corrupts good pain-in-the-ass writer brother. I had a hard time caring about either one, but the bad brother looked just like Jack Black. He should've played that up, been crazier and weirder. The actors laughed nervously after almost every line, which was annoying, and they were really at—they should have punched it more. Make the funny parts funnier, the tense parts tenser. I could tell they were acting. You mean they don't get paid to do that? I waited on Sam Shepard's table in a restaurant once. He looked like a nerd."
My date's critique aside, setting the play in an actual basement kitchen was a great idea. The actors were an arm's reach away, noisily dumping beer cans on the oor, and the fight scenes nearly landed in our laps. Theatre Unlocked is devoted to performing in unconventional spaces—while the performances were mixed, the claustrophobic setting was aces. BRENDAN KILEY