Open Circle Theater
Through Feb 28
If this were high school, Blood Wedding would be voted "most helpful" or "nicest personality" or some other euphemism for "we're trying really hard to think of something nice to say, and
it's not easy." Open Circle has poured its heart into this achingly sincere and tragically inept production of the 1930s Garcia Lorca play (a poetic, symbolist story about a blood feud in the Spanish countryside and a wedding that only makes things worse). The set is a painted, ocher landscape; company member John McKenna has composed a score that is part music box and part lullaby; and the 12 actors remember all their lines. But that's just not good enough.
Blood Wedding's opening-night performance was anemic and slow, the acting flat and listless. Before the first act was over, the audience began laughing at Shayne McNeal as the hapless and wide-eyed groom who realizes his new wife (Annie Jantzer) has run off her with old lover (Aaron Allshouse). It was hard to tell whether McNeal was trying to be funny or just failing to be serious. The real-life tragedy of Blood Wedding was so overwhelming, I couldn't bear to stay for act two. BRENDAN KILEY
Seattle Public Theater at the Bathhouse
Through Feb 22.
The specter of fanatical evangelical Christianity—the logical fallacies and destructive ends of which are the subject of Deborah Zoe Laufner's play End Days—already, even in this very early post-Bush era, feels laughably deflated. It's a moldy crust of a menace, now that we suddenly live in a nation where the president says things like "We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology's wonders." Even though it's a newish work, End Days comes across as vaguely, quaintly dated. Charming, absolutely. Funny, sure. But urgent? Not anymore.
Rachel Stein (Carolyn Marie Monroe) is a grumpy goth teen whose family is trapped in a paralyzing post-9/11 tar pit. Dad (Keith Dahlgren) worked in one of the towers—"files of paperwork from people; they don't exist anymore"—and now sleeps at the kitchen table in dirty pajamas. Mom (Heather Hawkins), an Orthodox Jew-turned-atheist, has very recently developed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and expects the rapture next Wednesday. When their new neighbor, Nelson (Anthony Duckett), starts hanging around, upending the family malaise with his manic crush on Rachel, unconditional enthusiasm, and security-blanket Elvis jumpsuit, the Steins slowly begin to wake up.
The play pits science against religion in a fairly simplistic face-off ("Why would you believe in God when believing in science is so thoroughly awe-inspiring?"), but does so with a refreshing sensitivity to people of faith: Sylvia Stein isn't a moron or a villain, she's just wounded and frightened. The best part of End Days is the appearance of Jesus and Stephen Hawking as spiritual/scientific advisers to Sylvia and Rachel, with the same actor (Evan Whitfield) in both roles. Hawking, in his singsong computer voice, dispenses sarcastic astrophysical wisdom in between shilling his books. It's a funny gag, but an unfair contest. Science is already winning. LINDY WEST
Through Feb 15.
Lisa Kron's Well announces itself as "a solo play with other people in it." A 2006 Broadway hit, the original production starred writer and performer Kron, a founding member of the deeply funny '90s theater troupe the Five Lesbian Brothers and creator of acclaimed solo plays. Even better, the show featured Lisa's mother, Ann, played by an actress planted in a La-Z-Boy recliner amid a functional approximation of a suburban-Michigan living room. At the center of Well's plot: the "chronic fatigue"–like allergies that have reduced Lisa's mother to a sniffling blob for the majority of her life, allergies that initially threatened to take over young Lisa's life as well.
The daughter's struggle to heal herself of what her mother cannot is the engine of Well—a story that onstage-playwright Lisa hopes to underscore with a tale of her mother's uncharacteristically vigorous, hands-on integration of their 1960s neighborhood. Lisa tells us she wants to create "a multifaceted theatrical exploration of sickness and wellness and family... or something," but her grand scheme to marry the two plots corrodes as we watch. Even Lisa has to consult index cards when onstage questions about the meaning and purpose of her play arise, usually from her lovingly interrupting mother, whose cross-checks and objections to her daughter's remembrances shatter the playwright's autobiographical omnipotence and power the show into its supplementary life as a deconstruction of the art of memoir.
Hailed for its wit and innovation, Kron's slippery, backtracking, corroding narrative was so successful that it's now performed across the country. At ArtsWest, the role of Lisa is filled by Kate Witt, who does her best to embody the playwright/narrator/character, but in her, chipper quirkiness comes off more like an enthusiastic, well-rehearsed flight attendant. Luckily for all, Therese Diekhans as mother Ann Kron hums with the lived-in idiosyncrasy that Witt chases so laboriously. Fighting the good fight among the ensemble: Terra Joy Jones, a recent Cornish graduate cast as everything from a little kid to an elderly woman, who dispatches her roles with intelligence and humor to burn. But without the anchor of a viable Lisa, the slippery Well never finds its footing. The onstage bumps and breakdowns that must have lit up the original grow increasingly forced and repetitive in ArtsWest's production. DAVID SCHMADER