Theater Review Revue
Shrek, Eurydice, and a Metamusical About Johann Gutenberg
Average ticket price divided by run time: $0.61/minute.
Sarah Ruhl writes fairy tales which, like all fairy tales, are light and colloquial until you run across their jarring moments of truth. The effect is akin to picking up a My Little Pony
and discovering that it's anatomically correct.
Eurydice modernizes the myth of Orpheus (Trick Danneker) and Eurydice (Renata Friedman): They marry, she dies, he hunts her down to the underworld and is told she can follow him back to earth—if he has enough faith not to turn around and look for her on the way. He looks, of course, and she disappears forever.
Ruhl colors around the outlines of the myth with her lyrical images. Eurydice descends into Hades—from the theater's ceiling—in an antique elevator that rains inside, while blinking uncomprehendingly through a clear plastic umbrella. The elevator music? "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head." She meets her father—the grizzled, anguished Mark Chamberlin—in the underworld and, having lost her memory, thinks she's in a hotel. So he slowly, tenderly rigs her a "room" out of string. Ruhl's language is also buoyantly poetic. The father tells a story about riding a horse and lassoing a car. "I was working on a new philosophical system," Eurydice explains of her time on earth. "It involved hats."
The design, by Matthew Smucker, turns the stage into a drained swimming pool, littered with leaves and paper. The direction, by Allison Narver, suffers only one major failure: the lead character's voice. Friedman is an expressive actor, gangly and relaxed in her body. But her voice is high and strangled, like she's speaking from her throat instead of her gut. (Friedman had the same problem in The K of D, at Balagan Theatre last month.) It's a common problem in green actors, but it's difficult to imagine how Friedman got through NYU's Tisch School and several regional and off-Broadway credits without a director coaxing her voice into a broader range.
Shrek the Musical
5th Avenue Theatre
Average ticket price divided by run time: $0.42/minute.
Hey everyone who isn't Helen Keller! Since your eyes and ears work properly (ha, ha—I'm just playin', HK!), I'm sure you've all noticed that over the past half a year or so, Seattle has been all fucking atwitter! Haven't we? Oh my gosh. With all manner of "going green" puns and ogre jokes and bus ads and hundreds of thousands of words in the daily papers? All about Shrek the Musical's pre-Broadway debut at the 5th Avenue? Because this is the single most exciting and important event in the history of Seattle! Right, local historians? Guuuys? Helloooo?
Don't get me wrong. Shrek the Musical is unavoidably pleasing, in that big-budget, high-gloss, no-stop-left-unpulled Broadway-musical way. The book, by Pulitzer Prize–winner David Lindsay-Abaire, is funny, minus some horrible—but not unexpected—cutesy shit. (Pinocchio: "I'm wood! I'm good! Get used to it!" Uuuugh.) The costumes are sparkly and the performances (particularly Sutton Foster as Princess Fiona and Christopher Sieber as Lord Farquaad) are finely tuned comic perfection. But seriously, do I have to look over in the middle of the show and see, a few seats to my left, the fucking mayor? Shouldn't he be, I don't know, battling gang violence somewhere? Is this really such a historic civic event?
Before the show, a reviewer from another publication—who was wearing several shawls—told me how excited she was to see the show's "technology." Especially the "technology" used to turn Sieber (reportedly, a tall person) into Lord Farquaad (a dwarfy dwarf). "We're close enough to the stage that I bet we can really see how it works!" she said. "Oh!" said I. "Technology! Yes, that will be interesting." What would the technology be, I wondered? A ramp? A complicated series of mirrors? A piece of theatrical stage magic so wondrous I couldn't even begin to imagine it?
Um, not exactly. The "technology" was Seiber walking on his knees. With stuffed legs strapped to his thighs. Like Dorf. It was Dorf-nology. (Now Dorf the Musical—that's something I could get atwitter about.)
Gutenberg! The Musical!
Strawberry Theatre Workshop
Average ticket price divided by run time: $0.28/minute.
Theater mocks its own conventions all the time, from Hamlet to Ira Levin's Deathtrap. But it's rare when the jabs are so consistently funny that the experience doesn't feel like a badly conceived in-joke. Gutenberg! The Musical! is the story of an energetic but inept playwright named Doug (Troy Fischnaller) and a sexually repressed musician named Bud (MJ Sieber) performing a staged reading of their awful musical about Johann Gutenberg and his printing press. It may be the funniest thing on a Seattle stage this year.
Doug and Bud are antic, unselfconscious fools who switch between 20 or so characters—by donning baseball caps such as "Bootblack," "Woman," "Other Woman," and "Anti-Semite"—while their poorly researched plot destroys itself to musical accompaniment. Gutenberg sings about the pain of being one of the only educated men in Germany (while one of his fellow men "cradles his dead baby in his illiterate arms"). The lyrics are as bad as some of the dreck that passes for entertainment in New York: "The sun is rising in the east/I smell bread rising 'cause of yeast." The pair apes all the bloated Broadway conventions, including the longing midplay number inexplicably performed on a rooftop, and the "charm song" assigned to a minor character so producers can "get a famous person to play a really small role."
The humor is broad, occasionally nasty, and consistent throughout the first act, delivered with big, shit-eating "let's-put-on-a-show" grins. The second act falters a bit—Doug preemptively comments at the beginning of the second act that "second acts are boring"—and cannot sustain the rat-a-tat pacing of the first. But audiences should leave Gutenberg! with sore faces from laughing so hard for so long.