Photos by Kelly O
Over the years, playwright Keri Healey has written extraordinarily funny and extraordinarily frank comedies—with sharp doses of tragedy—that have been rejected by regional theaters across America, mostly because of their sexual content. Artistic and literary directors who read the first 10 pages tend to love them and ask for more, Healey said in an interview a few weeks ago. But they balk when they get the whole thing, saying stuff like "I'm not sure our audiences are ready for this." (Confidential to regional theaters: That attitude is part of what's killing you.)
This March, Seattle audiences got to watch Healey's already prodigious gifts as a writer take a jet-fueled leap forward with her play Torso. One part of it was loosely based on a real-life murder between siblings she knew growing up. The other part involved a woman (loosely based on herself) spending a night riding around with a taxi driver, trying to make sense of the murder while struggling with homicidal urges of her own.
With Torso, Healey pulled the magical trick of turning people into monsters and back into people again. There's a word for that—empathy—but her depth of empathy, which informs all of her work, is rare in any writer. Midway through Torso, a sad-clown type of man walks into a living room, covered in blood, twitchily explaining how he'd just clumsily murdered his brother (over a relatively paltry sum of money). The man's sister grabs a plastic kiddie pool and hoses him off while he talks. And while we recoil from him—covered in his brother's blood, real Cain and Abel stuff—Healey carefully built the play so we genuinely feel bad for this dumb and pathetic murderer, slathered in gore. That is genius. BRENDAN KILEY
Genius isn't static. It grows, sometimes in slow-motion evolution and sometimes in violent fits and starts. Watching the staged visions (and sometimes fever dreams) of dancer and choreographer Zoe Scofield in the past four years has been a revelation not only for the dance-watchers of Seattle, but for the world. Scofield and her partner, the designer Juniper Shuey, have disassembled dance and put it back together again, smashing together the rigidity of ballet with the innovations of modern dance and installation-style design.
They have caked their dancers in white makeup, drawn little red lines on their lips, coated them in gold leaf, projected images of them falling nude and in slow motion onto the stage, had them sit on chairs and bark at each other like dogs, and had them draw rough silhouettes of each other on huge plastic boards while they dance. But while they experiment, they never lose their sense of discipline, the strong and steady lines. If contemporary ballet companies had any sense, they'd be staging works by Zoe | Juniper (their company name) alongside oldsters like George Balanchine and mid-career guys like Benjamin Millepied.
Their latest work, A Crack in Everything, is based on the old Greek Oresteia plays (about violence and vengeance in one family, and how one bloody cause leads to many bloody effects) and was developed at residencies around the world, from Hungary to New Zealand to the prestigious MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. The rest of the world is waking up to the visionary talents of Scofield and Shuey. BRENDAN KILEY
Photo by David Belisle
Grady West is a tall, handsome, quiet guy with a friendly smile and a great eye for art (his collection of paintings, some piled up along the walls of his home, is legendary). But the reason he's on this list is Dina Martina, the explosively gauche drag persona West has been channeling onstage for the past 20 years. For those who do not know, Dina Martina is a singer who cannot sing, a dancer who cannot dance, and an absolutely atrocious thing to behold—bulging out of spandex with labia barely restrained, her face vandalized with makeup, sometimes with a Tootsie Pop tangled in her hair, Dina is an aggressive atrocity. But from all this failure and ugliness, West makes deep, weird, and profoundly hilarious art.
Describing Dina Martina to those who haven't seen her is a challenge. "She's brilliantly terrible!" only does so much. A Dina Martina show introduces itself as a train wreck with the first notes from Dina's color-mangled lips. But this train wreck soon veers off course so masterfully, it becomes a brain-bending roller coaster, leaving audiences screaming with laughter.
West's influences range from Divine and the Andy Warhol superstars to wet dogs and panhandlers, but he assembles these elements into razor-sharp satire. As the ultimate talentless superstar, Dina Martina holds a funhouse mirror up to our national preoccupations, from celebrity worship and reality TV to increasingly cartoonish politics. The best Dina jokes can knock the wind out of you. And so long as the earth keeps spinning, Grady West will have material to shove, ever so gracefully, into Dina Martina's mouth. DAVID SCHMADER