For months after the shootings at Columbine High School, every story about the event was dominated by one overarching question: Why did they do it? People kept talking about bullying, teenage alienation, video games, antidepressants, Marilyn Manson, goth culture, parenting styles—as if Columbine were a play and the rest of us were theater critics trying to understand its nuances.
Now, 14 years later, the bandwidth of our public conversations about mass shooters has shrunk dramatically. The charitable folks talk about mental illness, the not-so-charitable talk about "evil," and everyone assumes their usual position for another gun-control standoff. People seem less interested in peering into the depths of a shooter's soul.
On the Boards
But back in 2010, choreographer Dayna Hanson was transfixed by a seven-minute video of a school-board shooting in Panama City, Florida. "It really got under my skin," Hanson says. "It's so rare to see an incident like this captured on video, where you have the opportunity to look at each person and what they did, what they said, how they moved their hands."
In the video, the school board is having a routine meeting when a 56-year-old ex-con and licensed massage therapist named Clay Duke announces: "I have a motion." He pulls out a pistol and tells everyone to leave except for the school board's six men. In an almost comical moment, a female school-board member sneaks up behind Duke and ineffectually whacks him with her purse. He gives her a second chance to leave—she takes it.
L.B. Morse's set design for Seattle Repertory Theatre's adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's second-greatest novel (number one, of course, is The Sign of the Four) is dazzling. His genius conjures up an impressive system of floating paintings, gothic furniture, hard ramps, translucent curtains, and projections of old, haunting footage of London and the English countryside.
Though many of his set's wonders were made possible by new technologies, it constitutes the most primitive element of this production. The ancient plays of Greece also aspired to this kind of spectacle, this desire to overwhelm the senses. Theater back then was all about impressing the audience, making them clap at some feat of coordination or device that made gods fly. What is new to theater now is the minimal play with no sets, just people talking. Something similar can be found in the microscopic realm of biology: Viruses are thought to be stripped-down life-forms, and so are actually more modern than the much larger and more complicated single-cell organisms—getting rid of stuff is more advanced, adding stuff is more ancestral. When the opening-night audience clapped at the end of the first spectacular sequence (the detective and his sidekick pursuing a suspect through the streets of London), with its huge but smoothly gliding set pieces and floating stairs, they were experiencing a feeling the Greeks could easily understand.
The Christmas shows of Dina Martina—the monstrously untalented chanteuse brought to life by the monstrously talent Grady West—are the stuff of legend, and this year’s installment is a veritable Whitman’s Sampler of that legend, cherry-picking the best bits from all 14 of Dina’s previous Christmas shows...
The core members of the Habit began writing comedy together back in 1995, when they were college classmates and roommates. At the time, their sketches, filled with cops and robots and astronauts, seemed born of long afternoons on the couch watching cable TV and passing a bong around. Since then, the group has taken years-long hiatuses and some of its members have made names for themselves in other projects (Stranger Genius Award–winner John Osebold, for example, with his performance-band "Awesome," and theater impresario Mark Siano with his semi-ironic "soft-rock" comedy extravaganzas). But when the Habit reconvenes to write new material, it still feels like a hazy, mid-'90s TV dream.
Habit sketches whiz by at the speed of commercials and still feature cops, robots, and astronauts, as well as a surprising number of '80s music references (in this case, "The Final Countdown" and a number from The Little Mermaid). At their best, the sketches begin with those old tropes but disappear into a whirlpool of absurdity. In one scene toward the middle of their current show, three men walk past a despondent Aquaman who's just been snubbed by Superman. (Pop icons—check.) Someone points to the ceiling and the three begin trading rapid-fire lines: "Look, up in the sky, it's a bird," "It's a plane," "It's some clouds," and so on, from "It's a zeppelin" to "It's an associate's degree" to "It's a flock of seagulls." One of them begins humming a song, which precipitates an argument about whether it was recorded by A Flock of Seagulls ('80s music reference—check). They all consult their smartphones but get lost in their screens, oblivious to the zombies that have begun staggering toward them from offstage.
Buckshot, a new play by Courtney Meaker that closes tonight, is an exercise in prelude—it ends where the news story, based on police reports and interviews with rattled neighbors, might begin. It is also an exercise in ambiguity, picking apart how years of memories and influences can lead a person to do something that, from a distance, might seem insane.
Alana (Katie Driscoll) is a young Seattle woman with backcountry roots. She likes whiskey, trades playful insults over the phone with her brother in Tennessee, and hasn't gotten around to telling her girlfriend, Mel (Megan Ahiers), that she's a member of the NRA. Alana is a type—tough and impulsive, troubled and trying to hide it.
Alana and Mel are planning to move in together, but Alana seems more agitated than excited. She grumbles about quitting her job and, for reasons that aren't initially clear, tries to hide an impending visit from her beloved brother Saul (Daniel Wood). She gets even squirmier when Saul calls to tell her their long-lost uncle Hal (a grinning and creepy Gianni Truzzi) has come back home and has Alzheimer's. "And you don't think that changes anything?" Alana asks cryptically. "Do you want to back out?" Saul counters. "No," she says.
The rest of Buckshot is a slowly widening crack in the door of Alana's consciousness.
At a Panama City, Florida school board meeting in December 2010, a mentally ill man barged in and held board members hostage for six and a half minutes. One grandmotherly-looking woman tried to disarm the gunman, Clay Allen Duke, with her handbag. Duke died. Everyone else lived.
This isn't an event I thought I'd ever see translated into dance but Dayna Hanson's new piece at On the Boards, The Clay Duke, goes there and from what I can see in the rehearsal video above (which is also six and a half minutes), she does an damn amazing job of it. In the video, Hanson explains the foundations of the piece: "It's inspired by the [shootings] and combined with studies of Checkov and how he treated suicide in his dramatic writing as well as looking at the Death Wish films from the 1970s." This is heavy shit but pull-offable if Hanson's track record is any indication, and she's well-backed by big-time Seattle artists Wade Madson, Sarah Rudinoff, Dave Proscia, and Peggy Piacenza, as well as Thomas Graves of the Austin-based ensemble Rude Mechs. The piece combines the group's massive amount of research, dance, music, singing, and lots of cool experimental-theaterish stuff (there's a pet carrier in the rehearsal video—please, please let there be a dog in this piece. I've always wanted to see a dog in a dance performance).
Instead of going home to weep into a bottle of gin after The Clay Duke, head down to OtB's post-show salon for a screening of their first-ever Instagram Dance Film Contest for 15 Second Dance Films.
Bloomberg, the New York-based financial news giant, is shutting down its Muse brand of cultural journalism and has laid off its theater critic. The shake-up was part of a company-wide reorganization that came down on Monday and resulted in layoffs around the newsroom.
Bloomberg said it would continue its cultural coverage, "but with an emphasis on luxury."