Kicking the Hat

ArtsWest Theater

Through March 29.I can't even guess the number of one-person shows I've seen--there's been a renaissance of the things lately. Most were all right, I guess--some were downright all right. A tiny fistful of them sucked. But in retrospect, I really can't bring myself to get too excited about any of them.

Faye B. Summers understands the landmines that lurk in the fertile soil of the one-person show. She describes the solo show as "the last bastion of the desperate" (I'm still laughing) and assures us (God bless her) that there will be no "heroic survivors, hapless victims," or necessarily "marginalized" characters in hers. That in itself puts Kicking the Hat in a category by itself.

Faye plays five women, each a little weird. The most interesting of the five is a proper grandmother who turns out to be a slogan-shouting, establishment-hating, radical-petition-signing anarchist. One woman stomps around and bitches about everything, and another woman is a checkout clerk--which brings me to the five-act mock opera that said checkout clerk spontaneously performs. It is perplexing. The clerk just drops her scanner, hops on the counter, and performs an opera? The rest of the show didn't strike me as surreal, and this strange departure was cute but out of place.

Summers is a consummate performer, and Kicking the Hat is a good little show. She states in the program that she wanted to "perform things that meant something" to her, and I can tell by the earnestness of her performance(s) that she succeeded in that. I suspect it meant more to her than to me (I won't speak for everyone), but there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. I got the point and had some laughs along the way. And to her credit, there were no "marginalized, hapless victims." Yet even for that, I remain firmly not too excited. ADRIAN RYAN

Spin the Bottle

Annex Theatre

Fri March 7.It's encouraging to know that, despite being homeless, Annex Theatre is still able to produce a late-night series filled with an exuberant sense of play. Created not just as a drunken theater after-party filled with in-jokes, Spin the Bottle can be characterized as being somewhere in between a classic artist salon and a middle school show-and-tell. There are no half-assed improv games and, thankfully, no ongoing soap-operatic series filled with lame Seattle references. And, even more thankfully, while it's a relaxed showcase of people trying out new material, it's not a painful hit-and-miss open mic.

The folks at Annex Theatre put together a wonderfully varied mix of talent and performance styles. The most recent evening included storytellers, actors, singers, and multimedia artists--showing their stuff or hyping upcoming full-scale shows. A sneak peek at a short farcical play by Yussef El Guindi and Ed Hawkins got the evening off to a genital-exposing start and most likely convinced much of the audience to head out to last weekend's FringeACT Festival where the two were performing.

Peppered throughout were well-written essays and stories by Brian Goedde, Josef Krebs, and Gillian Jorgensen, ranging in theme from pop music to Kafkaesque nightmares to cornfield erotica. Two-man group Glitcher provided a catchy song backed with an old-school multimedia presentation that, while being derivative of the Trachtenberg Family Slideshow Players, was simply too goofy to hate. And Maktub lead man Reggie Watts showed off his mad improv skills with a humorously understated faux lecture on the history of music. The performance that should be most noted, however, was by Steffon and Arlette Moody. With folksy flair, they belted out what have to be the first two anti-Iraq-war protest songs anyone has heard.

Add a bar and some door prizes to the talented mix and there's no reason to miss next month's performance. GREGORY ZURA

intimate stage

A home in Green Lake

Sat March 8.For a neophyte like me, writing about Butoh is intimidating stuff--it can be difficult to sit through, let alone evaluate. As Butoh expert David Hermon writes, "If you are looking for an authority on Butoh, do not necessarily trust someone who writes a review in a local newspaper." I'd make one correction. Strike the "necessarily."

But seriously, folks. This is the avant-garde, with all the good, bad, and shoulder-shrugging that term entails. Sometimes ass-numbingly tedious, Butoh dance is more often darkly bizarre, a passionate sonic and visual poetry. In the course of the evening, we listened to Polish poetry, smashing crockery, and some beautifully freakish cello. One woman got stuck in a book, another had fits on piles of shredded book pages--but forget plot. The sheer presence and technique of the dancers, in all their powerfully communicated, gothic pathos, is what gets you.

A monthly Butoh-centric salon, intimate stage takes place in a Green Lake home, and makes excellent use of domestic space for performance. The audience sits on pillows, mere feet from the action, and is invited to stay for a meal afterward. This show, intimate stage's 18th, featured luminaries from Dappin' Butoh and the Degenerate Art Ensemble.

To quote another (Dutch) Butoh specialist, Harmen Sikkenga: "For many people it is a strange kind of theatre. Not everybody considers it a dance form. The birth of this extraordinary dance lies in postwar Japan. To be precise: the performance of Kinjiki in 1959. It was a short piece, without music, and it raised a scandal. In the piece, a young boy (Yoshito Ohno) enacted sex with a chicken by strangling it between his thighs." Sikkenga goes on to call Butoh "shocking, provocative, physical, spiritual, erotic, grotesque, violent, cosmic, nihilistic, cathartic, mysterious."

Sounds about right. On the Dance Slob Fun-To-Watch-O-Meter, I give it a seven out of 10. But don't take my word for it--I'm just a reviewer. BRENDAN KILEY

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