Washington Ensemble Theatre
Through Nov 10.
In Jenny Schwartz's God's Ear, a young married couple is forced to endure the unimaginable—the accidental death of a child—and thrown onstage to process the wreckage. In Schwartz's hands, this means a kaleidoscopic spray of words—poetic proclamations, chopped-up proverbs, collections of catchphrases and clichés, fractured bits of dialogue—addressing the play's brutally elemental subject from a variety of idiosyncratic angles. It's a bold theatrical attack on an age-old subject (more than once I had the feeling I was watching a through-the-looking-glass version of The Accidental Tourist). At its best, when the oddly demanding text connects with properly imaginative actors, God's Ear takes flight as a richly verbose, chopped-and-screwed memory play that's closer to Richard Foreman than Tennessee Williams.
But God's Ear is a delicate creation and for it to work, it must roll out like music from an accomplished, harmonious ensemble. Director Roger Benington has surrounded himself with talent—notably actors David S. Hogan, Libby Matthews, and Brendan Toner (three "WET guest artists" who give the night's strongest performances); and set designer Etta Lilienthal, whose ingeniously stark installation (a telescopic series of scrims expertly exploited by lighting designer Ben Zamora) is the star of the show. But mixed among the accomplished ensemble is an actor whose performance sticks out like a kazoo in a chamber group. This actor is assigned the (admittedly daunting) task of playing a child, and she makes such a noisy mess of it that the poetic spell is broken every time she opens her mouth.
This is a shame, because in its own obtuse way, God's Ear has something new and real to say about its subject and finds particularly fertile ground in the cycles of meaningless words (and meaningless sex) that can rise up in the wake of tragedy. But in this imperfect rendition, what should've been an intoxicating hall of mirrors becomes an ambitious, mildly exasperating recitation. DAVID SCHMADER
The Three Musketeers
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through Nov 15.
It's hard to fathom why a major theater like Seattle Rep is doing The Three Musketeers right now—unless its total irrelevance to the outside world, the reprieve it offers from contemporary anxieties, is the point. If so, one expects a richly imagined, temporally transporting, violent, romantic, swashbuckling escapist fantasia, with funny asides thrown in. But it is none of these things.
In order for it to hold anyone's attention—what with the gripping theater that is the election/economy swirling all around us—these French guys would really have to go after each other with those swords, really sweat and fight and bleed. But the fencing is exciting none of time, and the hand-to-hand combat is embarrassing, with huge windows of air between puncher and punchee. The costumes are fine, but the set reverberates with the message: We didn't have the money to do something nicer. In the absence of rich escapism, director Kyle Donnelly has settled on a slapstick gloss. There is, painfully, only about 1 laugh for every 10 the actors are made to really go for. Not even the good actors involved (Hans Altweis as Athos) can save it. You want swashbuckling, for a lot less money? Turn on MSNBC/CNN/Comedy Central. CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE
Night of the Living Dead
Seattle Children's Theatre
Through Nov 1.
What is a child's understanding of death? At what point do we really grasp the concept of our grandmas and pets and selves becoming, eventually, rotty sacks of mush? There must be a threshold where "Can I e-mail Jingles in Dog Heaven?" becomes ridiculous and "Is Grandpa Sven going to reanimate and eat my brains?" grows into a late-night anxiety.
This children's adaptation of Night of the Living Dead is refreshingly unconcerned with coddling its kiddie audience (which, when you consider kids' unfettered access to TV and the internet and older brothers, is probably just fine). The script, adapted by Lori Allen Ohm, stays astoundingly faithful to George Romero's 1968 horror classic: shambling, moaning, shrieking, mass death, matricide by trowel, unabashed munching of intestines, and—in a moment sure to ruin a lot of kids' afternoons—the death of the hero at the very moment of his salvation.
Night of the Living Dead is genuinely alarming (video projections communicate nationwide panic with simple efficiency), but it softens its edges a bit with modernity's requisite winking satire—some funny, some not so. A ghoul cat, a Russian scientist, and a blustery broadcaster all get laughs, and after all the carnage, the closing "Thriller" dance feels like a relief, not a gimmick.
Unfortunately, the female characters in Night of the Living Dead (play and movie) are atrocious. They are helpless and weeping, either flying into hysterics or paralyzed with fear. They hide in cellars and they love candy. They do not help anyone fight zombies. I don't fault Romero particularly (bygones), but come on, SCT. It is 40 years later. When you were shoehorning in those cutesy local references—"Don't shoot! We're from Ballard!"—couldn't you have taken 10 minutes to carve up the gender stereotypes a bit for today's impressionable youth? Girls have just as much right to beat the shit out of the undead as boys do. I have two eyes and two hands! Can I not wield a two-by-four with a nail sticking out of it? Let me serve my country, goddamnit. LINDY WEST