21 Shots

Through Oct 26.

It's 4:00 a.m. Deron Bos' shiny new play, 21 Shots, begins with a knock at the door at that ungodly hour. The apartment belongs to Brian; Parker is knocking. Parker explains that his girlfriend has thrown him out and he needs a place to stay for the night, or perhaps... perhaps till he finishes his novel? And we're off.

Bos has written a classic farce, but a farce about creativity rather than the usual romance. Oh, there's love in it, and envy, and disappointment; also writing upon and reading from walls, fisticuffs, publishing in the New Yorker before the age of 10, baked potatoes, the welcomest twist on singing telegrams I've ever seen, and a breathtaking story about the aspirations of a misguided poodle. But the whole delightful kit and caboodle supports an interesting take on why people want to make things--interesting and even, in its own boisterous way, inspiring. All ends well, as in any proper farce, but not as you may think.

The first question to ask about any farce is, "Who's directing?" Luckily, the answer is Kip Fagan, a brilliant young director, one of the founders of Printer's Devil, and the recent recipient of an NEA/TCG fellowship. Fagan's specialty is establishing what look and feel for all the world like real relationships among his characters. In 21 Shots, some of the characters have known each other for years, some meet for the first time on stage; all of them are driving Brian and Parker crazy. In Printer's Devil's Welcome to Kitty Hawk, Fagan showed how good he is at directing physical comedy. Here the comedy is broader but the timing no less excellent. Bos couldn't have asked for better staging.

The cast is so strong that you can start grinning with pleasure even before the metaphorical curtain rises. Sean Nelson as Parker (in the spirit of full disclosure, the same Sean Nelson as on The Stranger's masthead) is tall and kind of soft-looking, so that the elegance and precision of his movement comes as a delightful surprise. Hilary Ketchum and Heidi Schreck, as the love interests, contrast deliciously: Ketchum is earnest, clever, and self-possessed; Schreck brings out her magisterial side as the sparring partner of dreams and nightmares. The Ducks, two preternaturally talented youngsters played by sturdy, devilish Tina Kunz and charming Carolyn Thompson, are a gas. Casting adult actors in children's roles may have been motivated by using a bar as the venue, but I highly approve.

Good though everyone else is, the star of the show is Stephen Hando as Brian. I'd walk miles to see Hando do anything, from his wicked Owen Meany to the heartbreaking, tender lead in Book-It's In a Shallow Grave to the scary New Age woman I saw him improvise one night at Spin the Bottle to his intelligent, self-actualizing Frank O'Hara, and every time I see him I think that's the role he was born to play. Well, Brian is not only yet another role he was born to play, it was written expressly for him. You won't be able to take your eyes off his sinewy beauty, his quality of thinking something out before your very eyes, and the wealth of furies he can draw on, from the narrowest itch of irritation to full-on murderous rage. He is a deeply funny person and one of our greatest actors.

The good news is that this is a world premiere. Not a West Coast premiere, all stinky and sweaty from its New York run, not a U.S. premiere, just in from London or Berlin or Johannesburg, but the first production, period. Everybody else eats our dust. The bad news is that although they still have strong ties to Seattle, both the author, Deron Bos, and one of the love ladies, Hilary Ketchum, now live in New York, and I've heard that the other ladylove, Heidi Schreck, will move there soon. Fagan is planning to become bicoastal now that he's an NEA grantster. Unless we make them feel very, very wanted, we could lose these people. Let's not let that happen, okay?

Barley Blair is the pseudonym of a little old lady who wishes it were necessary to reveal, in the spirit of full disclosure, that she had slept with every member of the cast and crew of 21 Shots.