The Wind in the Willows
Theater Schmeater at Volunteer Park
Run time: 75 minutes.
The timing of this new adaptation of Wind in the Willows seems downright mischievous. This is an entire play about a man (or rather a "boastful and conceited" toad named Toad) who falls in love with automobiles the moment he first sees one, and continues to drive his beloved "motorcars" even though it's costing every last penny he has and his joyrides endanger both himself and everyone around him. It's a good thing that Toad is so loveable. Aaron Allshouse sounds like Paul Lynde on meth, and he's constantly bouncing up and down with stupid, spazzy energy, running all about the stage at Volunteer Park with no regard for his own dignity, much to the delight of children in the audience.
Willows begins pleasantly, with Tadd Alexander as the stuffy Mole and Josh Hartvigson as the more worldly Water Rat. Hartvigson plays the ukulele as a fantasia of quacking ducks dance around him. The two animals decide to visit Toad, which kicks what little plot there is into action. Things meander to a forced but funny climactic battle and, thankfully, exactly no morals are shoved down the audience's gullet.
It's hard to find fault with a free performance of a play for children in a park on a sunny weekend afternoon. The acoustics that nature provide aren't ideal, but most of the actors overcome this with broad acting. Some of the jokes aimed at adults (like a labored gag about golfing doctors) fall flat, but who can argue with the basic comedy gold derived from a screaming toad, still on fire from a car crash, getting a violent wedgie from an angry French rabbit?
interlace [falling star]
Run time: 130 minutes.
Near the end of the play, a person jumps out of the window of the infinite tower and falls forever. The forever-falling person burns in the cloudless sky of a planet that's at the center (culturally rather than cosmically) of a network of universes: the "multiverse." This beautiful imagining, the forever-falling person, is one of the many glittering nodes in interlace, a new play by local writer Scotto Moore. Another such node is a psychic agent, played by Kristina Sutherland, telepathically interrogating a mysterious person (possibly a dangerous terrorist), played by Jen Moon, whose memories have been blocked. (This scene would make Dick Cheney come in his pants.) Another is the impossible idea, expressed by the building's resident superhero, played by Stan Shields, of a final floor at the top of a tower that rises without end.
The top floor is occupied by the great Unknown—or the "known unknown," if we may use Rummy's philosophical language. Together, these glittering nodes form "a wonderful net," if we may use the words that Francis Cook used to describe the "heavenly abode... of Indra." Nor would it be out of place for us to borrow the words of Borges, as the tower in Moore's play and in the "Library of Babel" are designed by the same (mad/God) architect. Moore's tower also contains a library with ancient books—pure Borges.
The play is not all serious and intellectual. Next to the shine of speculative nodes are jokes that snap, crackle, and pop. There are also the cheap elements of a romance, the medieval elements of a horror movie, the sinister elements of a line of science-fiction cinema that descends from 2001, and the standard mockery of depthless American consumers and corporate culture. The presentation of this fantastic fusion, which also includes theological thought experiments and the narrative structure of a thriller, is strong all around—acting, use of the limited stage, and Moore's direction. The pleasures of interlace [falling star] are more than plenty.
Angels in America:
Absurd Reality Theatre at Seattle Repertory Theatre
Run time: 195 minutes.
On YouTube, there live several videos of high-school students performing scenes from A Streetcar Named Desire. All are brave failures with their Stanleys screaming hysterically, their Blanches coquetting awkwardly, and the rest of the cast thrashing around, out of its collective depth. They deserve gold stars for zealotry. But then the rape scene inevitably comes, with a willowy Stanley wearing too much pancake makeup, trying to menace a blond Blanche who looks like she could take him, and the tragedy becomes accidental.
That's pretty much the experience of watching Absurd Reality Theatre wrestle with Angels. They mean it, they're working hard, but they're out of their depth, from small touches (the rabbi in the first scene is played by a brown-haired woman wearing fake black side curls) to major directorial problems. The final scene of the first act, for example (when Louis abandons Prior in the hospital and Mormon Joe finally comes out to his Mormon wife) is a mess of overacting, everyone screaming at one histrionic pitch. It doesn't sound like people having the most difficult conversations of their lives—it sounds like people confusing pathos for volume.
But director Maridee Slater pulls a few good performances out of her more capable actors. Chris MacDonald (a regular at CHAC and Theater Schmeater) owns the room as the barking closeted Republican lawyer Roy M. Cohn. (Cohn's iconic shout to timid Joe—"You're alive, goddamnit! Plant a foot! Stay awhile!"—is a triumph.) And Carter J. Davis, as the sincere and nervous Louis, helps us forget how slowly the time is crawling by. But it's not enough: After the two-hour first act, I wanted to leave. So I did.