The Little Theatre
Through May 22.
The Dragon of Wantley
Northwest Puppet Center
Through May 23.
Red, Pork, and Blue: The Politics of the Other White Meat
Pork Filled Players at Odd Duck Studio
Through May 22.
Velocity MainSpace Theater
Through May 23.
The musical theatrics of Herbert Bergel are not a universal taste, but those who love his work embrace it tightly. Whether portraying the Cuban revolution or teenagers shopping for an amplifier, his indie-rock operettas consistently feature prosaic lyrics (often mundane conversations written in rhyming couplets), quirky yet ordinary characters, and willfully (almost aggressively) unpolished singing. Birds in Winter pushes this tendency to an outright celebration of the commonplace; it's a film of the Northwest Film Forum's executive director, Michael Seiwerath, and his family having breakfast and going to Gig Harbor, accompanied by a live score featuring two bands (one in monk uniforms, the other in false mustaches) and a six-person choir. There are moments of flashiness--choreographed joggers haunting Seiwerath as he walks to a barbershop, the drunken revels of the Typing Explosion (which includes Seiwerath's wife, Rachel Kessler)--but by and large the events are humble. One song describes shopping for weather stripping; another praises doughnuts and chocolate milk. This could all be too precious to bear, but Bergel doesn't try to make the ordinary anything but ordinary. You, the audience member, are given free rein to find children eating doughnuts affecting or banal. While I wasn't as moved by Birds in Winter as some other audience members were, I did find it completely delightful. In some of Bergel's previous work, the songs have sounded a bit too much the same; here, he's got a wider range of moods and textures, making for a satisfying piece. You have one weekend left to see Birds in Winter. Don't miss out.
The Northwest Puppet Center is presenting a genuine 18th-century operetta, a comic pastiche called The Dragon of Wantley, about a girl persuading a knight to slay a dragon. The music (with lyrics like "Zeno, Plato, Aristotle/All were lovers of the bottle") and singing are charming, but lifeless acting sinks this show. It's not the physical manipulation of the marionettes, which is often quite evocative; it's the bland and slow-paced voice work. The spoken interludes--most of which are clearly not from the 18th century--demonstrate not a hint of comic timing. Even the best wordplay (and much is not the best, featuring weak jabs at contemporary politics) limps along, lacking any zip or spark. Puppetry depends as much on the voice as the puppet itself, as puppets don't change expression. This, combined with the drawn-out length of the songs (they must have had longer attention spans in the 1700s), makes the last weekend of this show only for classical music lovers interested in a curio.
Pork Filled Players have built an entire show around jabs at contemporary politics, with broad but not toothless results. Red, Pork, and Blue is uneven (a sketch that starts out with North Korea's Kim Jong Il holding James Bond hostage is a funny comment on how too many Americans see the world, but the setup loses focus immediately) and the cast members, though enthusiastic, are still developing their comic chops (Christian Ver has the most solid stage presence), so it's hard to recommend the show without reservation. But if you're looking for some unabashedly left-wing comedy, this weekend is your last chance to see the latest from this energetic Asian-American troupe.
By the time spoons spilled from the hands of dancer Trez McBean, I was fully drawn into What Remains, choreographer Corrie Befort's newest piece. Surrounded by pie-eating partygoers, McBean bobbed and twitched like a nervous ghost, almost gleefully alienated from the crowd of nine people around her. These others gradually formed a line behind her and started running to and fro across the stage, sometimes falling to the floor and leaping back up, almost like foam spraying across a seashore.
This section followed a more stark but just as compelling solo by Beth Graczyk, whose grounded, full-bodied presence made her every gesture and motion magnetic. Tom Baker's original score added a wonderful atmospheric texture to both dances, so I was dismayed when, at the start of a third solo danced by John Dixon, the music turned painfully loud and piercing. Apparently other viewers were not affected as I was, but my head hurt and I found it impossible to engage with the show. It was as if Befort and Baker didn't trust this section to have enough emotional intensity and sought to impose it on the audience; unfortunate, as the first two-thirds were emotionally rich without punishing anyone's eardrums. What Remains closes this weekend. I recommend it, but I recommend you bring earplugs.