Book-It at the Seattle Rep
Through May 1.
Seeing a Book-It show is always a zero-sum gamble: Their bad productions are dreadful, but their good productions are a real pleasure. I am happy to report that Giant is one of the latter.
Originally by Michigan-born Edna Ferber, Giant is a one-generation family romance that is a paean to, and critique of, the peculiar state of Texas. It follows Leslie Lynnton, an inquisitive, liberal-minded Virginia woman, and her marriage to Bick Benedict, a rancher whose family owns 2.5 million acres of 1930s Texas. Leslie approaches the rugged, manly Texans like any cosmopolitan outsider might: alternately fascinated and repulsed by their rugged toughness and stubborn chauvinism. She adores Bick, but struggles with him and his family about the mistreatment of Mexican migrants, condescension to women, and reflexive traditionalism. Years pass, Bick and Leslie love, fight, and breed, and oil gives rise to a new class of vulgar nouveaux riche, epitomized by Jett Rink, a resentful, drunken Iago who used to work for the Benedict ranch.
On paper, none of this sounds wildly interesting, but the characters are attractive, the cast is great (and big, at 19 actors plus an onstage musician), and creative staging keeps things visually interesting. For example, the production represents invasion of oil with waist-high derricks littering the stage. Giant goes down smooth--the three acts and two intermissions feel more like an accomplishment than a trial. BRENDAN KILEY
Seattle Shakespeare Company at Center House Theater
Through May 1.
Though the look of Seattle Shakespeare Company's distillation of Othello is set in a time that is near ours, the nature of its content has almost nothing to do with our times. (Macbeth is much closer to the present condition of things.) Do not go to this play to hear echoes of today; go to it with the single purpose of hearing (or rehearing) the
writing. The direction of this Othello, by Russ Banham, focuses on the actors, and the actors (six in all) focus on the language of the play, making sure that the music of Shakespeare's English is never obscured or obliterated by the immense power of the plot.
The first part of the production is steady, and the second part soars. Hans Altwies (the star of the show) pushes his sinister character, Iago, to the limit; William Hall Jr., as Othello, is convincingly noble and naive; and Jennifer Sue Johnson, as Desdemona, is blond, beautiful, and delicate. As with any good production of Othello, sex is made the heart of the matter. The actors are directed to use every opportunity to remind the audience that what's fueling everything, what's burning up the villains, is the hot vision of "an old black ram… topping [a] white ewe." At the end of the tragedy it occurred to me that Desdemona is killed in the very same way that the young white woman is killed by a black man early in Richard Wright's famous novel Native Son--snuffed out by a pillow. No other kind of murder is more erotic than one whose weapon is a soft pillow from the very bed where beasts are made with two backs. CHARLES MUDEDE
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Seattle Children's Theatre
Through June 12.
In the Seattle Children's Theatre production of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Sarah Rudinoff plays, among other characters, a faucet and a copy machine. The show is a colorful adaptation of the classic children's book, with musical numbers about bad days and new shoes and hope, and the entire cast sings and dances and, in general, does a pretty good job of giving their most to what is essentially a busy visual distraction for talkative, giggling, googley-eyed kids. The set is cool and a little dizzying, with a terrific trick of perspective--and if you're stoned there are moments of high, weird comedy, like when Rudinoff, as a cupcake-scarfing schoolgirl, strides across the stage holding two cupcakes and screams wildly, "I LOVE THESE CUPCAKES!" In this same role she also gets to sing a song about wanting to kill her sister. The rest of the cast is equally strong, and so are all the stereotypes their characters reinforce: Mom's in an apron and Dad's in a suit, the teacher is a woman and the dentist is a man. In other words, the whole thing is retrograde and sexist when you think about it. You see this show stoned and all sorts of injustices occur to you. But the googley-eyed kids loved it. CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE