Getting Out Theater Schmeater
Through Aug 21.

Singing Forest Intiman Playhouse
Through Aug 21.

I'm being downsized from The Stranger, so this is my last review. It's a relief; seeing three or four shows a week has taken its toll on my sanity, as there's a lot of bad theater out there--though not as much as you might think. My tenure covers a spring and a surprisingly busy early summer, which provide a representative sampling of what's produced in Seattle. Looking over my reviews, I count 11 abominations that made me want to slash my wrists (ranging from the insipid rock 'n' roll Midsummer Night's Dream to shows that were simply and utterly incompetent), 15 mediocrities, 19 shows uneven but worth seeing, and six true pleasures (ranging from the rough-and-tumble delights of Circus Contraption to the perfect match of style and subject in Macha Monkey's Melancholy Play). So: 26 shows I wouldn't recommend, 25 I would. If I'd seen every movie released in the same time span, I doubt the percentages would be as balanced.

The shows most difficult to review are not the obvious crap but the productions like Ubu at the Empty Space, where good and bad qualities are deeply intertwined and difficult to discuss in the usual 200 to 300 words. Into this category falls Intiman's production of Singing Forest, a new play by Craig Lucas. The play defies summarization--it centers around a friend (and patient) of Sigmund Freud who evaded the Nazi death camps and became an analyst herself; her gay son, also a psychotherapist, has his mother expelled from the profession, leading her to launch a free phone-sex service, which gets called by a young man who's being paid by the Nazi survivor's grandson (who has inherited a gargantuan fortune from his father, an Arab sheik who was burned to death by his wife, the Nazi survivor's daughter) to tell therapists the grandson's dreams, so that the grandson can get therapy by proxy... This is maybe a third of the labyrinthine plot, which includes what happened back in Vienna when the Nazis arrived.

The deepest problem with Singing Forest is not the wild shifts in tone (a recitation of war atrocities one moment, door-slamming farce the next) or the plot's indigestible web of coincidences (for example, the grandson's proxy's girlfriend just happens to be a German translator, which comes in handy when they need to read the Nazi survivor's stolen diaries) or the woozy psychobabble dialogue (justifiable, as every character is either a therapist or in therapy or both, but tedious)--it's the surprisingly clumsy structure of the whole shebang. Craig Lucas has written some lovely plays, but this one is a mess: The first act lurches along in a jumble of forced exposition; the characters baldly confess their emotional and psychological states, often without any plausible reason to do so. The ending collapses with 20 minutes of cascading revelations, almost all of which the audience already knows because we've been watching the play for three hours. Some of the characters and storylines have dramatic potential; whether this promise got muddled because Lucas is too close to his material and can't see how to draw an audience into it or because the play's original conception has been corrupted through "development," who can say? Near the end, the Nazi survivor says there are "no accidents---only catastrophes." Singing Forest is a catastrophe.

What I'll miss most about this job are the surprises, when I go to something I'd avoid if I weren't being paid to see it and have my assumptions debunked. I went to Getting Out at Theater Schmeater expecting little; it's a lesser-known play by a playwright I'm not wild about (Marsha Norman, most noted for 'night, Mother) with a first-time director, Kerry Christianson. But Christianson's solid production describes the life of Arlene, a woman freshly released from prison, with commitment and grit. The play flows back and forth between older and younger versions of Arlene; Jane May and Sharia Pierce not only resemble each other physically, they compellingly suggest two contrasting stages in Arlene's life. The play is more a character portrait than a story (and a fairly bleak one at that), but the consistent cast gives Getting Out the dimension it needs to be honest and human.

If you want to know the rest of my "best of" list, it includes Carlotta's Late Night Wing-Ding, Shadowlands at Taproot, Lauren Weedman's Wreckage, and Psycho Beach Party at Northwest Actors Studio. I wish my successor, Annie Wagner, good luck.

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