Unusual phenomenon A: Every once in a great while, for reasons that stump everyone, Seattle goes on a tear and produces more worthwhile theater than you could possibly see. (Less) unusual phenomenon B: There isn't enough space in this paper to cover everything that merits attention.
This week, both happened. A + B = fucking frustrating. So, quickly, here are the four shows you should see, not necessarily in order of awesomeness.
Return to Camp Death: Late-night slasher-movie improv by Blood Squad (who have some affiliation with the young Turks in the People's Republic of Komedy). It is excellently complemented by a few cans of cheap beer.
Tuesday: A new play by Paul Mullin (Louis Slotin Sonata), in Annex's attic theater at the Capitol Hill Arts Center. Tuesday concerns Audie McCall, a man who forgets everything about his life every time he falls asleep. Tons of writers from Cynthia Hopkins to Robert Ludlum have had their way with amnesia as narrative device. But Mullin's script is strong and melancholy as Audie, reduced to a childlike naiveté by his condition, goes through the daily horror of discovering he used to be a rich, alcoholic asshole, loathed by his ex-wife, children, and former business partners. Mullin stars and jumps artfully between Audie-the-sweet-amnesiac and Audie-the-drunk-bully. As one audience member said afterward: "He played jazz." But the prize goes to Joseph P. McCarthy, a short, balding man with the presence of an NFL linebacker. As both a barking junk-bond trader and a phantasm called the "Gumshoe Priest," McCarthy steals the show.
Chamber Macbeth: A pared-down version of Macbeth with a slight pagan-metal flair, starring Hans Altwies who is the best Shakespearean actor (certainly) in Seattle and (possibly) in America. At Seattle Shakespeare Company.
The Water Engine: Strawberry Theatre Workshop is consistently, stubbornly impressive. (Even more so because of the theater-as-vegetables boilerplate in their PR: "confronting audiences" with "relevant political questions." Ugh. But then you watch a show and you're in love.) The Water Engine, at Hugo House, is a stage adaptation of David Mamet's radio play about an inventor in Chicago during the 1933 World's Fair who wants to patent his perfect engine (it runs on water) and the evil forces (lawyers, unspecified corporate interests) that want to destroy it. The adaptation (directed by MJ Sieber) keeps the '30s radio-play aesthetic, with whoever isn't in a given scene standing upstage, using vintage microphones like old Foley artists. They produce sound effects by crumpling paper and pouring water, often with a second-long delay between the pantomimed action (like Gabriel Baron dialing an invisible telephone) and the sound, creating an illusion of analog glitch that feels perfectly 70 years ago. (Was it intended? If so: genius.) Baron is fantastic, both nervous and defiant as little-guy inventor Charles Lang. There are also great performances by Kate Czajkowski (as Lang's blind sister) and Michael Patton and George Mount as wicked lawyers. The play gets increasingly ominous, becoming a full-bore thriller. The denouement, causally revealed by a journalist flirting over the telephone, made me want to die.
Go, go, go, and go.