Three productions currently running in Seattle share surprising family resemblances, even though one is in a garage, one in an opera house, and the last is in a weathered bar. Though galaxies apart in budget and audience capacity, The Compendium of Nastiness, The End of the Affair, and Delaware use spectacle, music, and fancy flights of poesy to explore overlapping themes (in Compendium, transformation, sex, and femininity; in Affair, sex, longing, and falling into the ocean; and in Delaware, longing, the ocean, and a girl's transformation). Let's take them one at a time.
The audience enters The Compendium of Nastiness through the playwright's front door. Writer Ki Gottberg (Ubu) and actor Elizabeth Kenny (Ubu, Bash) greet the guests and offer tea and champagne before leading the 15-member audience down narrow stairs into "the Womb," a cozy garage lined with red velvet drapes. Splicing boilerplate Gothic romance with topical political references, Compendium is a mess of sexuality and revenge: a virgin lusting after a junkie-monk, a wicked uncle slavering over his niece, and a hypersexual demon queen who wants to sodomize everyone, including the audience. The hard-working and capable Kenny jumps between personas, using masks and thumb puppets. The story is wan (it needs a few buffoons) and the symbolic passages were a little purple, but for a big Gothic romance staged in a small garage, Compendium is on the right track.
The End of the Affair—based on the Graham Greene novel about faith, jealousy, and love in bombed-out WWII London—deserves some encouragement just for being a new American opera. There's a passionate love affair (and a little onstage nudity), desperate deals with God, and a lot of unrequited love, but Affair's affair is all sorrow and no joy. To my (admittedly untutored) ear, the composition sounded sophisticated but unrelentingly brooding. Any given 10-minute stretch of Affair showcases musical nuance, but after a numbing two hours, the subtleties blur into a hazy shade of miserable.
Most patrons approach opera as a musical medium, so it's unsurprising (but still disappointing) that Affair's performances are wooden. As Mr. Parkis, Robert Orth is the blessed exception—a private detective who smiles when singing about love, unlike the rest of the sad sacks grimacing across the stage. The lead's climactic tirade against God in an abandoned church ("God wins/love ends") is appropriately chilling and the sets are impressive (of course—it's the opera), with monumental stained-glass windows and modular stone walls. Nevertheless, Affair is a small reckoning in a great room.
Which brings us to Delaware: A Subtle Spectacular, a mid-sized, middlebrow theatrical concept album at Re-bar. Since I'm in it (along with "Awesome" and some actual actors), let me cite the Seattle Weekly review to circumvent any conflict of interest: Delaware "is weird and wanky and should have been insufferable but, man, is it fun." I agree wholeheartedly—never underestimate the artistic power of fun.