Through May 24.Intermission! I seriously thought she was going to get a standing ovation at intermission! And you know what? She would have deserved it.
If I gave Sarah Rudinoff all the adulation her talent warrants, people would think we were fucking. Sarah Rudinoff is so talented it's goddamn ridiculous. What others do horribly wrong, Sarah does sublimely right. Where lesser actors cover lack of ability with theatrical gimmicks and emotionally manipulative tricks, Sarah blazes with fierce, funny honesty and grace. She's a pageant of moxie, a carnival of fabulous, and her one-person show (directed by her former Hedwig costar, Nick Garrison) is just about the best one-person show I've seen this side of ever.
This tight, smart, clued-in work is the perfect vehicle to showcase Rudinoff's smart, clued-in self. Her adventures from birth until just now are told with generosity of spirit and humor. She can spin a yarn about getting dressed for a cocktail soiree and make it as fun as a day at Knott's Berry Farm and follow it all up with a song. Her stage presence is thermonuclear (in a darling kind of way) and the golden gospel gravel of her sometimes soprano can ride a jazzy tune like a Harley on the bad road to heaven.
But I was intensely worried when Sarah wandered over into 9/11 land. Every poor fool who's staged a one-manner since September 11 has worked it into the act, and always in the most awful, ingenuous, and saccharine ways--tantamount to bringing sad puppies with broken legs on stage and beating them to death with blind gay orphans. But, to my great surprise and immeasurable happiness, Sarah's 9/11 moment was the only funny, remotely honest, and non-barf-inducing one I've seen to date. There isn't a moment of this show I'd change, and that's the most I can say for any show. And this is the first time I've ever said it. Viva la Rudinoff! Go see this show. ADRIAN RYAN
Through May 18.It is hard for me not to like Nora. It's set in a period that obsesses me, 19th-century Europe--the birthplace of all that we are now. It's also adapted by one of my favorite filmmakers, Ingmar Bergman, from a play, A Doll's House, by my favorite playwright, Ibsen, whose themes and style influenced the style and themes of my favorite collection of short stories, James Joyce's Dubliners. I also can't get enough of Scandinavian existentialism, which, though not at the center of Nora, informs its atmosphere: the bleak-black clothes; the white, bloodless faces of the actors; the winter snow constantly falling through the small universe of family and friends that has Nora--wife and mother of three--as its center.
The play is about the end of a marriage. The husband, Torvald Helmer (Stephen Barker Turner), is a banker who has just received an important promotion. His wife, Nora (Kristin Flanders), is overjoyed, as she will obtain the only freedom that matters to the middle class of her and our time: the ability to buy whatever she wants whenever she wants. The couple has a strange close friend, a doctor by the name of Rank (Laurence Ballard), who suffers from literary disease number two, syphilis (the first is consumption--in terms of modern literature, that is). There is also a shady lawyer (John Procaccino) and a gloomy widow (Mari Nelson).
When the mistakes of the past catch up with the soon-to-be prosperous family, Nora must decide either to accept a future founded on this imperfect past or reinvent a completely new future emptied of all of her big mistakes--her husband, children, and circle of friends.
The production is clean, the acting competent, with only one minor mystery/irritation: Who is the sad and silent girl with the teddy bear? What is she doing in this play? Does she represent the three children who are watching their family disintegrate? I have no idea. All in all, the play succeeds by delivering exactly what I want to see: the 19th century, the dilemmas of the rising middle class, and the bleak Scandinavian Weltanschauung. CHARLES MUDEDE
Ruthless! The Musical
Through May 17.Imagine ingénue. Yeech. The very utterance of that one-word cliché conjures simpering, mincing, plump-faced simpletons and gives me a bad case of the schmaltz shivers.
Everyone loves a good ingénue-stomping, not least the folks at ArtsWest, who are putting on the vicious Ruthless! for your sardonic pleasure. The self-conscious musical follows the rise and fall of three generations of vain, horrid, and mystifyingly lovable lady entertainers. They've got rhythm, they've got music, and they've got one hell of a mean streak--in the Showgirls, pushing-down-stairs vein. Moreover, Ruthless! lampoons a critic. And a critic's gotta love that, right?
Drawing from crazy-bitch classics like The Bad Seed and All About Eve, fans of the dark-diva genre should get a kick out of the highly referential Ruthless!, which is ripe with both cuter-than-thou saccharinity and the sharp stench of gallows humor.
ArtsWest's production is funny, though a couple of actors had chronic line-flubbing issues. Seattle drag queen Mark Finley plays the dissipated grande dame of the bunch, but Susan McIntyre steals the show with her sheer intensity as a series of madly ambitious characters.
The show's one bruise lies in falling victim to its own object of scorn--cuteness. Like sweet leading ladies of yore, the sardonic mode has become its own cliché. A line delivered darkly by a drag queen does not a joke make. Not any more, at least.
Ruthless! won a passel of awards in the early '90s, and it shows. This nasty musical comedy has moments of brilliance and arch hilarity, and devotees of the genre should be tickled pink by its raised-eyebrow, we-know-better-than-that take on show business. But sitting in the theater, I got the uncomfortable feeling I was watching an actual bloated ingénue's last stand--past her prime, still believing she's cutting-edge. BRENDAN KILEY