Photo by Jane Carmona on Unsplash.

This Week in Arts: Wednesday Roundup (4/17)

Here are the things NWT loved (or didn’t) this week, and a few (or more) things to look forward to this weekend.

Highlights this week included a solo show at Copious and a strangely funny play on interrogations; plus upcoming shows from Spectrum, a musical tribute to Nina Simone, solo shows at 18th & Union and The Pocket, and more.

For details on any of the shows (like times & ticket info), view them by date on the Calendar page.

 

Upcoming Week

NWT is on vacation! Beginning April 19, we’re taking a planned vacation, to accommodate actual vacations plus a rest break. Don’t worry — we’ll be back on April 29, and you may even see some planned auto-posts pop up in there (spoiler: you will). Here’s what you get to enjoy while we’re out.

For a few short runs, this week is both your first & last chance to catch them. Recommended shows in that category are:

Dance, Dance, Dance #2 (Spectrum Dance Theatre) (thru Saturday). In the second segment of three in the “Wokeness Festival” (see review of the first segment here), Spectrum performs three pieces: a classic by legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham connectedness, a new one from Donald Byrd that speaks to Cunningham’s legacy, and a recent one from Vincent Michael Lopez on light and the human experience. Fans of contemporary dance, make this a can’t-miss on your list.

At the Royal Room, MochaCulture hosts a tribute show to Nina Simone on Saturday. It’s a great prelude to Nina Simone: Four Women which starts previews the following week at the Rep (and there’s even a raffle for a pair of tickets). But considered as a standalone show, this lineup easily holds its own: it’s exceptional. Artists include Eva Walker (frontwoman for The Black Tones — remember that band we mentioned last week?), Aviona Rodríguez Brown (see Week in Review below), Evan Flory Barnes, and more.

18th & Union has some good-sounding new works wrapping up its Springshot festival. Our top pick is All American Oriental Magic Show by Maritess Zurbano, directed by Alyza DelPan-Monley (described as a one-woman show of magic and mind-reading, and the true story of how Zurbano, a Filipina American magician, became a Las Vegas magician in a male-dominated field). Likewise, The Pocket Theater has various interesting-sounding shows going on this month. Among them: Cultural Essay, and Pieces of Her.

Closing this weekend (sort of) is Village Theatre’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, as it moves from Issaquah to Village’s Everett location beginning next week. It’s a great show — see NWT’s review here. Actually closing this weekend is Renton Civic Theatre’s 12 Angry Men, which we wanted to check out but didn’t get around to it. If you do, let us know how it is.

Two shows open this week that should complement each other nicely: Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons and Small Mouth Sounds. Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons (thru 5/4) is Theater Schmeater’s inaugural show in its new nomadic format, performing at Seattle Public Theater. The show imagines a world with a limit on spoken words, in which everyone is forced to say less. Small Mouth Sounds (Thalia’s Umbrella, performing at 12th Avenue Arts thru 5/11), meanwhile, is a show of few words, set at a silent retreat in the woods.

Also opening this week are UW Drama’s Romeo & Jules (see more below) (thru 4/28); and Pratidhwani’s drama-dance Devi at ACT (thru 5/11) (“Beloved by her people, the Devi uses her position to run a parallel government that believes in equality, justice, and freedom, proving that a woman can be the protagonist in her own story, despite mens’ best efforts to make her invisible”).

 

Week in Review

This week was a little bit all over the place, but featured a lot of interesting new work. Without further ado …

With the refrain, I’m not here, I’m not there, I’m not anywhere, The Goddess Solo-Reveal, written and performed by Aviona Rodriguez Brown, was a haunting delight. At once mournful, searching, and eternally hopeful, Goddess told of the artist’s upbringing and present in a mixed-race, queer body; what happens when blood relatives fail you; and finding your own voice and talents as an artist. The 45-minute show was followed by a writing workshop, which Rodriguez Brown led, that got the audience’s creative powers flowing; and a participatory reading for everyone to hear each other’s work. (Also, the new Copious space is gorgeous — formerly the Ballard Underground theatre space, it’s now outfitted in a classic cabaret style in the entry and bar area, flowing into the more traditional theatre seating and stage.)

Another one we loved, and which made great use of a somewhat non-traditional theatre space, was Language Rooms (through 5/4). Written by Egyptian-born, Seattle-based playwright Yussef El Guindi, Language Rooms studies the clash between America and the rest of the world through a most non-traditional lens: office politics. For a very good chunk of time, I had my WTF? face on — and here, that’s not a bad thing. This play is funny. It’s also dark — it’s set primarily in an interrogation room, suggestive of Guantanamo Bay, so sometimes you feel bad about laughing and other times you just stare on in horror. The supposed plot twists are a little predictable, but that’s never too wearying because I couldn’t wait to see what dastardly thing the smooth-talking boss would throw into the mix next. The acting was great; and the surprisingly robust use of space rivaled it. With themes of Americanization, loyalty, and immigration worked in, Pony World’s choice to hold this in Slate Theatre, in the INScape Arts building (formerly a real INS processing and detention facility) was a good one.   

And another fitting facility: the Bathhouse Theater, home to Seattle Public Theater, became a swim team locker room for Dry Land, which we finally got around to seeing this week. (It closed on Sunday.) Dry Land was enjoyable, but with a lot of ifs, ands, and buts (also: butts). For example: the set was cool; but the perpetually dry locker room floor (except for that one scene) was a little unnaturally bothersome to me. The acting was great; but most of the cast was barely utilized. I went along with the girls’ story; but I lost all respect for them when they left a huge, biohazardous mess after-hours because they knew the pool janitor would come along behind them to clean it up. (And also: I lost all respect for the front row full of older White ladies, as they watched hawk-eyed while a Black man cleaned everything up in real life.) I’d like to know more about whether certain aspects were dictated in the script vs. director’s choice — not the least of which were the racial dynamics in that scene, and some issues around a lead character’s gender identity (among the most intriguing — and under-emphasized — bits to the story). Much like abortion, and much like teenage years (its two central focal points), this play was complicated.  

Here at NWT, we’re not particularly Shakespeare fans, though we do appreciate interesting adaptations that make the past modern or put under-told stories at the forefront. This week presented the opportunity for NWT to view a couple of those. So how did they fare?

In the case of UW Drama’s non-binary update/adaptation of Romeo & Juliet — intriguing. (Note: NWT caught a preview; plus, UW Drama prefers no reviews of student work, so we won’t comment beyond the general concepts used here.) The adaptation, called Romeo & Jules, was — well, not too much of an adaptation actually. It was, as feared, basically the same text but with some pronouns changed up. The staging, however, was different entirely — sometimes gimmicky, frequently interesting, and sometimes breathtaking.

One hint something cool might happen: there’s an enormous, imposing steel grid, 8×12 cubes across, occupying the entire backdrop. And it does: deep into the second half, my jaw dropped with an “omg this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen” that was only a minor exaggeration, and also “please don’t fall.” Since you won’t find any surprises to the classic script, I’ll leave that feat a surprise instead. Overall, it’s a very physical staging of the play. The fight scenes are cool, too — no weapons (to speak of), no gore, just dance-style interpretations that very clearly and cleanly convey what’s happening, and who got killed in this go-around. With choreography by Alice Gosti (see R. Barron’s review of a previous Gosti piece here), the physicality was no surprise. The height and feats and pervasiveness in a student production, though, were surprising, in a good way. So there’s that. The other surprise was the costuming, which is very imaginative. The costumes alone are reason enough to go see the show. They look like Rocky Horror got an update, and then collided with a Victorian carnival and passed back through the late-’90s Olympia queer rock opera The Transfused.

A new dive into The Tempest, in contrast, didn’t quite resonate, and I’m starting to suspect that no version of The Tempest — the original, adaptation, derivation, or otherwise — will do it for me. In the Miranda-centered cherubin, a new work by Parley artistic director Rebecca Tourino Collinsworth, the text beautifully maintained the voice of the original. But maybe too much voice: the women’s self-determination was limited, and the story still felt confined by the original. This may have been largely beholden to the choice of setting it all in a Connecticut jail cell (which I didn’t quite understand — other than affording parallels to the New England witch hunts, which was a clever combination, I’m not sure how we got there). Backstory is important; but I’d rather know more about what they did for themselves after striking out on their own, especially what happened after cherubin’s end.

A Shakespeare we do want to catch sometime? Bard in a Bar, which was postponed to the 15th so we had to miss it. Hope everyone had a good time though! Maybe we’ll see you soon. (Just please don’t be The Tempest. Or Twelfth Night or A Midsummer’s Night Dream, for that matter.)

Instead, we saw theatre simple’s remount of The Master & Margarita (running through 4/28), which … well, I didn’t get the allure. Based on the novel by Mikhail Bulgakov, it’s told largely from an insane asylum and alternates between Pontius Pilate and Jesus, in one setting, and the title couple in early 20th-century Russia in the other. The problem with this manifestation is the literary satire is stripped out when the farce reaches certain levels, and here it’s almost all farce, often going off into clowning without a discernible purpose. The musicians are underutilized and hidden in a corner. The acting is inconsistent. The utilization of white screens as backdrops (and shadow projectors, from behind) was very effective, and one of the standout aspects of the show. The other was Llysa Holland as Pontius Pilate, which was excellent. But overall, this is a recipe for a devised work that may have been good in concept, but was significantly underbaked in conceptualization and rehearsal time. The result is a trying-too-hard, anemic production that went on about 30 minutes too long. (A note on the time: Though billed as 100 minutes no intermission, it in fact ran two hours, straight through, which is rough. To its credit, it didn’t feel like two hours — but there were parts that dragged on much too slowly that could easily use some faster pacing in direction, and perhaps were intended to be.) This show’s muddled vision is even more puzzling given that it’s a reboot of a well-received adaptation by the same director. And while it could be that this mix just didn’t jive with my taste — some others seemed to enjoy it — it’s definitely not the case that was all that’s going on here.

But whatever your tastes — there’s a lot going on to choose from. And NWT is grateful that Seattle is a town of makers and doers in the arts, who allow that to happen.

Want to plan your show schedule further out? See what’s happening on NWT’s Calendar page. And for news on all the openings this month, see Miryam Gordon’s April coverage here.  


R. Barron reviewed arts behind the scenes (awards, grants, etc.), before writing for Seattle Gay Scene & NWTheatre.org. Passions include theatre, new works, and arts showcasing underrepresented voices.