We’ve Battled Monsters Before, the season-opener at ArtsWest and the latest Justin Huertas musical, is available for online viewing through January 20.
Justin Huertas has been creating heroes for what seems like an eternity. His sagas featuring unlikely warriors set in local mythology are staples of Seattle stages — so much so, it’s easy to take for granted the richness of the worlds his new musicals create.
What’s most impressive about Huertas’s creations is not his catchy music, his ability to distill epics into compact works, his virtuosity with multiple instruments, or his seemingly boundless ability to work on multiple projects at once — although all of these are true. What sets Huertas aside in a whole separate class is his ability to begin with an epic-scale tale — full of grand mystery and magic, often steeped in centuries of lore — and make the hero so very human.
In a Huertas epic, the heroes eventually take up battles much bigger than themselves. But first they show their naivety and fear, make poor decisions, and show that even a “legendary legacy” mixed with good intentions can still have disastrous results.
His latest, We’ve Battled Monsters Before, is very much in that tradition. Huertas and Rheanna Atendido, herself a gifted singer-songwriter-actor, portray a brother and sister in a coming-of-age story, each too eager to grow into their family’s legacy of magic and battles. It’s told with a great deal of empathy and humor, including playful jabs at the younger generations (“You don’t even know Tagalog … You’re gonna Google a spell?” / “I’m gonna die here”) and passed-down culinary wisdom (“There is no such thing as too much garlic”). Both Huertas and Atendido hop seamlessly between an impressive array of stringed instruments scattered around the stage as they sing/play/act a few different roles, creating a much more robust musical landscape than a two-hander would normally suggest.
Huertas’s portrayals of a Filipino elder might call to mind some of Sara Porkalob’s portrayals of her family matriarchs (in the works Dragon Lady and Dragon Mama, for example, both of which go up soon at Cafe Nordo), but the sagas of each are very much their own: In Porkalob’s, a human made epic; in Huertas’s, an epic made human.
We’ve Battled Monsters Before performed live at ArtsWest last month — its 2021-22 “When We Wake” season opener — and is playable on Vimeo for just another couple of days. While nothing matches the live theatre experience, ArtsWest has done a good job with videography and sound quality here, resulting in an enjoyable home viewing experience (particularly when streaming on Vimeo over the TV screen rather than another device).
We’ve Battled Monsters Before, produced at ArtsWest, streams through 1/20 over Vimeo. Tickets are $15-$120 (sliding scale for all), available here.
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Next at ArtsWest: Monsters of the American Cinema (opening 1/27, closing 2/20). In West Seattle.
Next from Sara Porkalob, at Cafe Nordo: Dragon Mama (opening 1/26, closing 3/6) and Dragon Lady (opening 2/11, closing 3/6). In Seattle (Pioneer Square).
Ticketing links for most shows can be found on the Performance Calendar page here.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.