The Thrust: Quick Takes on 5 Shows This Week
Having trouble choosing what to see among the rush of Seattle openings? I went to a lot of them this past weekend — two serious plays and one musical farce in their opening weekend, plus two musicals midway through their run — to help you decide.
For all their differences in subject and form, a common theme emerged of following protocol and what happens when it’s breached. Here are my takeaways from each.
First Date @ SecondStory Repertory
Closes This Weekend
Does anyone go on blind dates anymore? The leading duo in the musical First Date is on one, despite this being a show of relatively recent vintage, but the gaffes and guffaws that result remain about as true in the era of the dating app.
If there’s protocol for blind dates, these two don’t seem to know it. He’s way overdressed. She’s inhaling liquor. They ask about future children and past first dates. To her, he’s Blind Date Virgin. To him, she’s First Date Slut.
That’s doesn’t go over very well. Yet, somehow, things seem to be progressing nicely.
But that’s not what this musical is about — that’d be a pretty dull show. Rather, it’s about the special (imaginary) guests their inner monologues invite along — from a past love to a singing Google search — to sabotage the date. And they each do a pretty entertaining job of it.
The cast — comprised of Karin Terry and Nick Watson as leading duo Casey and Aaron, and Britt Boyd, Matt Dela Cruz, Sebastian Hulburt, David Naber, and Justine Rose Stillwell in various roles throughout (most notably as those uninvited guests) — mesh well together. And the band — with Kim Douglass on keys, Tim Webster on reeds, and Brad McRae on percussion — sounds great. (Note that the sound quality and volume moderation is best toward the back of the theatre. I moved back a few rows early on in the show, and was glad I did.)
Visually, the design quality stacks up nicely against the bigger houses, and that’s been a constant at SecondStory Rep. Here, the set and lighting design by Mark Chenovick packs a lot of action into a small surface, while giving the look and feel of an intimate restaurant bar — perfect for the intimacy (and lack thereof) that unfolds over this date night.
I hadn’t remembered, or hadn’t realized in the first place, that the production I saw in 2012 at ACT Theatre (in a co-production with The 5th Avenue Theatre) was First Date‘s world premiere. It was a quality cast — one member went on to cover part of the Broadway run — but that production felt a little too glossy for my taste. SecondStory Rep finds a good in-between of human and glitz that works well for this show.
The First Date script was already a little stale when it came out — with off-hand digs at body types, mental illness, and gender-bending, for example — and those aspects don’t change here. But SecondStory Rep’s production injects a bunch of humor, some intimacy, and, by the end, a cheering-for-them sense of romance that makes theirs a happy and satisfying show to watch.
Book by Austin Winsberg. Music and Lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner. Directed by Alicia Mendez. Music directed by Tatiana Kruse.
‘First Date’ runs through 3/20 at SecondStory Rep in Redmond. Tickets are $30, here.
Head Over Heels @ Lakewood Playhouse
The soundtrack for Head Over Heels is almost entirely hits from the all-female ’80s rock band The Go-Gos, and some of those tracks can lodge themselves in your brain at the mere mention of a few words (got the beat or lips are sealed, for example). The songs are a lot of fun — and so is Lakewood Playhouse’s production.
In a show that’s a Go-Gos soundtrack over faux-Victorian lines, how much protocol can there be? A lot, it turns out, as the by-the-book ruling order stifles the burgeoning identities in the kingdom of Arcadia.
The plot is convoluted in detail, but essentially a simple one. A new oracle predicts the kingdom is screwed. The king leads his family and subjects away on a circular journey, where they squabble with each other, find forbidden love and tragedy, and decide what things must change in order to keep their beloved beat (where “We’ve Got the Beat” comes in).
The rest is basically a comedy of double entendres, trying to jam 16 actors on stage, rejecting expectations, and threading a Shakespearean-style tragi-romanti-comedy through some killer ’80s music.
It’s a big musical, and Lakewood Playhouse does a good job with it. Its vision of bursting neon Nowness clashes nicely with the flowery Victorian language, the singer-actors play well together, and the band keeps the energy flowing. (While sitting near the band is fun in its own way, note that the electronic drum kit makes the percussion sound like someone playing Rock Band on mute when you’re closer to the kit than the speakers.) The transformation of Musidorus, a delicate aspect to get right, was well-handled. Costume design by Stu and Mel Johnson and set design by Judy Cullen keep the mood light and bright. Expect a big, fun, gay, non-binary, rock show.
Book by Jeff Whitty. Based on ‘The Arcadia’ by Sir Philip Sidney. Adapted by James MacGruder. Music and Lyrics by The Go-Go’s. Directed and Choreographed by Andrew Coopman. Music Directed and Conducted by Christopher Conway.
‘Head Over Heels’ runs through 3/27 at Lakewood Playhouse in Lakewood. Tickets are $31, here.
Murder for Two @ Harlequin Productions
People might leave, but protocol stays.
Few characters are as protocol-obsessed as the singing detective in this one-act, two-actor, many-character musical, Murder for Two. In trying to earn the good favor of the captain, the detective (played by Katherine Strohmaier) rattles off the book’s dictates (“Protocol says …”), while trying to keep the many guests and suspects ordered accordingly.
It’s that order that’s central to this show’s disorder — or perhaps vice versa — as one actor (Jon Lutyens) plays every single other bystander and suspect, from a trio of choirboys to a stodgy psychiatrist to the newly widowed wife of the victim. All of whom, it seems, had some reason to want him dead.
This show all comes down to how well the actors play off of each other, and Lutyens and Strohmaier navigate that wonderfully. Strohmaier keeps a strong command as the person in charge, while evincing a hint of skittishness in obsessive adherence to protocol. And Lutyens is a grand contrast, as he skips all over the place covering disparate characters. The two swap out on the keys effortlessly.
This isn’t a deep show, but it is fun and well-performed. And the finale, in which both performers really show off their mastery of the keys in unison, is a highlight of the show.
Book and Music by Joe Kinosian. Book and Lyrics by Kellen Blair. Directed by Corey McDaniel.
‘Murder for Two’ runs through 4/2 at Harlequin Productions in the State Theater in Olympia. Tickets are $46, here. Pay-what-you-choose tickets available for certain show dates; see info here.
Pipeline @ Seattle Public Theater
So what the hell is the protocol for busy signal? What am I supposed to do?
Prolific playwright Dominique Morisseau’s works, including a cycle of three plays called the Detroit Project, explore how Black Americans navigate modern America, and how modern America presses Black Americans in various settings. (The factory employee lounge of Skeleton Crew might be most familiar to Seattle audiences, from ArtsWest’s recent production.)
In Pipeline, the drama moves to the classroom in a city not specified, examining the very different settings of the predominantly White upstate boarding school and the predominantly Black inner-city public school. At the center is Nya (Dedra D. Woods), a distanced parent at the former and an immersed teacher at the latter. But her two lives can only stay separate for so long, when the predominantly White school castigates, then moves to expel and perhaps criminalize, her Black son (Omari, played by Tre Scott).
Pipeline is all about navigating the shoulds and should-nots, within the confines of two worlds in one country; and Morisseau cleverly weaves a haunting poem through them (“We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks) that unpacks protocol in its own way.
The play offers few answers and little that’s not already known; data on the widespread punitive treatment of Black school children and teenagers, systems that are segregated in fact if not in law, and woefully underfunded and over-pressured schools, for example, are about as well-distributed as the copy of The New Jim Crow that Nya pulls out in the teachers’ lounge. But humans are often better storytellers than figures are, and this cast — Woods and Scott, joined by Andrew Lee Creech, Hazel Rose Gibson, Corey Spruill, and Nikki Visel, and directed by Faith Bennett Russell — ably carries that story’s heavy load. Set design by Margaret Toomey and sound design by Evan Mosher set a dark but vibrant mood for this well-crafted show. As for the What Next?, that’s left for the viewer to decide.
‘Pipeline’ runs through 4/3 at Seattle Public Theater in Seattle (Green Lake). Tickets are $5-$50 (sliding scale available to all), here.
Teenage Dick @ Seattle Rep
How I’ve missed a Malika Oyetimein play. The Philadelphia-based director has a way of highlighting emotional depths in any script, and was incredibly prolific on Seattle stages while earning her MFA at the UW. She stopped back through Seattle in order to direct this provocatively titled work at the Rep.
What plays out is a tragedy that’s occasionally comedic (thanks largely to Erika Vetter as an overzealous teacher and Meme García as an over-awkward, desperate teenager). But mostly it’s an exploration of systems, assumptions, and self-interest as they conspire to goad humans into gutting one another. The story is based on Shakespeare’s Richard III, and finds Richard (played by MacGregor Arney), a teenager with cerebral palsy who’s nicknamed “Dick” by a bully (Michael Monicotti), trying to earn status by making a run at senior class president through a series of cunning allegiances, lies, and power-grabs.
Particularly keen in this production, I think, is the exploration of how high school pressures grind down teenage girls. It’s shown most notably with love interest Anne Margaret (Rheanna Atendido), but all of the female characters are volleyed about at will by the boys: the teacher by Richard’s cunning, Anne Margaret and Buck (Richard’s sometimes-friend, played by Meredith Aleigha Wells) by both boys, and Clarissa (García) by just about everyone. Very little in this tale of a power struggle is fair, but it’s the girls and women who bear the brunt of it.
‘Teenage Dick’ runs through 4/3 at Seattle Rep at the Seattle Center (Mercer St. side). Tickets are $47-$79, here. Streaming access available at a later date. Sensory-friendly performance on 4/2. Seattle Rep is now offering a limited number of PWYC tickets for all performances; see policies and info here.
For shows by date, see the Performance Calendar.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.