Diverse in form, these shows feature family at the heart of them.
This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing @ ArtsWest
It can be a tiring thing to circle a whole planet
If you can’t remember what you are looking for
We always talk of the “fairytale ending” but rarely think about the fairytale start. Usually, it’s something awful.
And so it is here in ArtsWest’s current production of Finegan Kruckemeyer’s This Girl Laughs …, an imaginative modern coming-of-age story, a parable of growing into adulthood.
For the family patriarch, it’s once a heartbreak when his wife dies, twice a heartbreak when his new love disintegrates, and thrice a heartbreak when he turns his young daughters loose in the woods, deciding he has nothing left to offer them. If it’s the end of his story, it’s the beginning of theirs.
The girls — Albienne, eater of cakes (“body round like a gateau and warm like a brioche”), Beatrix, lover of the sun, and Carmen, with the world on her shoulders — part ways. Albienne, the girl who laughs when the father abandons them, marches forward; Beatrix, the girl who cries, heads backward, in search of home; and Carmen, the girl who does nothing, does her best to plant roots where she’s left.
It’s a lovely combination of fantasy and relatability, with their quests familiar ones even as their world requires suspension of disbelief; a village that can travel atop a wagon, a lighthouse submarine, and some very human animals all play important roles.
ArtsWest’s production captures this adventure wonderfully well. Director Johamy Morales has a strong vision of the play’s world, weaving grown-up problems in a children’s tale with lush visual storytelling. A minimalist set (by Matthew McCarren) and actors with buy-in allow their journey to forge ahead.
As befits a family story, all five actors take on hefty roles. Mara Palma (Albienne) and Bella Orobaton (Beatrix) play the traveling sisters with enthusiastic ambition; and Lola Rei Fukushima (Carmen) is perfectly emo while their character stays put. Anjelica McMillan plays a mother (and others) with a sense of wisdom; her lighthouse woman is especially sharp. And Tyler Campbell plays the father with heart, even a broken one; and a very funny (and surly) badger.
As the sisters grow up, they finally grow into themselves when they arc back to where they started: food, sun, and self. This Girl Laughs … captures well the urge to morph with the world and the joy of finding your place in it. And their journeys leave us with drops of wisdom that feel especially timely for adults today:
A bakery has all the same things as a war zone
Except it does the opposite to one
It takes things that were once lying flat, and it makes them rise
‘This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing’ runs through 4/10 at ArtsWest in West Seattle. Tickets are $18.50-$123.50 (sliding scale available for all), here. A streaming version is available through 5/1.
God Said This @ Dukesbay Productions
Closes This Weekend
If This Girl Laughs … is about finding your ways, God Said This, by Leah Nanako Winkler, is about a family that’s far too set in theirs. Here, the battle lines have been drawn, skepticism is entrenched from old slights, and all the mother wants from her hospital bed is for her family to gather around her in peace.
Masako, mother to Hiro and Sophie and wife to James, has a way of finding acceptance and contentment in just about anything her family does. Sophie, with a newfound religious fervor, enters to a very poppy “Lord I Lift Your Name on High” in Japanese and co-opts their time with a backhanded prayer. Hiro grumbles, picks fights, and swigs from a purse-carried bottle of liquor. James, now an Alcoholics Anonymous stalwart, glazes over past wrongs and focuses on a new obsession with collecting rocks. All Masako cares about is they’re together.
The problem is, while she has the patience of a saint, all the rest of them can’t stand each other. And so, while Masako lies in a hospital bed getting painful chemo treatment that may prolong her life (or not), her family tries to bury their resentment of each other at least well enough that it’s not that obvious (or not).
They’ll try, for her, but their real thoughts come out when they’re talking to their trusted confidants: elder sister Hiro, to an old friend she’s on a bender with; the dad, to an AA meeting (which the audience seems to serve as); and Sophie, to God. If they ever trust each other enough to communicate beyond the most surface level (booze, a newfound hobby, or a pious sheen), they might connect rather than scrap with each other. It’s easier said than done.
Dukesbay’s production is a tender and relatable one that puts the humanity center stage and keeps it there. That relatability also can make it difficult to watch — particularly if this family is all too familiar.
A tiny theatre with a clear vision, Dukesbay always seems to bring the most out of a story by getting to its heart, with little adornment. Like in its prior production, Agnes of God, here Dukesbay has again taken complex characters in a well-crafted script, paired them with invested actors and minimal staging, and presented an intricate, thoughtful portrait. (Agnes also threaded religion throughout its themes; see NWT’s review here.) Leilani Berinobis, a last-minute stand-in for an actor who was ill, gave about as impressive of an on-book performance as any I’ve seen.
‘God Said This’ runs through 4/3 at Dukesbay Theater in Tacoma. Tickets are $15, here.
As You Like It @ Red Curtain Foundation for the Arts
Closes This Weekend
Few writers are as into family treachery as Shakespeare is. The popular comedic feud As You Like It is a convoluted tale I’m never particularly fond of, but the show on now at Marysville’s Red Curtain further convolutes it in a way that’s fun to watch at least.
A star of this production is the set, an abandoned shopping mall (designed by Artistic Director Scott B. Randall) that’s delightfully and creepily nostalgic; you can practically feel the algae growing on a stagnant fountain in a courtyard somewhere. The costume design (by Celeste Jackson-Moody) looks like someone wheeled the bargain bins into a tornado and grabbed whatever flew out — which sounds like an insult, but it’s actually perfect for this show. Notable among the large cast, Jonathan Olson plays a worthy villain; and McKenzie Wilson is a riotous Adam, reminiscent of a mashup of some classic MadTV characters. The on-stage band is a nice touch, as are the retro mall/bard-themed drinks (like the Orange Julius Caesar) at the upstairs bar.
As an aside: someone should really start a quick-play festival right before strike on the area’s best sets — like this one. This detailed, nostalgic, and creepy stage is the stuff great stories are made from.
Closes on Sunday, 4/3 (extended from 3/27); tickets here.
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Plot Points @ Pacific Northwest Ballet
Streaming Through Monday
It seems an oddity for Pacific Northwest Ballet, but their mixed-slate in Rep 4 is child’s play — and that’s a good thing. The four-show bill, collectively called Plot Points, is full of energy, playfulness with style and form, and dramatic set pieces. It makes it a really fun bill to watch, particularly the very dramatic, cinema-inspired Plot Point by Crystal Pite; the don’t-believe-your-eyes classic Caught by David Parsons; and the exploration of literal child’s play, the world-premiere Before I Was by Robyn Mineko Williams.
The live version is now closed, but the streaming version is available through April 4. Fortunately, PNB does an exceptional job capturing the energy and beauty of the live shows on its streaming versions. Unfortunately, Caught isn’t included on the recorded form.
While you’re at it: Watch new short films from PNB’s Dance Film Festival, available for free viewing online here.
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The Spitfire Grill @ Taproot Theatre
The musical The Spitfire Grill is a story of redemption, and a perfect one for the faith-centered Taproot to tell. That’s also why their vision for the show, directed by Scott Nolte, is so mystifying.
In a story that’s completely human-centered — told through the interactions, failings, and vulnerabilities among long-time residents and one outsider in a small town — Taproot’s production manages to strip the humanity right out of it. The characters, rather than talking to one another, march right to edge of the stage to shout or sing at the audience, and then march back to whoever they were talking to. Company numbers come across with an enthusiasm in the style of pirate drinking songs. The costumes all look shiny-new from the Sears rack; and the set, with diner chairs that appear brand new from a restaurant supply store with some tape slapped over the seat for “character,” is devoid of a sense of both place and history — much like this production feels.
Three standouts: Chip Wood (the unnamed visitor) tells a whole story through his eyes without any lines; Brian Pucheu (Caleb) hits both the feeling and a country-tinged style in “Digging Stone”; and Pam Nolte (Hannah) gets her character’s sense of weariness and gives her back to the audience.
‘The Spitfire Grill’ is by James Valco and Fred Alley, based on the film by David Zlotoff.
Runs through April 30; tickets here.
For shows by date, see the Performance Calendar.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.