The Thrust: Someone’s Pulling Our Leg With These Shows
Three comedies hit the right notes. The original musical And So That Happened … and the farce The Nerd close this weekend; the lightly risque Skin Flick runs through the following week.
And So That Happened … (The 5th Avenue Theatre) @ ACT
Closes This Weekend
It started with a crazy idea: announce a show as a part of our mainstage season that had not yet been written by writers who had not yet been selected about moving on from a cataclysmic event that was not yet over.
As the program note explains, this isn’t a typical show. And So That Happened … is a new composite musical by several Seattle-based writers and composers. The show isn’t all comedy. But it looks at that shitshow we all just witnessed called “2020” and approaches it with so much wit, I found myself laughing far more than I was groaning.
Here I thought I wasn’t ready for pandemic theatre. This show picks up that feeling and runs with it.
And So That Happened … is comprised of three different storylines, each written by a different writer-composer team, and pulled together into a single musical by director Desdemona Chiang. The idea is to look at collective experiences of isolation as sort of shared processing of grief. Of the stories, Chaing explains, “There’s this idea that they’re somehow connected, but they never directly touch each other. … I know a lot of folks will be like ‘COVID fatigue, I’m done talking about COVID.’ But I don’t think a lot of us has had the time to really figure out what we did go through.”
The project is ambitious enough, and strewn about enough, that it could be a disaster. But the writing team involved was enough to give me some faith. That faith is well-placed.
Each of the writers worked from their stylistic strengths and with narratives that were close and meaningful to them; each was some level of autobiographical, whether in fact or in theme. And, importantly, the production didn’t try to intertwine them with some convoluted structure, beyond the fact that they were all existing under a shared sky in a shared period of time but with much different experiences.
Jasmine Joshua, whose well of talents seems rather endless, wrote, composed, and performed their own pieces. Joshua’s piece includes experiences of a just-getting-underway business owner, non-binary person, parent to two kids, plus the shared experience of trying to navigate a new world. In one memorable bit, they come home from the grocery store in a hazmat suit and handmade tie-dye facemask, then proceed to sanitize the grocery items one by one, before puzzling over whether it makes sense to spray down an identical bottle of disinfectant.
Maggie Lee’s story works from her quirky humor and observational wit, and builds from the pandemic truth of her and her now-husband deciding to get married during a time that no one could demand a big get-together production of a wedding. Lee doesn’t perform in it; but her characters (played by Narea Kang and Nick Watson) are stuck at home constantly and have to figure out if all that forced together-time will split them up or solidify their bond. Their interactions with the world occur primarily from home, as Kang joins in the chorus of “joyful noise” each night, banging a cowbell out the window to celebrate hospital staff. Days or weeks later, as the “joyful noise” gets more sparse, jeers to shut the hell up from neighbors mark a return to Capitol Hill’s normalcy.
Dedra D. Woods’ character is more serious, less humorous, still sharp and witty. She’s dealing with the sudden grief of a lost elder, not from COVID, but prevented by COVID rules from gathering in remembrance. Meanwhile, the nation gathers in supposed recognition that her life Matters(™), while she looks out on the fact that Black women are unprotected, undervalued, and all the other “uns.” One of the most poignant aspects of Woods’ work is its juxtaposition of connectivity and loneliness. She’s a popular podcast host with an emphasis on looking challenge in the face and knowing your worth, but her spirit is withering under the grief in isolation. It’s a potent reminder that there’s much more beneath our facades.
While the stories aren’t connected, they do tell a connected story in their differences. As Joshua’s character deals with endless laundry and chaos of their four-person household, they think how nice it would be to share a pod with just their partner. Lee’s couple, meanwhile, might take each other’s heads off being stuck together in a constantly shared space. And Woods’ strong Black woman could use some family time to ease the intense loneliness of loss.
And So That Happened … doesn’t aim to tell every person’s story. But in reminding us of a unique era and opening some doors of individual experience, it’s a reminder of the collective fear and incredulity we all went through. It also lends a healthy dose of humor to a fearful time we’re never likely to look back on with nostalgia.
Music and lyrics by Lauren Freman, Jasmine Joshua, Aaron M. Davis Norman, Porscha Shaw, and Dedra D. Woods.
‘And So That Happened …’ (produced by The 5th Avenue Theatre) runs through 6/19 at ACT Theatre in Downtown Seattle. Tickets $44-$90 here. Financial accessibility note: In the promo code box on the ticketing page, if you plug in the one-word name of a popular ’90s TV show that appears to have been a ripoff of Living Single, you get a nice discount.
The Nerd @ Taproot Theatre
You know I put up with a lot — but I will not put up with a liar!
Everyone knows something is amiss, but no one can quite put a finger on it. In The Nerd, hopelessly boring and risk-averse architect Willum Cubbert, injured years ago in the Vietnam War, has always promised to leave his door wide open to the man who saved his life. Out of nowhere, that man decides to take him up on his offer of a visit — that goes on and on and on and on.
Friends and clients gather to meet the hero. Things don’t go as planned. Farce ensues.
Conner Neddersen, who plays Cubbert, is a reliably sturdy star. The always-funny Kate Jaeger gets few lines, but is amusing (and virtually unrecognizable) in a Mrs. Doubtfire-like getup; she steals away every so often to smash some saucers she’s brought along in her purse or borrows off the hosts, no doubt from the stress of living with someone like Cubbert’s client, Warnock Waldgrave (David Quicksall). Valerie Ryan Miller is a ready ally for Mrs. Waldgrave, and she, Darius Sakui, and Quicksall form a solid supporting cast of friends and enemies. But the real heavyweight of this one is the absolutely insufferable war hero Rick Steadman, played by Matthew Posner. He’s amazing. He’s terrible. He’s the one this whole madhouse runs on.
The living room play by much-produced playwright Larry Shue had a run on Broadway in the late ’80s. That seems like an odd place for it. But co-directors Karen Lund and Marianne Savell make great use of Taproot’s awkwardly shaped stage for this farcical setup. The design team (including Mark Lund on scenic and sound design, and Pete Rush on costumes) clearly had fun with this one. And dramaturg Kelly Rogers Flynt got to dig into fun and games, penning a note on parlor games that helps explain how the games on stage aren’t quite as random as they appear. (They’re still pretty weird though. Almost makes me glad we can now waste our brain cells on flashing electronic things all night, if these were the alternatives.)
A better option than either of those in-home entertainment choices is to go check out this show, live and in-person, and to laugh at this cast playing their weird games instead. It’s hard to do a farce in controlled chaos — that is, without it just looking like a hott mess. The Nerd is a hott mess in exactly the right sort of way.
‘The Nerd’ runs through 6/18 at Taproot Theatre in Greenwood (north Seattle). Tickets $25-$53 here.
Skin Flick @ The Phoenix Theatre
An assortment of people, some of them prudes, have no income, so they decide to capitalize on the sky-high margins of the porn industry after “accidentally” picking up a back-room film at the video store. What could go wrong?
It actually progresses pretty smoothly, which means there’s not much of a dramatic (ahem) climax in this Flick. But the characters are kind of entertaining, and the actors in The Phoenix Theatre’s production make them even more so.
Ian Wight and Amanda Petrowski work well together, both when they’re polar opposites (him, an exceptionally shy and inexperieced nerdy type; her, much more comfortable in her skin) and when they get some chemistry. Jag, who apparently eschews last names, played a folksy sort of narrator, which was a fun contrast to the plot. And Mary Leedy pulled off the kind of resigned disgust that Tina Fey’s characters often carry. James Lynch works well as the lascivious but generally clueless cameraman.
As a light comedy for grownups, Skin Flick is a fun one. Not particularly raunchy, but just racy enough to keep things interesting.
‘Skin Flick’ runs through 6/26 at The Phoenix Theatre in Edmonds. Tickets $28 here.
For shows by date, see the Performance Calendar.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.