Gidget Meet Sybill

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Title: Psycho Beach Party

Rating: 4 Stars

This was held at the Eclectic Theater. It’s a nondescript little theater lacking a marquee. It wasn’t obvious where it was until I walked in front of it. It’s a small theater, probably seating less than a hundred.

It was a wonderful play. You need go into it aware that you won’t be receiving deep existential knowledge of the human condition. If you want to see a high-camp, screw-ball comedy, this is the perfect vehicle.

Chicklet is a surfer girl wanna-be. She’s young, on the cusp of growing up. She’s interested in boys but does not really know what to do with them. She wants to surf but the surfer dudes have no interest in teaching a girl how to surf. She most enjoys hanging out with her gawky best friend to discuss literature and philosophy.

However, all is not well at home for Chicklet. Her mom is a devotee of the Joan Crawford school of maternity, complete with coat hanger. That, along with some childhood repressed memories, has made Chicklet manifest many personalities, including a sultry one that has sexually enslaved the head surfer dude.

Throw in a movie star, sick of making cinematic schlock, on the run.

Throw in a couple of surfer dudes gradually coming to the realization of their love for each other.

Throw in a seemingly dopey surfer dude who wants to escape the drudgery of studying to be a psychiatrist so that he can ride the waves but ends up saving the day by helping Chicklet.

Throw in a sex-obsessed surfer girl trying to land herself a surfer dude.

Throw in the fact that this is a LGBTQ theater, so there are several roles performed in drag.

Mix that all together and you have a madcap frenzy of chaos. Some jokes work. Some don’t. There’s occasional lags in the action. There’s a false ending (seemingly inadvertent).

However, all in all, there were more than enough laughs and silliness to make this a very entertaining night.

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Your Toaster is Plotting Against You

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Title: The Things are Against Us

Rating: 3 Stars

Resistentialism is a theory that inanimate objects can manifest spiteful behavior. One of the characters actually refers to this theory in a study where toast with jam is more like to land jam side down if the carpet is more expensive. The slogan of this theory is “The things are against us”. That might provide a clue to what’s going on in here.

It is just a clue, because otherwise, it’s pretty much a mind fuck.

If you unpeel enough of the layers, there are two sisters who have inherited a house. One is sexually repressed while the other has just been dumped by the love of her life, so they’re both not in a wonderfully happy place.

They communicate exclusively via email and letters (think Les Liaisons Dangereuses). Things start heading seriously South on them when the e-mail starts getting bounced and the letters are returned to sender (possibly more resistentialism?). This causes them to worry about each other and drives the play to its climax.

That’s the basic plot.

Oh yeah, horrible things have happened at the house and it’s probably haunted.

Oh yeah, the house has a fairly substantial talking role, engaging in sophisticated conversations with one of the sisters and occasionally lapsing in German.

Oh yeah, there’s also a Lebanese character who feels compelled to wear his evil grandfather’s clothes and is now living in New York and has just made friends with one of the sisters.

Oh yeah, the poet Federico Garcia Lorca is in the play. Yes, the poet that died in 1936. Did I mention that the play takes place in the current day?  Maybe Lorca had an affair with the grandfather of the Lebanese character?

So, yeah, a mind fuck.

It was tough sledding. I was entertained, although I’m still not sure what I just watched.

Shakespeare is a Drag

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Title: ShakesQueer

Rating: 5 Stars

The central branch of the Seattle Public Library is currently showing a surviving copy of a Shakespeare First Folio. As an adjunct to the exhibition, they are putting on other Shakespearean related events.

One is called ShakesQueer. It’s advertised as an interpretation of Shakespeare by major figures in the Seattle drag scene. This clearly is something that I had to see.

This wasn’t just a completely random event by the gay community to hitch a ride on a larger cultural event. After all, it was illegal for women to appear on stage during Elizabethan times. All of Shakespeare’s female characters were necessarily played by young boys dressed in drag. Beyond that (or maybe because of that) several Shakespearean plays have gender identity confusion as major plot points (eg Two Gentlemen of Verona, Twelfth Night, As You Like It). It’s not much of a stretch that a drag perspective of his work could have important things to say.

However, hilariously enough, despite this theoretically rich terrain to explore, this was not really done. This was used as an excuse for drag performers to do their act, with the merest of references back to Shakespeare. Having said that, the performances were really quite good and entertaining.

The major plays referenced:

Twelfth Night: The performer acted out the major plot of the play, while boisterously dancing around. She lip synced spoken dialog that was coming out of a recording. Several performers did this. I don’t know if this is a usual feature of drag performance or was special to this event.

Macbeth: The performance was a homage to the three witches. This was amusing because the recording had started and was playing for a while before the performer came out. Everyone was looking around like they were expecting her to come down from the ceiling or something. It was a seductive, mysterious dance.

Winter’s Tale: This was a take on the famous stage direction, “Exit, pursued by a bear”. The assistant, in several guises (eg Smokey the Bear) would chase the performer around the stage. It was hilarious.

Tempest: This was a homage to Caliban. This was a pretty disturbing performer.  She was in fright makeup and barely had any clothing on, and what clothing was very loose fitting (things were bouncing around always on the verge of escaping). It was a an eerie performance where she spent most of the time on her hands and knees crawling around, thrusting her tongue in and out.

Hamlet: The performer (in male drag) started off by reading the Alas, Poor Yorick speech. He abruptly stopped and began to do a striptease. Again, he was dressed in male clothing. He seductively took off his shirt, his pants, his briefs, and ended up wearing nothing but a jock and two flesh colored pasties. Doing a striptease as a man in a drag show was clearly an interesting, political statement.

The most extreme performance did not have any clear Shakespearean connection (at least to me). She was dressed from head to toe in a white body suit representing something like a shroud. She started the scene off by vomiting blood (plastic sheets had to be laid before she started). A man entered the scene and she embraced him lovingly and then bloodily killed him. This was obviously some revenge scenario. All in all, it was pretty horrifying. There were people in the audience that had shocked expressions. There were about five children (maybe 8 – 13) that, from their looks, might have interesting dreams tonight.

I didn’t not know what to expect, but I did not expect what I saw. The fact that both I was surprised and I was greatly entertained meant that it was an awesome night indeed.

 

Looking for the Next Kermit

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Title: Fussy Cloud Puppet Slam Volume 11

Rating: 3 Stars

Well, this was a thing that I didn’t know existed. Apparently, people in the puppet business get together now and again and try out new material. This is performed in a puppet slam.

It’s staged at Theatre Off Jackson, a tiny little playhouse in the International District (aka Chinatown, aka Japantown). The theater is advertised as:

Intimate performance space for small-production plays, music, film, readings & special events.

Yes, I’d say so. There were eight different puppet acts. They were all decidedly small scale. Some looked like their budget was probably South of $100.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect. First of all, I was thinking that maybe it’d be me and relatives of the performers, but no, I’d guess that maybe two hundred people were there. Some were obviously regulars who knew what to expect. The vibe of the audience was almost like a school play. Everyone was positive and encouraging.

Of the acts, my favorite was St James Infirmary. There was a guitarist, a saxophonists, and a bartender that was also the singer and the puppeteer (Hearts + Brains). They played the bluesy song St James Infirmary. It was well played, and as the bartender sang, she was the puppeteer for a puppet that was mournfully drunk slouched in his chair. It was a surprisingly moving performance.

For something completely different, there was Silence of the Yams, where the performer (Charlie Cook) acted out key scenes from Silence of the Lambs using, yes, you guessed it, sweet potatoes. You really haven’t lived until you heard a woman, holding a sweet potato, in a guttural voice, shout, “Put the lotion in the basket!”.

There was a Punch and Judy show. There was an improv show using what appeared to be hand puppets that might have been taken out of their children’s closet. There was a shadow puppet act, which, much to my amusement, used an old view foil projector as the mechanism to project the shadows. To this day, the building that I work in has view foil projectors in conference rooms that have not been turned on in probably close to twenty years. It warmed my heart to see an old war horse still put to good use.

It closed with a puppet burlesque. However, the puppet turned out to be shy, so the puppeteer proceeded to do the burlesque herself, while on stilts.  Because, why not?

All in all, an amusing time was had by one and all. An unexpected and fun way to spend a Friday night.

 

Murder and Show Tunes!

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Play: Assassins

Rating: 4 Stars

I knew that I was going to have to go this show and I had no idea what my reaction would be. My first inclination would be that I wouldn’t like it. I am not a fan of musicals, especially of the Broadway variety. It just seems so bizarre to me that people can be having a conversation and then just break into some dancing show tune or some maudlin ballad. I find myself, at the beginning of such shows, counting the number of songs that are in the play and then doing a count down to see how much longer I have to endure.

On the other hand, I do like my assassinations. I have read (and enjoyed) books on the Garfield assassination (Destiny of the Republic), the McKinley assassination (The President and the Assassin), the Lincoln assassination (Manhunt), and I am much embarrassed to admit, in my younger days I read several books regarding who really JFK (here’s a hint, a guy named Lee Harvey Oswald). So, this was my subject area.

My disdain for musicals or my love of history? Who would win?

History!

I did enjoy it. Some of the songs were ridiculous and annoying, but they were also entertaining, and at times, provocative.

There were nine assassins profiled. I’m not sure what it says about me that only one was new to me (Guiseppe Zangara, who tried to assassinate president elect Franklin Roosevelt). I knew of the attempt but did not know any details of the assassin.

They got most of the assassin details right (at least as much as you can when profiling nine assassins in a 90 minute musical). There were a couple of exceptions.

They called John Wilkes Booth a pioneer. History geek wanted to jump up and shout, what about Richard Lawrence, the crazed unemployed house painter who fired two pistols at Andrew Jackson (they both misfired, after which, a badass Andrew Jackson repeatedly clubbed the would-be assassin with his cane)? As far as I know, that was the first true presidential assassination attempt.

Or how about John Flammang Schrank, who actually shot Teddy Roosevelt in the chest? Teddy, being another example of badass, continued on and gave a 90 minute speech before going to the hospital. Schrank belongs on the list more than Samuel Byck and his vague plans of hijacking a 747 and flying it into the Nixon White House.

Also, it kind of implied that Sara Jane Moore and Squeaky Fromme were somehow in cahoots and maybe even did their assassination attempt together. Granted, they both tried to assassinate Gerald Ford, but their attempt were seventeen days apart. There was no, as far as I know, connection between them.

OK, history geek will now stand down.

Charles Guiteau, Sara Jane Moore, and Samuel Byck are all portrayed as deranged. Charles Guiteau in particular is cheerfully deluded. Guiteau and Moore play off each other for comedic effect.

Czolgosz and Zangara are the political radicals. They stomp around the stage in a glowering rage.  Oppressed immigrants with no access to the American dream, their acts are purely of a political nature.

I did find it interesting that they’d run this during a presidential election year (not coincidentally). It does bring up interesting questions regarding how, in a democracy, what outlet people have who feel so out of the system that they consider themselves fundamentally disenfranchised. The assassins here are all misfits, failures in life. The assassination attempt is the only thing that kept them from completely dying in obscurity.

Tarantino Before there was Tarantino

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Title: Titus Andronicus

Rating: 3 Stars

This was put on by the Seattle Shakespeare Company.

Titus is kind of an embarrassment to most Shakespearean critics. It is clearly a play written for the masses. There is no subtlety. It is a revenge play in which the revenge is served hot, bloody, and insane.

I’ve always believed that this is the Shakespeare that should be introduced to high school students. Not the mamby-pamby prattlings of Romeo and Juliet (although a brave English teacher could titillate with interpretations of Mercutio’s lines). This play serves well the generation raised on Tarantino.

I’d seen this play once before. It was at some very low rent theater that looked like it had maybe 50 seats, which if I recollect, were of the fold-up chair variety. The centurions (the play takes place in ancient Rome) come marching in wearing spray-painted football helmets. I thought that I was about to witness a disaster, but it turned out extremely entertaining. It was a case where a creative director took the budget shortcomings and turned it into a strength.

I’d also seen the play as a movie directed by Julie Taymor and starring Anthony Hopkins. I came into it with high hopes, but alas, in my opinion they took the play too seriously and it seemed ponderous to me.

After all, let’s keep score of the death toll:

  • Titus kills one of the Goth queen’s sons in front of her
  • He kills one of his sons who disobeys him
  • The emperor’s brother is murdered by the two remaining Goth queen’s sons
  • Who in turn rapes Titus’ daughter and cuts off her arms and tongue
  • Titus chops off one of his hands to save two of his son’s lives
  • Titus then receives the heads of said son’s
  • Titus kills the two Goth queen’s sons who raped his daughter
  • He cooks them into a pie and serves them to the Goth queen
  • Titus kills his daughter to cover her shame
  • Titus kills the Goth queen
  • The emperor kills Titus
  • Titus’ son Lucius kills the emperor
  • Lucius is proclaimed the new emperor.

What the Fuckety Fuck?

You simply can’t take this kind of play seriously. As you can see, this truly is basically the plot of a Tarantino revenge movie. How has he not already made this movie?

Clearly, the Seattle Shakespeare Company has seen Tarantino movies. Tarantino was heavily influenced by the 70’s exploitation movies. Before the play starts, there is a movie screen on set which shows clips from fictional 70’s revenge movies featuring ancient myths (eg Medea). It sets the tone for the play to come.

Like Tarantino, the blood is copious. During the intermission, stage hands were hard at work cleaning off all of the blood that had been spelt. After the final scene, they probably need to bring in the equivalent of a Zamboni to vacuum it all up.

Saturnius, the Roman emperor, was properly supercilious. The previous version I’d seen had played him like Mick Jagger, which was even more amusing.

Titus basically chewed the scenes, which is kind of the point. There is no halfway to Titus, so every emotion had to be cranked up to eleven.

Tamora’s (the Goth queen) two sons were scarily effective. They gave off edgy, insane menace that actually was kind of freaky.

Lavinia, Titus’ daughter, ends up a broken, tragic figure. Her rape / mutilation scene, although not explicitly shown, was deeply disturbing and, quite frankly, upsetting. I wanted to hurry that scene over because it was so difficult to watch.

Tamora played it as a basic scheming sex pot using her hold over Saturnius to wreak her own revenge upon Titus.

Aaron the Moor is an interesting character. In many ways, he serves as the ur-Iago. Here in the play he is more one-dimensional than Iago, but like Iago, driven by jealousy and an basically corrupt nature, he is the true source of all evil that takes place during the play. As he says, he’s done one thousand foul things, his only regret is that he does not have time for ten thousand more.

I enjoyed the staging. The homage to Tarantino is, in hindsight, a somewhat obvious one to make, but still effective.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to change my mind on Titus. It used to be one of my favorites, but at the end of the day, it is pretty much completely lacking in subtlety. Having seen the Oregon Shakespeare Festival version of Hamlet, I now can see that taking the time to understand and appreciate the beauty and power of his later work is ultimately a much more rewarding experience.

This might have been my last Titus experience.