Seattle Shakespeare Company – A Dynamic Greek Tragedy…Medea

Seattle Shakespeare Company continues its rich tradition of presenting excellent classic theater that challenges, educates, and enlightens by presenting interesting juxtapositions from other eras to ours. This time: Medea – a very well-done interpretation of the very dark Greek tragedy written by Euripides in 431BC. Billed as “a white hot tragedy of love that burns into rage” it is a historic theater classic – one you are not likely to run into very often. And, one you should experience. This is why, in my opinion, the Seattle Shakespeare Company is such an important player in the Seattle theater scene with its show selections and excellent productions!

This production is sleekly directed by Kelly Kitchens, “professional director, actor, adaptor and teaching artist…named best Director by the 2015 Seattle Weekly and listed in Seattle Magazines first listing of “Seattle’s 20 Most Talented”. Kitchens uses the Samuel French’s McLeish and Raphael translation which Vanity Fair’s Charles Ishwood says is: “…elegance and concision…properly classical; and, yet the rhythms and vocabulary are our own, not the rarefied versions that can keep us at a distance in many productions of ancient plays.”

I agree. It matches up so well with the modern, simple, stunning set by Andrea Bryn Bush as do most of the many twists and touches of today that Kitchen’s adds to help firmly set this production in contemporary and political times.

The Seattle-based Shenandoah Davis’s new and debut composition for the chorus (a feature of ancient theater – here uniquely written by Euripides) is wonderfully intricate, rich and mesmerizing. The chorus member’s voices are excellent! According to Kitchen’s “they are not solely the voice of reason nor a counter to the turmoil…Not exclusively devoted followers…”

The raw, gut-wrenching, rage of Alexandra Tavares as Medea is magnificently done as she plays – first the victim – the understandably spurned and angry everywoman who slides into a monster of madness (or, maybe not…) by the end.

Alexandra Tavares as Medea with the chorus. Photo: John Ullman.

Greek Tragedy is a phenomena of its own. A classic  form of play that is very different than anything we see as relevant and redemptive theater. Perhaps, television comes closest to the dark theme presented here with Breaking Bad, Weeds and House of Cards – deep psychological dramas and characters so disturbing flawed that weirdly we cannot turn away as we watch them destroy in reverse: evil over good.

Before its time, Euripidean drama used realistic portrayals of his characters’ psychological dynamics. An insecure character, often tragically troubled and flawed by internal conflict. Unlike any other authors of his time, he uses female protagonists in his plays, such as Medea, and feministic themes to portray the patriarchal society, a woman’s tormented sensitivity and irrational impulses that collide. Raising the questions of how to get justice in an unjust world. It all leaves the audience like deer staring into headlights unable to move, look away or even clap very long or loudly at the end.

To understand this play and its importance may take some googling – better done before you go. And, as usual, this theater does an excellent job of educating its audience with written pieces on its work in the program. They get you started here, and offer free programs before and after the play. Read up on classic Greek tragedy and learn about this play and Euripides.

This show runs through November 13th. Tickets.
Seattle Center Playhouse and parking info. 90 minutes with no intermission.

Bonus: Family Friendly Shakespeare Saturdays and Sensory Friendly Shakespeare Productions more neat offerings form this theater.

And, Mark Your Calendar:

My friend Helen Haladyna will have a piece in an interesting upcoming art show:
Read Between the Lines: A Collaboration Between the Northwest Collage Society and Cancer Lifeline’s Writers’ Group, www.cancerlifeline.org – 6522 Fremont Avenue North Seattle, WA 98103. Members of the Northwest Collage Society present their work in response to poetry written by participants in Cancer Lifeline writing groups. Join us for a viewing of this unique show.
Opening reception is the evening of October 27, 6-8pm. October 27 – December 20, 2016

Getting into the mood for the holidays: The Messiah, 7:30, Friday, November 18, 2017. Blessed Sacrament Parish, 5050 8th Ave NE – Blessed Sacrament School. Listen.
Tickets.

Some Things Stunning – 5th Avenue’s Opening – Man of La Mancha!

 

man-of-lamanchaThe 5th Avenue Theater has mounted an opening season show with stunning production values and some vivid relevant political messaging in this new take of the old classic: Man of La Mancha. You should see it!

The sets, lighting, costuming, singing and choreography are inventive and mesmerizing. Allison Narver an outstandingly capable and very creative director has dropped the play into modern times with good effects. Sad that the Spanish Inquisition, its original era, has a haunting resemblance to modern political times; but, this play in the hands of Narver takes the irony written into the show by Dale Wasserman (who took that inspiration from Cervantes’ Don Quixote) to new and other levels. “The musical was a deeply political, piece upon its first inception. I want to honor that spirit. This feels especially urgent right now as our world reels from ethnic, religious and political, turmoil,” says Narver.

This fairly well-known tale of the idealistic knight errant “tilting at windmills” who always sees good in everyone and holds them to a higher standard has some particular messages for our current political presidential processes and world political conditions which could use a big dose of some of Don Quixote’s code of chivalry. The plays prison setting and mock courtroom have their own metaphors – historical and present.

Mark Baumgarten of The Weekly in his interview after watching rehearsal points out: “the cross-racial casting…is just one update Narver is bringing to the story…” Rufus Bonds, Jr and Nova Y. Payton, both accomplished actors and singers, play the lead male and female roles. Their being black accomplishes Narver’s goal as does the casting of excellent actor Hispanic Don Darryl Rivera as the so funny, so loyal and so kind sidekick Sancho. As does the racial diversity of the entire ensemble casting.

Rufus Bonds, Jr. – Don Quixote, Company of Man of La Mancha. Photo by Mark Kitaoka.

The voices are strong, especially Payton, the harmonies so well done by leads and the ensemble. Bonds, Jr., a late addition to the cast, has an unusual interpretation of the famous role of Quixote and some acting glitches. His “Impossible Dream”, which he certainly made his own, should smooth out with time to be something special.

The powerful and beautiful ending finale by the entire cast of “Impossible Dream” gave me goosebumps and a glimmer of hope – I think enough to get me through the next 30 days to the elections and even maybe beyond! Cynthia Kortman Westphal gets lots of credit for her musical direction of this production – original music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion. Kudos to: Matthew Smucker for the stark, simple yet intricate set, Harmony Arnold’s great costumes, L.B. Morse amazing lighting and interesting choreography by Maria Torres. The show is bone chillingly realistic, has a ghostly character The Knight of the Mirrors and is so oddly hauntingly beautiful in so many ways…again, apropos to the season!

Tableaus, projections and shadows on the wall are carefully crafted and cleverly creative. I so loved the idea of the windmill being an exhaust fan that takes on the projected image of the familiar solar windmills of our age. There are tons of visual treats and surprises, great cast voices doing good music like “Little Bird, Little Bird” and great music like “The Impossible Dream”* to keep you entertained for this ‘play within a play’, a two hour, and no intermission show. You won’t miss the intermission!

The idea of chivalry, the importance of a quest and the reminder to “dream the impossible dream – to fight the unbeatable foe” comes at a time when those sentiment are most welcomed by me living in today’s world. This meaningful production is a visual and visceral delight. Get tickets! This runs until October 30th.

The season at The 5th Avenue will continue with some good offerings for 2016-2017. And, they have a great new lobby rug, new upstairs bathrooms and a new sound system from their Next Stage fundraising!

*Bonus: I had a ton of fun looking at this version done by Richard Kiley the first Don Quixote on Broadway and winner of a Tony in 1968 as well as Andy Williams, Elvis, The Smother Brothers on Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra, Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors)! I have provided the links for you in case you have some free time and are kept in by a winter’s storm as I am today!