Bring Down the House, Part 1 – Go! And, a new hot spot for before-theater bites!

Inventive, stingingly ironic, and importantly thought-provoking Bring Down the House, Part 1; Throne of Treachery has some interesting things to say about power, gender and theater. You should go to see, hear and really listen!

The Seattle Shakespeare Company and upstart crow collective have partnered to give birth to a premier script and production in a mashup of the little-known 3 Shakespearian histories of Henry VI – illustrating the War of the Roses years in the power brokering bloody English king battles for claims on blood royal. This is the first of a two-play original series. upstart crow productions works at and “believes in producing classical theater with all female casts for contemporary audiences.” Seattle Shakespeare Company was all in with it. And, happily so!

Worked on for “almost three years, editing the original texts, leading readings and workshopping the production” Rosa Joshi and Kate Wisniewski (also co-founders with Betsy Schwartz of upstart crow collective) came up with this final script adaptation which, in a complete reversal of Shakespearian times, uses only women in the cast. Done hardly a week after millions of women took to the streets internationally demanding attention (once again) to women’s issues and rights, this play adds brilliantly to this activism and dialog!

The production is terrifically directed by Joshi. Her work is beautifully arresting, stark and complex. The composer and sound designer (William Satake Blauvelt and Robertson Witmer) work together to produce a work heavily punctuated with drum that is stunning and so effective in setting moods and enabling the storytelling. The black sets are simple – chairs and a table are arranged and rearranged to great effect (Shawn Ketchum Johnson).

All the purposeful touches worked – the family tree written on the floor, the brilliant theatrical visual of the confusing and dubious crown passing from heir to heir, the shadows on the screen, tableaus, scenes within scenes, swords as phallic symbols, choral choreography and cleaver blocking make this show thematically rich and visually exciting. The lighting design seemed lacking or over-done in spots. The first act moved along a little better than the second.

Betsy Schwartz as Henry VI. Photo by John Ulman.

The cast relies heavily on its ensemble work and dual role playing; and, for me, this is one of the major strengths – a metaphor for the same strengths of the female gender. Betsy Schwartz as Henry VI is very good – the seeming naivety and religious piousness gives one a lot to ponder on innocence and goodness.

The two women who played the only women roles, Kate Wisniewski as Queen Margaret and Sunam Ellis as Eleanor seemed to oddly highlight the (too often) types of roles for women in the theater (and, life) still today: bitchy, conniving, overly emotional, cat-fighting stereotypes that choose to use sex and men to obtain power and influence.

If one thinks to hard or draws to many comparisons to the original plays – something of the magic here will be lost. I would not do that. Bring Down the House Part 1 should be taken in the context of our times which are very alike to the broad themes of politics and power presented in Shakespeare’s histories of long ago – another time not so unsimilar to ours. And, as Shakespeare said and the program reminds us: “What’s past is prologue.” I believe. I look forward to Part 2! Tickets and information.

Bonus: The newly opened The Little O on Queen Anne inside the Orrapin Thai restaurant on Boston Street has excellent bites and a fun atmosphere – a great go-to before or after the theater!

The menu reads: “My mother Orrapin [Chencharu] and I look forward to hosting you and introducing you to my take on Thai street food tastings, cocktails and nightlife done in our neighborhood bar…”

Jan Jonglkoi has been busy transforming the side room of the restaurant into a wonderful space with wonderful small plate Thai food offerings and special drinks.

Jan mixing drinks in front of the great design and décor she realized for this cozy bar. Photo: Lee Zobrist

Its wooden booths and elegant decor, atmospheric lighting and cleverly decorated bar (designed to look like you are in an underground space in a foreign land) gets you in the mood completely and starts you on your journey to an enjoyable night of edible delight! And, of course, I must make mention of Jan’s college playlist, tunes of the 60’s and 70’s playing softly (I know…softly!) in the background…so we could hear the conversation at the table! We were joined by our trusty friends Jackie and Lee. Beers on tap and the menu of colorful and exotic, pretty drinks caught our attention. We enjoyed sipping and experimenting. The iced Thai coffee is rich and excellent as well.

We tasted 5 of the reasonably priced small, plates and loved them all. In order for me: jacketed panko crusted prawns w dipping sauce, Korat Noodles, (cellophane noodles with prawns slightly sweet and sour with cherry tomatoes, egg, sprouts and tofu), lightly battered Gai Tai chicken strips fried in a chili sauce, fish cakes (thought I would hate those and did not!) with its little cucumber salad (!), and perfectly done pot stickers with the traditional sweet, vinegar and ginger sauce. All beautifully plated. All delicious combinations of Thai tastes. We all enjoyed them immensely.

Fish cakes and cucumber salad, jacketed prawns with dipping sauce, menu, postickers and dipping sauce, and Korat Noodles with prawns. All delicious and well plated! Photos: Lee Zobrist

The appetizers lead us to a gnawing hunger for more (they did their trick) so my favorite soup Tom Kai Gai (more about that here) and brown rice was served. Jon requested a dinner-sized portion of the Korat Noodles (so many prawns…such a perfectly balanced sweet to sour ratio and off menu). The food arrived and then the real eating commenced and the conversation ceased! Turn up those tunes, Jan! Bliss!

All done…then, we ordered more! Photo: Lee Zobrist

Dinner, drinks, good service, 5 small plates and 2 dinners came to thirty dollars a person – we deemed it a great value!  It was the perfect pre-show experience. But, alas, we won’t just be going there on show nights! The Little O opens at 5, really happy hour priced plates all evening. Be sure to give yourself leisurely time before the curtain rises. A heads-up to the staff that you have theater tickets is a good idea as well! Kudos to Jan and crew…and, 5 stars from us and our friends for the Little O!

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