Short Foray Away: Orrapin Restaurant and a Premiere – The Seattle Shakespeare Company’s: Titus Andronicus

Some predictably good Thai soup for dinner…

and then…a surprisingly great Shakespearean show!

I seldom set out on a short foray with apprehension. This time I most definitely did. To help relieve the anxiety we decided to have a quick dinner at our favorite little Thai spot The Orrapin on the top of Queen Anne Hill before we headed to lower Queen Anne’s The Seattle Center Theater and The Seattle Shakespeare Company’s premiere of Titus Andronicus. I was pretty sure about the soup…this Shakespeare play? Well, this could be a challenging one from what I was reading.

First: the soup…then the Shakespeare!

Let me just say: there is never reason for anxiety when going to the Orrapin. We have gone there for years and love it. It is a particularly safe haven on dark, drizzly, dreary days of which January and February provide plenty around here. There have been a few spotty meals in the 10 years we have been going there but the Orrapin with its simple, elegant décor, bright golden yellow walls with carved wooden pieces as artistic accents and soft candlelight is a good bet! The Tom Kha Gai soup has never disappointed to transport my taste buds to an exotic place of flavors that relax and restore.

This steaming hot lime, coconut milk and lemon grass soup comforts and calms. Many folks judge a Thai restaurant by their version of this soup. This version is a classic one! It is rich, creamy, tart yet sweet with a unique and pleasing lime flavor. I always get mine with a bowl of brown rice which I spoon into my personal sized bowl, ladling the steamy soup on top with its chicken, cilantro, shiitake mushrooms and delicious broth from the terrine style bowl. One dinner portion is enough to feed up to 4 with 2 or 3 other entrees or…just me. I love the stuff so much! It is something I have come to crave in the dead of winter or on a frazzled day. Be sure to look for and remove the limey galangal root slices, lime leaves and lemon grass stalks…these are meant to flavor only.

The service is usually efficient and friendly. This night we had to be in and out in 45 minutes. They handled that request with grace and aplomb. We also had an entrée order of oyster beef, slightly sweet with tender beef and perfectly cooked broccoli to spoon over white rice. The rice is always perfectly cooked! Jon almost always orders the house Malbec but a pot of green tea sufficed on this particular cold and wet night.

We spent $30 dollars and had take-home boxes. The lunches are a particularly good deal around $10 with their cup of so-flavorful cabbage soup, fresh salads and peanut sauce salad dressing, rice and a generous amount of whatever you like. They are well known for their Pad Thai. We love the pineapple rice with shrimp and cashew chicken with extra cashews. The fresh spring rolls (ok…we like the fried, too, with its spicy sweet sauce) make a great little appetizer. We do not like spicy food but you have your choice of 1-5 stars or spice on the side.

This business has been family owned and in operation over 25 years. They have had other restaurants: some successful, some not so much. We have noticed periods in the last two years where the food and staff were not up to the usual great standard we had come to expect. But daughter Jan is back in town and consistency is back on the menu! We are very happy! I recommend Orrapin’s soup and menu. If you cannot get to the Orrapin (you should!) and you want to DYI this simple soup here ya go! It will make winter go better for you!

Now on to the theater…Titus Andronicus!

The first comment we heard as we sat down was: “The rumor is they have a hard time getting all the blood off the stage at intermission.” Raised eyebrows, more anxiety and “what are we in for?”

As we settled in our lumpy, uncomfortable seats left over from the World’s Fair (they will be gone after this run…new seats for the theater are on the way!) a screen on stage was showing clips of absurd horror movies: an ax murderess, a weird revengeful witch and a war lord eating steamy bites of human heart recently ripped from the chest of an unwilling organ donor. The caution crime scene tape blocking the audience from the stage also set the scene. More anxiety! More shifting in our seats!

Titus Andronicus (this is more than you will ever want to read about it…) is Shakespeare’s first tragedy, written when he was a young playwright in the late1500s. “Revenge” plays ruled the Elizabethan theater scene. Depictions of terrible things revenged by private citizens and justified by an “eye for an eye” philosophy were lauded. This play became popular. It is a pretty good example of Shakespeare giving the people what they wanted at the time.

We have cultural equivalents today – the popular-beyond-belief horror films like Carrie and Texas Chain Saw Massacre and recent TV shows like Twin Peaks and The Blacklist. The more bloody murder the better. Rape and racism, dominatrix sex…the more varieties of human cruelty to watch our hand-over-face, eyes-wide-peering-through-open-fingers…well, that is even better. More blood…lots more blood…more incomprehensible infliction of pain, torture and terrorism…that is simply the best! The glorious frenzy of the crowds when the lions are being fed those tasty humans…the swell of the cheers as they rip open and claw and chew to death in living color! Bloody red. Those were the days!

These are the days!

That is what this production is all about…that phenomenon. These plays fell out of favor with the Victorians. This is no Victorian age and ironically enough this is a play for our times with our violent pay per view sports, horrors of every kind in the news and our reality shows…and then there is ISIS. Pleasure and pain so psychotically intertwined.

Through clever and witty direction, David Quicksall manages to stage this difficult production to great effect. Modern day language creeps in melding those times with these. Set in various eras with great costumes by Jocelyn Fowler ranging from Star War-like Darth Vader masks, camouflage army uniforms, present day Goth gear (a clear and literal double entendre) to Nehru jackets and representations of Roman robes enhance the universality of our attraction to horror that is meant to shock and entertain, to be horribly horrible and at times the darkest of black comedy. Tamora’s titillating attire well done. Sound and music by Nate Wade added interest and intrigue culminating in the creepiest version of the children’s song The Teddy Bear’s Picnic you ever did not want to hear!

Carol Wolfe Clay’s sets are simple and very effective. The seamless moving of props and furniture, on and off stage exits and entrances are used to great effect. One of the first scenes with the delivery of the frightened Goth prisoners emerging from a wagon, including the revelation of the spectacular black Moor prisoner Arron amongst them was very effective. Staging is very well done and the blocking and choreography of many of the scenes excellent. The blood flies, flows and spatters effectively all through the play. Just right for the genre under the direction of blood artist Julia Griffin.

Demetrius (Ian Bond) and Chiron (Christopher Morson), totally engrossed in their video gaming as the action goes on around them. Photo by John Helm. Courtesy of Seattle Shakespeare Company.

For me, the production faltered a little because of the convoluted story and constant killing. The acting was a bit of a problem. Hopefully it will improve during the run. The evil brothers Demetrius and Chiron portrayed by Ian Bond and Christopher Morson were exceptional. They are simply great. Their fight scenes, weapons wielding, lecherous behaviors and acting bits were horrifying and personified evil, believably so! Titus Andronicus, played by Andrew McGinn, was uneven with the character getting somewhat better by the second act when he turned from traditional Shakespeare to crazed campiness – much needed when you serve a mother her sons’ remains baked into a pie for dinner!

Saturninus, played by George Mount, was quirky and foolish enough but maybe a bit too clichéd. The Moor, Arron, played by Foday Kamara was the most Shakespearean of the cast members…but his accent sometimes got in the way of me understanding his lines. Levinia, played by Angelica Duncan, was a bloody mess, spitting and drooling blood far longer than humanly possible. But, her acting and character serve as the greatest vehicle for pulling off the horror and shreds of humanity of this historical play type. Rachel Glass as Tamora/Revenge was simply inconsistent this night. This is the character with the most potential for horror and horrible humor in the cast. Trevor Young Marston is steady as Lucius.

The mopping of fake blood during the intermission served as a powerful metaphor for genocide and how easily the proliferation of fake blood all around us desensitizes us to the spilling of real blood in the world today.

The Final Word: The soup and the Shakespeare…go!

The Orrapin is a no brainer…go sometime for lunch or dinner! We’ll see you there!

Titus Andronicus in this rare, timely and well-mounted production is worth seeing: tickets January 12 – February 7th. ($31-45) The directing, sets and costumes are well done. The theme is particularly relevant and the “revenge” genre interesting. The play presents to the viewer several pithy points to ponder about violence and culture. It is a play rarely done and it fits our times. The scene where Revenge, Rape and Murder appear, and touches like the Fed Ex delivery man, the video gaming scene and the use of selfie pictures make this play entertaining and disturbing in a thoughtful way. The ambiguous ending by the director leaves us to wonder the direction of humankind in our times…redemption…or no?

Kudos to the Seattle Shakespeare Company for the vast research and educational writing they did on the website, in the program and throughout the theater to get the theater goer ready for this unusual play.

Parking is convenient at the Mercer Street Garage for $15. The short walk brings you by the International Fountain which is lit and fun to see. You walk in the shadow of the Space Needle bathed in Seahawks colors, at least until tomorrow.

Let me know your thoughts!

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