When I went to Theater Schmeater on Thursday, I realized that I had not seen a show there for many years. When it first opened in 1992, it was easily the best fringe theater, quite possibly the best theater in town. While all the other Fringe theaters were relying on shouting, violence and nudity, Schmeater took creative yet coherent risks and produced some stunning shows. My companion on Thursday said “I think it is fine for what it was, the problem is what it is”.
“Reservoir Dolls”, by Erika Anne Sorenson, is a stage adaptation of the Quentin Tarantino movie “Reservoir Dogs” about a robbery gone wrong. This stage adaptation uses females as the criminals. This is an interesting idea; however there were a few problems with casting females. The subject matter did not seem appropriate because men generally commit violent crimes; women choose other types of crimes or attach themselves to powerful criminal men, so instead of being realistic it just struck a false note. They were working in a small space, and the fight scenes were staged too close to the audience, so the audience saw all the stage combat tricks. There was a lot of shouting, indeed almost every line was shouted, and female registers are higher, so it ended up being screechy. It had very little comic relief, and when you have that level of violence, comic relief is necessary.
The play opened very strongly, when Jo Cabot,( played by Karen Jo Fairbrook) the established head of a professional gang operation, a tough broad in the style of 40’s Hollywood movies, welcomes Ms. Blonde (played by Lisa Viertel) an even tougher broad, who had just been released from doing time and taking the rap for Jo. The exposition is quick, direct and involves the audience in the conflict immediately. Ms. Blonde, out on parole, wants to get back to “work” immediately and we suspect her motives are not driven by the Protestant work ethic. Lisa Viertel’s portrayal of a tough broad was superb, she delivered her lines with enough breath support to allow her voice to express something other than anger and violence. Her husky voice was right on the money and there was thought, creativity, mystery, suspense and much-needed humor in her performance.
After the first scene, the play floundered through tedious repetitive dialogue, with an over abundance of four-letter words. The scenes did little to advance the plot, or develop the characters. Some of the character of Miss Orange, the disguised undercover cop ( played by Lori Lee Haener) came through with a monologue delivered with excellent comic timing and animation. The emphasis on violence, anger and fighting within the gang, left little time to develop the one interesting relationship in the play, which was the relationship between Miss White, who desperately tries to save the life of the undercover cop, and the internal struggle of whether to risk jail, and her boss’ wrath, in order to get the wounded Miss Orange to the hospital, after the robbery failed. Miss White’s performance, (played by Christine White) was a casualty of all that shouting, she was loosing her voice.
The dialogue, like the costumes, did not clarify anything about the so-called professional criminals. Although the author made some token gestures towards lumpen-proletariat dialect it was nevertheless written in standard English, the frequent repetition of four letter words suggests that the people were not very educated or articulate, but the actors were much too at ease with relatively sophisticated vocabulary, and complicated sentence structure. The gang leader, Jo and her daughter spoke in unconvincing inconsistent East Coast accents, but the rest of the cast spoke standard English with good diction, except for Miss Blond who occasionally slipped into gangstaese, intentially, with great comic effect. Except for Viertel and Haener, the dialogue, delivered with machine-gun rapidity expressed anger and violence but little else.
The identities of the criminal gang were unknown to the other members, so that the uniform costumes, early 60‚Äôs black pencil ties with white shirts, suggested that they were waitresses, but the outfits would have stuck out in a crowd and made them easily identifiable. Not something I would suspect from seasoned professionals led by an influential boss. The garage-like space, was perfect for a criminal caper and worked well.
For those who liked the movie “Reservoir Dogs” you may well like this play, the house was full, I did not notice anybody walking out, but I wonder what happened to the Theater Schmeater of the 90’s. And to the humor and impeccably linguistically agile dialogue, so prevalent in the only Tarantino movie I have ever seen: “Inglorious Basterds”.
“Reservoir Dolls”, by Erika Anne Sorenson, directed by J.D. Lloyd Theater Schmeater, 1500 Summit ( Corner of Summit and E. Pine) Capitol Hill, Seattle. Thur. Fri, Sat at 8 pm, Closes June 18th. Tickets range from $15 to $22.