Playwright Y York and director Mark Lutwak’s producing company Snowflake Avalanche opened their mainland premiere of Framed at 18th and Union on Friday. Framed was first produced in Hawaii 11 years ago. York wrote the well-received The Impossibility of Now that played in March at 12th Avenue Arts.
On one surface, Framed investigates questions about art: What is art? What is talent? What do you see in a painting? Who makes a work valuable? On another surface this show is about spoiled, foiled, and soiled relationships.
The opening lights come up on Joanie DaSilva (Susanna Burney) and Nick DaSilva (Joe Seefeldt) in their living room. Nick is preparing to go out for the evening wearing a bright orange polo shirt. Joanie, with her artist’s eye, questions him about the shirt: why that color? How did he get it? He’s going to hang out with some of the guys that work for him. She seems surprised he has plans but hadn’t told her till then. Here York, in a few deft lines of dialogue, opens themes about appearances, choices, and criticism that criss cross for the next two hours.
York introduces us next to May and Jake Carter (Maile Wong and Jeremy Steckler) as they also prepare to go out for that evening. Jake asks May to change into sexier clothes and she suspects something is up. Indeed, Jake wants to meet Nick and May is a type of bait.
Soon enough, we learn what each desires. Joanie wants her art to be respected and sold in legitimate galleries though she is more poseur than artist; May has natural talent and takes art lessons from Joanie to learn how to draw a particular face; Jake wants to work for Nick; and Nick wants to keep his wife happy, stay married, and a make money booking illegal bets.
In sound human relationships we desire ethics, truthfulness, and honesty. These characters don’t have these virtues so there’s double-crossing, lying, and deceit. What fun!
Though this is a four-character play, the full ensemble has only two or three scenes together. Most scenes have two of the characters: Joanie and Nick, Jake and Nick, or Jake and May. The simple set design by Jessica Dodge which used gray wooden stage rectangles like Legos to become a bed, a bar, or a sofa leave room for the actors to do their work. On the back of the set, nine original works by local artists were hung facing backwards. A work is turned around to face the audience to signify a particular setting. This was genius on several levels: it was simple. A painting signaled a setting with great economy. It supports local artists showing their work plus the pieces are for sale.
Susanna Burney’s Joanie had the most complicate story arc to travel. When the innocent May arrives as her only student for art lessons her integrity is tested. Burney shows us how Joanie weak integrity unravels when confronted with May’s intuitive talent for art.
Nick, in Joe Seefeldt’s competent performance, was a provider. He provided his wife Joanie with the means to pursue her interest in art. He provided Jake with two career moves. Seefeldt kept Nick on a steady keel throughout the play. Seefeldt “got” that Nick knew that keeping up appearances outranks almost everything else.
Maile Wong and Jeremy Steckler as the younger couple had several sexy scenes together which they pulled off with aplomb. One felt their innocence in the face of the challenges of ‘adulting’ and by the end we wish them good luck.
The characters felt too innocent or ignorant to me at times. A bit more sleuthing by all of them could enrich the script and make for some spirited dialogue. For instance, Jake knows Nick’s every move but until he is hired didn’t know what working for Nick required. Really? York could have let him have a guess that it had to do with numbers and shown his practicing with May for a few lines.
Someone said a picture looked Cubist in the play and the reaction was “Who’s he?” I wanted more of that. The characters could have shown curiosity and the excitement of learning and knowing. Adding more texture around the art theme by references to various styles or periods or artists would have felt closer to life.
It would not take too much, say, for Nick to have read a few articles in the art magazines Joanie gets. Maybe he could use this to comment on Joanie’s latest style: is she going for Abstract Expressionism in one painting and minimalism in another? And May could have a burst of questions for Joanie because she starts to read art books borrowed from the library.
This is an enjoyable play and left me thinking about talent, art, ambition, and desire. The 50-seat 18th and Union venue had the boxy feeling of a gallery that showed off the talents of the actors and also the artists’ works used as part of the set to good effect.
Go see this show and welcome the writer-director duo of Y York and Mark Lutwak back to working in Seattle.
Alert: No nudity but adult language used in one scene.
Cast: Susanna Burney as Joanie DaSilva, Joe Seefeldt as Nick DaSilva, Maile Wong as May Carter and Jeremy Steckler as Jake Carter.
Production Team: Set design by Jessica Dodge; costume design by Frances Kenny; lighting design by Ryan Dunn; music composed by Wayne Horvitz and performed by Zony Mash.
Original art by: Jessica Dodge, Laurel Dodge, Nancy Kiefer, Deborah Faye Lawrence, Kelly Lyles, Fiona McGuigan, Cindy Small, Juju (Juliya Brooks) and Mitchel Spry.
Funded in part by 4Culture.
Watch the trailer: Nick DaSilva explains how real men make their wives happy …
Framed by Y York, directed by Mark Lutwak. Running time: 2 hrs with 1 intermission. A Snowflake Avalanche production. 18th and Union, 1406 18th Ave, Central District. Shows: Fri 11/9 to Sun 1/11; Thur 11/15 to Mon.11/19; and Fri. 11/23 to Sun. 11/25. Thur, Fri, Sat. & Mon. performances at 7:30 pm; Sun. matinees at 3 pm. Get tickets from brownpapertickets. Closes Nov 25.
11/10/18 From Mark Lutwak: One artist left out of list: Juju (Juliya Brooks)
Thanks, Mark. She’s been added. ~ Mark Douglass