Some places talk about the weather, but here in our own corner of the Pacific Northwest Seattlelites have a different understanding of small talk. “Seattle has changed,” someone says to me while I’m standing in line for coffee, or when I’m on the always crowded bus (“Remember when rush hour used to end?) or buying groceries. There’s a strange cognitive dissonance that’s necessary to stay in a place that has evolved so rapidly, to love a city that might not even exist anymore. Theatre Schmeater capitalizes on that feeling, masterfully taking this locally-universal experience and tying it into the surreal tradition of the Twilight Zone with their production In The Grey City.
The consists of three skits, all directed by Emily Harvey. The first, “Abundance,” written by L Nicol Cabe, is an alarming tale involving determined single-mother Sylvia’s (Kelly Johnson) journey into success through the use of an app, and her own unrecognized potential. Alysha Curry plays the app, which sounds strange, but is done to great effect as she stands in the corner of the stage staring blankly forward and reciting aggressively chipper notifications. Johnson is absolutely fantastic, transitioning her character from a timid-pushover, to an obnoxious executive, and finally into some sort of sci-fi action hero all with a ponytail and a change of posture.
The show’s second skit is the weakest of the bunch. In “No Wake” by Amy Escobar, a diver (Heidi Cheyenne) is unable to sleep in her hospital room because every time she closes her eyes she feels like she’s drowning again. The story is certainly eerie, and listening to Cheyenne ramble almost excitedly about a lost submarine full of screaming people isn’t something I’ll forget anytime soon, but it felt slightly out of place in the middle of two more plot driven narratives.
That being said the cast and crew finished strong, Maggie Lee’s “The Shiny” was by far one of the most thought provoking things I’ve seen in a while. So thought provoking in fact that I was still talking about it hours later. Three old friend’s venture down to Capitol Hill to try gourmet camel-milk sherbet, and the soft-hearted Erin (Curry) is blown away by how different everything seems. The script is at once both funny and deeply alarming, full of the sort of Easter Egg references about the city that make an audience member feel like they’re in on the joke. However, it’s also a deeply intelligent piece, and those references go beyond place names (Though the mention of Twice Sold Tales, that bookshop with the cats, did make me grin), touching on the gentrification associated with the light rail, Amazon’s role in the city’s culture, and the ever-growing homelessness issue. At the same time, the ongoing dialogue was cognizant of the difficulty of the questions posing this region, the folly of romanticizing the past and our own culpability in Seattle’s facelift and the problems that have come with it.
Theater Schmeater is an intimate venue, so intimate in fact that the actors were face to face with their audience, using only bare-bones furniture and limited props, but they never faltered, selling every scene completely. Drew Combs particularly was fantastic as the production’s narrator, although a few of his lines seemed heavy handed.
Anyone who appreciates the Twilight Zone or who can’t seem to recognize a street they’ve walked down hundred of times before is sure to have a good night In The Grey City. All performances are Pay As You Can.
In the Grey City. Theatre Schmeater, 2125 3rd Ave, Seattle 98121. Thru Dec 11. Tickets and more info: http://schmee.org/season/2018/grey-city