It is hard to believe that this is the 30-year anniversary of Summerplay. The sometimes complex, oftentimes perplexing, usually offbeat, and ultimately entertaining series returns to the South Sound this month. Changing Scene Theatre Northwest is the conduit for this series of short plays, and Dukesbay Theatre is the venue. Drama in the Hood was there opening night to see what was new and interesting in the world of offbeat theatre. As it turned out, plenty.
First, a word about The Changing Scene Theatre Northwest. Born in Kitsap County 17 years ago, the operation has been an itinerant one since 2009. They have performed in repurposed churches, meeting halls, and stages of all kinds anywhere they could find a place to put on a show. Occasionally, they have returned to their Kitsap County roots, but mostly they have trod the highway from Centralia to Seattle. For years, if you had a large open space The Changing Scene Northwest would entertain the folks with offbeat theatre from there, but now, the good people who run Dukesbay Productions have invited TCSTN to occupy their space. Changing Scene has been all the better for the stability, and has competed with much larger and well-heeled theatre companies for awards and recognition since landing inside Merlino Arts’ Center down where 6th Avenue puts “residential” behind and becomes artsy.
Summerplay 2019, like Summerplays before, is a series of short plays, ranging in length from a few minutes to about a half hour. Each of them offer a distinct look at the world around us. All have that distinct offbeat theatre scent that we have grown to love. We rated the plays from 1-5 stars.
“A Sonnet to Chow Mein,” by Susan Goodell. How seriously do you take your fortune cookies, aside from the obligatory “in bed,” addendum? This play supposes that the authors of these pithy words of wisdom can change the lives of those who receive them. Laurice Roberts, as novice fortune writer Rose was the most effective character. Kenadi Allen was also notable as Margaret. 4 stars.
“Five Square,” by Mark Ogle. Multiple personalities co-exist as roommates. What happens when new personalities begin to manifest? LaNita Hudson Walters played the female roles, while Henry Talbot Dorset played the male roles. They were entertaining and effective, though dialogue remembrance issues were apparent from both performers. 3 stars.
“16th and Curtis,” by David Brendan Hopes. Playwrights often write about the trials of being, well, playwrights. The distractions, and flights of fancy act as a catharsis of sorts.Paul Sobrie plays Norman the playwright, while Skye Llewelyn plays all four of the distractions. Both were effective, and one person in attendance spent 24 hours after the show saying, “I loved the pigeon!” So, from Drama in the Hood to Virginia Yanoff as the Pigeon, excellent job! 3.5 stars.
“Sam and Dotty,” by John C. Davenport. “Even after I’m gone, I will watch over you.” Words of comfort during a time of fatal illness? Perhaps, but what happens when the dearly departed push too hard trying to “watch over?” It’s more than even the best medium can stand! This was probably the best ensemble performance of the night, as Carol Wieltschnig, Heather Arneson, and Julie Cole were all up to the task, But Curtis Beech as card cheat Sam stood out for particular kudos. 4.5 stars, the best play of the night.
“Warm, Dense Matter,” by Darren R. Schroader. Mr. Schroader explores the outer reaches of the mind in this show. In this one, we watch a group of people slowly lose their individual sanity. Did the monkey just speak? Again, Kenadi Allen stood out, this time for her role as Dr. Helen Gladhook. 2 stars.
“Do or Die,” by John C. Ashton. Vaguely reminiscent of the 1976 movie “Network,” in which reality and entertainment became intertwined. There is nothing comfortable about this play, but there isn’t supposed to be anything comfortable about this play. LaNita Hudson, Skye Llewelyn, and Curtis Beech were the standout performers. We originally gave this show one star, but adjusted it to two stars after sleeping on it. Discomfort with the material need not indicate a poor show. Even so, it wasn’t the best play of the night.
“Goat,” by Scott Mullen. A polygraph test in which an off-stage goat is the final authority? This was Paul Sobrie’s best turn of the night, and Carol Wieltschnig turned in her usual strong performance. 2.5 stars.
Drama in the Hood plays no favorites among the theatre operations that we cover. But, there is something to be said for championing the underdog. You’re never going to see “My Fair Lady,” or “Oliver” at The Changing Scene Theatre Northwest. You’re never going to see a goat, that may or may not be alive, arbitrate a lie detector test at 6th Ave. in Seattle either. We call it the buffet of theatre, and TCSTN is a welcome part of the buffet table. So, plan on supporting a worthy operation, and see Summerplay 2019. The offbeat theatre shows will only get better, as unforeseen circumstances caused last minute role changes opening night.
“Summerplay 2019,” by various playwrights. The Changing Scene Theatre Northwest, inside Dukesbay Theatre inside the Merlino Arts Center 508 6th Ave. Suite 10, Tacoma WA 98402, Fri-Sat 7:30 pm through Sept. 21. Sun. Sept. 15 at 6:30 pm. Tickets: changingscenenorthwest.org. Info: changingscenenorthwest.org, or 360-710-5440.