Final weekend of Strawjam

On Thursday, two shows opened at 12th Ave Arts, as the final weekend of Strawberry Theatre Workshop’s Director’s Festival: Brotherly Love and Caught.Brotherly Love

Brotherly Love by Ean Miles Kessler is a short play taking place in Lynchburg, Virginia, involving a long, at times heated, at times comical, at times loving discussion between two early 20’s brothers, Wally and Gordon, about whether Gordon, who lives in NYC, and Wally, still a homeboy, should come out as a homosexual in his hometown in the South! It is a complicated discussion because underneath Wally’s hyper machismo act seems to be a young male extremely insecure about his own sexual prowess and sexual identity.

Throughout the discussion, which unfortunately was filled with too much gratuitous shouting, anger and four letter words, were some real fears about what has happened to men, who deviate from the accepted norms of masculinity in that milieu, and genuine concern about the violence which might erupt. Sohrob Khojasteh as Gordon, the gay brother, carried the show, as he seemed more connected with the real emotions of the character. Christian Zumbado as the Neaderthal Wally mumbled and spoke upstage, although he did have some moments of real emotion. The director, Tyler Matthew Campbell, seemed to allow too much anger and shouting. There were some rather funny clever lines; too few in my opinion. However the very last line before the curtain fell was more than a little amusing as well as expertly timed.

Caught

Written by Christopher Wren, Caught, was divided into three “sketches” dealing with the concept of truth vs reality, the perception of truth, and “Chinese perspective.” The initial “sketch” involves Lin Bo, a Chinese “artist” who speaks in sophisticated but heavily accented English about his artwork being a symbol of Chinese Suffering and his “protest pretending to be art pretending to be a protest.”

In detail, he passionately discusses how one single piece of art condemned him to two years in a Chinese detention center. The horrific details of the conditions: the rats, open sewers, endless meals of thin cabbage soup, beatings and interrogations were the substance of a New Yorker article.

This was all expertly narrated by Koo Park, whose accent was so authentic, that having taught lots of Chinese people over the years, I kept thinking that he really needed some speech work. Park also possessed extremely animated physicality along with the dramatic and comic timing of an Atomic watch.

However, Lin Bo, is summoned to the offices of the New Yorker because a Stanford professor, who has only visited one detention center in China questions the veracity of his experience. Questioned by the writer of the article, Joyce, played by Sarah Daniels and the editor, Bob, played by Daniel Anson was like a “soft” interrogation. This interview will make your hair stand on end, as the editor and writer were manipulative beyond belief. Bob the editor, reminded me of a sleezy two-bit lawyer trying to lead a witness. Koo Park’s performance was extremely powerful as he tried to defend himself.

The next two sketches were fairly incomprehensible. One was a discussion about the “Chinese perspective” by Sarah Daniels and Olivia Xing using pretentious vocabulary strung together supposedly as a send-up of pretentious discussions of art. I found it particularly unpleasant and was unsure of whether it was a post-play discussion or part of the play.

To round out the evening, Koo Park and Olivia Xing played a couple sitting in front of a sofa eating McDonalds and reading content on their cell phones.

Like much of the evening, the director missed some basic directorial lessons, the actors often spoke upstage, the furniture was placed in such a way which did not suit the ¾ in the round stage and the basic blocking preventing the actors from being heard.

The first part of the script was interesting and because of Koo Park, Sarah Daniels and Daniel Anson, very well acted, but after that it, unfortunately, it just fell apart.


Brotherly Love
and Caught. Strawjam Director’s Festival, Strawberry Director’s Festival, 12th Ave Arts, 1620-12th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98122 (Capitol Hill) One block North of Pine close to the Pike/Pine Corridor) No street Parking-Capitol Hill Sound Transit or #10 bus.

Tickets: https://sjam.bpt.me“>https://sjam.bpt.me

Info:www.strawshop.org/sjam.html“> www.strawshop.org/sjam.html


Previous shows

Minutes and Seconds

Directed by Adrian Prendergast, Minutes and Seconds by Chris Vanderarck, was initially extremely funny, but like all great humor, at its core was a very serious profound subject-the implosion, not just of the physical world but also of a family.

As the play opens, a couple, Brielle or Gabrielle and her husband Zachary, a 30ish couple, have just learned that the Earth’s sun has died and that life as we know it on earth is about to die. Enter Brielle’s cousin, Parker with some devastating news, as well as June, Brielle’s mother, to spend the last days on earth with her daughter, and the four are in a Sartrean “Huis Clos” situation for their remaining days.

Full cast
Photo Jocelyn R.C.

The four have to deal with the practical details of surviving as long as possible; conserving energy, keeping warm, finding food, the breakdown of law and order as well as the breakdown of all semblance of family cohesion as they all air their grievances and life stories. The grievances and backstories are told through a series of flashbacks and the grim end through a series of flash-forwards.

It starts out very hilariously, due to the situation and due to the excellent acting by the cast and superb direction. Stand-outs were, of course, that great asset to the Seattle theatre scene, Lisa Viertel, as the mother, a deeply flawed individual, who was entertaining in the amusing scenes and profoundly heart-rendering in the scenes where she discusses her failings as a mother.

LIsa Viertel as June,
Photo Jocelyn R.C.

Riley Green, as Parker, the cousin with a narcissistic shell, was both amusing and exasperating and Mariah Lee Squires as the conflicted Brielle, who portrays someone whose last days on Earth are indeed the worst days of her life was excellent. Shane Reagan expressed the best and worst side of being a husband but also passive aggression.

Photo by Jocelyn R.C.

The Director particularly used music, with a sound design by Kate Falconer and Adam Zopfi Hulse, to punctuate the action and without making this a Hollywood “splatter” movie, suggested the menacing situation outside the four walls of the apartment where the action takes place. Also, Prendergast kept up a fast pace for the dialogue which kept things zinging; it showed off the actors comic and dramatic timing magnificently.

In spite of the somber subject matter, this was an interesting engaging play and the audience and I loved it.


Elyse and Mae Play the Most Epic Game of Life Ever

Written by Kandace Mack, Elyse and Mae Play the Most Epic Game of Life Ever, takes place at two levels. One the one level, two pre-teen best friends, play a board game called the Game of Life, where they set a dial, randomly draw cards and are dealt some real life choices. As they play, the two best friends, Mae and Elyse discuss their different values determined by their different socio-economic circumstances, determine what they can expect from life. So, embedded into the script is a serious statement about inequality in our society as the game discusses quite clearly the cost of social mobility these days: college loan debt! The show was directed by Daira Rodriquez.

A huge amount of interpersonal conflict erupts between the two as Elyse’s family is very privileged, her parents are Ivy-League graduates, with a lot of money and material possessions. Mae’s families are humble and in the game and in life, Mae’s choices are limited. Elyse is also extremely competitive and spends the whole time “besting” Mae, both in the game and outside of the game.

Lola Rei Fukushima as Mae, carried the show because she was convincing as a 8-10 year old girl. She had energy, spunk and was animated. On the other hand, Faith Elder as Elyse, mumbled so that a lot of lines were lost, did not project well and spoke her lines with very little energy.

As a play, it was overly long, and kept making the same point again and again. Also it seemed quite dated as the source of wealth for Elyse’s parents was their profession as medical doctors. This is not the 1950’s when M.D.’s was a wealthy profession.

Minutes and Seconds and Elyse and Mae Play the Most Epic Game of Life Ever. Strawjam Director’s Festival, Strawberry Director’s Festival, 12th Ave Arts, 1620-12th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98122 (Capitol Hill) One block North of Pine close to the Pike/Pine Corridor) No street Parking-Capitol Hill Sound Transit or #10 bus.

Tickets: https://sjam.bpt.me“>https://sjam.bpt.me

Info:www.strawshop.org/sjam.html“> www.strawshop.org/sjam.html

Two plays, different styles.

Two shows, Glass Kill Bluebeard’s Friends by Caryl Churchill and Catslut by Katherine Jana were thematically linked as they both deal with issues of trauma and sexuality.

Glass Kill Bluebeard,

Not being what one would call a “well-made play” with a tight well-structured plot, Glass Kill Bluebeard uses non-naturalistic elements which presented incredible directorial, technical and acting challenges as the “play” is a series of thematically linked vignettes of different lengths. Fortunately, Amanda Rountree’s highly creative and skilled choices as director made this just a delight for the audience. Roundtree’s choices of music was particularly adept, as she chose music which set the mood from the pre-show music to every song which covered the scene changes. The music for Glass included pieces by Douglas Dare, Johann Johannsson, Hans Zimmer, and glass harp covers by the artists Glass Duo. Bluebeard’s Friends was introduced and intercut by a piece called Bluebeard’s Blues played by Harry James and his Orchestra.

Also some pretty grizzly topics were made palatable to the audience by directing the actors to use humor and wit.

There were some outstanding performances by Jarron A. Williams, whose physicality and facial expression just kept me laughing the whole time; but he was no ham actor, he delivered the goods dramatically. Zack Chaykin most definitely demonstrated serious acting chops with his long monologue as a Greek god making light of all the violence and family dissension in Greek mythology. Even though his monologue was long, his comic timing, absurd commentary made this monologue riveting. Charissa as the glass girl and other roles was just plain adorable. As an ensemble the group worked together to deliver the dry British deadpan humor which the audience and I just adored.

Catslut

After an intermission, Catslut directed by Carly Cipriano, opened. It was very much a contrast to the first piece. Focusing on one character, a young woman with low self-esteem, named Catslut, who predictably used sex and booze to bolster her self-esteem. Played by the author herself, Katherine Jana, the play recounts the aftermath of an unplanned pregnancy, the termination itself, all the conflicting emotions and both negative and positive ways she tries to deal with it.

Unfortunately, the script was not my cup of tea, it was full of gratuitous four-letter words repeated too often, and the director chose to have the actors express themselves with anger and shouting. The few times when they did not shout, the actors did not project well, with the exception of Alanah Pacual, as Coke, the roommate of Catslut, who was making a valiant effort to turn her life around.

In general, it is wonderful, after all these years to see a Director’s Festival back in Seattle, not far from the site of the New City Director’s Festival of the 1990’s (It is now Hugo House). There are two more weeks, check out the schedule below.

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