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March 16, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 11
 
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Bits & Bytes
Touching Shadowlands scores at Village Theatre, Tickets selling fast for PNB's lavish Swan Lake, Crepe de Paris hosts Mental--with Freudian Slips
Touching Shadowlands scores at Village Theatre, Tickets selling fast for PNB's lavish Swan Lake, Crepe de Paris hosts Mental--with Freudian Slips by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

Winter is the season for our discontent--to paraphrase William Shakespeare. Serious subjects rules the Emerald City's entertainment stages this week-the perplexing The Lady From Dubuque at the Seattle Rep, the upcoming The God Committee at Taproot, the touching new Shadowlands at Village Theatre, PNB's ballet classic, Swan Lake, many of the just-announced major Academy Award nominees. Even Mental, the over-the-top cabaret revue at Crepe de Paris tackles a serious subject-albeit with a tongue-in-cheek approach.

Comedy offerings-on stage and in movie theaters-are on the horizon, but for now Bits&Bytes and most Seattle entertainment fans are in for a steady diet of meat-and-potatoes subject matter. Read on:

SHADOWLANDS SCORES AT VILLAGE THEATRE, SHELLY BURCH GLOWS
Village Theatre in Issaquah has a strong local reputation. The full Equity company stages mainly snappy musicals but includes one straight play-usually a warm and life-affirming drama--in its full season. A little bit of Broadway magic is one display in Issaquah right now with the just-opened production of William Nicholson's award-winning Shadowlands.

The appealing production runs through Feb. 25 at the group's home base in Issaquah and then moves to Everett for a March 2-18 run there at the Everett Performing Arts Center.

The Village production is elevated-in interest and in success-by the presence of director Martin Charnin and the casting and performance of Shelly Burch in one of the play's two leading roles. Charnin, one of the creators and the Broadway director of the immortal Annie, moved to Issaquah several years ago with Shelly Burch, a Broadway and television veteran. Now happily married and well settled in the Northwest, both are establishing careers in Seattle-area theaters.

What could have been a solid, satisfying production of Shadowlands takes on a Broadway glow with their teaming. New York press columns have reported on the Issaquah pairing-few Seattle productions are even mentioned in the New York papers, and Issaquah's Village Theatre is basking in the national attention for the production.

The teaming of "a famous New York director" and his "talented wife" has all the makings of a theatrical disaster--or a broad farce in the Noises Off tradition. Thankfully, the consummate professionalism of Charnin and Burch and their individual talents make Shadowlands a joy from start to finish.

Shadowlands tells the touching, real-life-and, yes, life-affirming--tale of British author C. S. Lewis and his late-in-life marriage and love affair with Joy Gresham, an American divorcee (and former Jewish/Communist poet). The two met in the 1950s, became friends, married for legal purposes and then fell in love after Joy was diagnosed with advanced bone cancer, and married again-for love.

Lewis, a life-long bachelor, was the author of The Chronicles Of Narnia series (The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, etc.). His friends were aghast at his involvement with an American poet-a divorced woman. Memories of Wallis Simpson and the abdication of Edward VIII for "The Woman I Love" were still strong. Lewis' strong Christian beliefs blocked their marriage until he discovered that her husband had been married before and, in his view, her first marriage was invalid "in the eyes of God."

The sensitive play has all the makings of real soap opera. But the playwright avoided those pitfalls, and Charnin's production avoids them as well.

Seattle's Dan Kremer is stunning honest as the reclusive C. S. Lewis, known as "Jack" to all of his friends and family. His emotional underplaying is a major strength of the successful production. Shelly Burch is simply radiant as Joy. She almost seems to glow with an inner incandescence.

The supporting cast is as close to perfection as seems possible--Clark Sandford as Lewis' caustic and comic older brother and housemate, Robert Alan Barnett as the bumbling Rev. Harrington, Mark Chamberlin as Christopher Riley, a colleague of Lewis at Oxford. Kate Szyperski, in a trio of roles, is especially effective as the no-nonsense registrar at the civil wedding of Lewis and Gresham. Her brief appearances could be a model of comic relief for other actors.

Technically, the show seems a Broadway production imported to Issaquah, but it was refreshing to read that all tech work-the stunning unit set, period-perfect costumes, sensitive lighting and sound, etc.--were all designed by local theater artists.

Fans of serious theater should make a point to see Shadowlands during its winter and spring run in Issaquah or Everett. Ticket information is available at (425) 392-2202, a local call from most of Seattle. Bits&Bytes recommends one of the very popular Saturday or Sunday matinees-traffic is a breeze, street parking is readably available. Check it out.

PNB REPORT HEAVY TICKET SALES FOR LAVISH SWAN LAKE
The ballet's very name-Swan Lake-conjures up every aspect of classical ballet. Graceful swans, a dashing price, an evil magician, a moonlit lake-these are the elements of Swan Lake. Pacific Northwest Ballet's Swan Lake revival runs Feb. 1-11 and is already selling ahead of expectations. Sales for next Thursday's opening are especially strong.

Tchaikovsky's immortal score, the classic pairings of Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried, and the corps de ballet of swans, swans and more swans always make Swan Lake an audience pleaser. The eternal themes of love, betrayal and redemption keep the ballet timeless.

In 1981, Kent Stowell, then PNB's co-artistic director, restaged the work for Seattle audiences. His version remains faithful to the ballet's 1895 revival with choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov (the 1877 world premiere with different choreography had been a failure). Stowell honored the classic swan-and-prince sequences but added new work for most of the rest of the ballet-Act I, the nationalistic dances in Act III and all of Act IV. PNB has revived Stowell's version repeatedly, most recently as the 2003 PNB opening for Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, the zillion dollar revamping of the old Seattle Opera House.

Swan Lake plays multiple performances Feb. 1-11 with numerous principal dancers in major roles. One friend attends as many as four performances to catch all the major dancers in major roles. Tickets start at $18 and soar to $145.

Complete details are available at 441-2424. Plan ahead-key performances, like the popular weekend matinees-will sell out ahead of time.

MENTAL CABARET AT CREPE DE PARIS ENDS TOMORROW
If the subject of mental illness sounds like a riotous topic for a snappy cabaret evening, you'll have a grand old time at Mental, the current show IN the Cabaret At The Crepe series at the Crepe de Paris restaurant in downtown Seattle in Rainier Square. (For the record, Bits&Bytes doesn't and didn't.)

There are so many good things about the new cabaret and the strong performances that it sounds churlish to mention that mental illness may just not be a subject for a funny, funny satire. Some of the puns are great-the opening song takes "Sinner Man" and rewrites it as "Shrinkerman," Broadway's "Comedy Tonight!" turns up as "Therapy Tonight!" and so on

A talented quartet-self-proclaimed "cabaret crackpots"-head the show. A full-drag appearance by D.J. Gommels opens Act Two with a strong GLBT appeal. "A.A.R.P."--a send-up of "Y.M.C.A." complete with Village People impersonators in walkers-is a true show stopper (even if Mel Brooks did it first in The Producers).

The show--which promises "Freudian Slips and Sequined Straight-Jackets"-ends its three-week run with performances tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m. There is a slight possibility that the comic revue might be extended for next weekend as well. Details and reservations at 623-4111.

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