Bits & Bytes
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Taproot scores with rare Susan & God, Seattle Opera opens Electra
by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

Drama dominates the Emerald City entertainment scene with serious works about serious issues at Intiman, Taproot, the Seattle Rep, Seattle Opera and even the Paramount with its touring edition of the Tony Award-winning musical, Spring Awakening (look for a detailed review elsewhere in SGN this week). While some productions are out-and-out hits, truth be told, too many of them fall into the "coulda, woulda, shoulda" been better category. Read on:

Almost unknown now, Susan and God was one of Broadway's biggest hits in 1937. An early 1940s Hollywood adaptation - headlining Joan Crawford - kept the show alive for nearly 10 years. Then it all but disappeared. Its author, Rachel Crothers, was a prolific writer of Broadway hits for more than a decade, but she ended her New York career with Susan and God. Taproot Theatre's rare, rare staging is reason enough for serious theater fans to seek out the show. Thankfully, the solid production is well worth seeing.

Scott Nolte, Taproot's co-founder and artistic director, brings the heavily themed work to a buoyant life - no easy task with a play that concerns, well, just let's say that the title tells it all.

Lisa Peretti makes Susan, an American socialite who found religious depth during a trip to England, thoroughly believable. The rest of the strong Taproot cast supports the play's serious themes while adding a surface sparkle to the sometimes philosophical discussions. The show is full of snappy one-liners - a friend is taking a trip to Norway. "Norway!" Susan exclaims. "Nothing but scenery." "Fiords - those things in Ibsen plays!" To her very plain daughter, Susan confides, "If you're not going to be pretty, let's at least make you interesting." Barrie, her husband, notes, "At least we know where we are, even if we don't know where we're going." Susan's big, big Act One exit line, "I wish I'd never heard of God!" drew a sharp laugh from Taproot's ultraconservative subscription patrons.

Susan and God is a play to enjoy, a play to contemplate on many levels. Check it out. Highest recommendation. Ticket information is available at (206) 781-9707. The sharp, snappy production continues through October 25.

Intiman Theatre completes its first five-play "American Cycle" of works that reflect on the American spirit of today with its new All the King's Men, an awkward stage adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that became an Academy Award-winning film of the same name.

Strong performances and a slick production cannot hide the fact that the script by Adrian Hall is a misfire, a work that attempts to cram too many details into too many scenes. The 18 cast members play more than 40 characters, many of them fleeting appearances that do little except advance the complex plot.

John Procaccino is terrific as Willie Stark, the redneck governor of Louisiana. Unlike the novel, Stark is, strangely, not the main character. The idealistic young reporter tells the tale - and takes the final curtain call. Leo Marks is solid as Jack Burden - whose name tells all too much about his character in this modern day Victorian melodrama of political corruption and personal intrigue. Pam MacKinnon's direction has some fine moments, but her works cannot make the script work as it should.

Sets, costumes, live, on-stage music, using the works of Randy Newman all contribute to the production. The staging continues through November 8. There's much to admire in the acting and in the staging. Coulda, woulda, shoulda been better. Intiman recently announced another five-play "American Cycle" will start next year. Watch this space for details.

Expectations were high for a happy hit as the Seattle Repertory Theatre opened its eagerly anticipated production of Alexandre Dumas' classic novel, The Three Musketeers. For many - eager to be happy, excited to be hip - the show was a laugh-out-loud comic delight. The broad, broad staging of the broad, broad adaptation by Ken Ludwig, a Broadway comic master, bounces off the walls and had some in the opening night crowd shouting back to the actors on stage, others falling out of their seats with laughter.

For others, perhaps those expecting a play and not an Ice Capades Does Dumas or Las Vegas Sends Up Those Studmuffin Musketeers, the elaborate production is an out-and-out dud. To be fair, Bits&Bytes's guest "liked it a lot - it was just fun."

The stage adaptation is clearly out of control, mixing straight scenes of serious moments - deaths, adultery, noble causes - with Saturday morning cartoon episodes. When a major character died unexpectedly, the scene was played so broadly that the man behind me shouted out, at full voice, "Way to go, Huskies!" What he was thinking is impossible to guess, but the scene - like many - had no emotional content for him or for much of the audience. Kyle Donnelly's direction is on the right track but she far too often goes for the obvious.

There's much to like in this production - some solid acting in key roles (Jim Abele is especially effective as the evil Cardinal Richelieu), a lot of very skilled swordplay, a zillion dollars worth of velvets and brocades in the scrumptious costumes. Alas, it all adds up to very little. Coulda, woulda, shoulda been better. It continues through November 15. Discounts, "rush" tickets will be readily available.

Greek tragedy gets an opera outing with Seattle Opera's rare production of Richard Strauss' emotionally searing Elektra, which opens tomorrow night and runs for eight performances through November 1. Not as well known as the composer's Salome, the opera is similar in style to the better-known Biblical tale. It is an intense one-act with little chance of emotional release - for the characters or for the cast.

Janice Baird and Jayne Casselman share the title role in the S.Opera run - in "the old days," Seattle Opera called the casts Gold and Silver, but today the national and international singers are often mixed. ACT recently scored a popular and critical success with its examining of a Greek legend, with Eurydice. Seattle Opera hopes for the same with Elektra. See ya at the opera....