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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 22, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 16
This production doesn't captivate
Arts & Entertainment
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This production doesn't captivate

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

This
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through May 15


This is a hyper-literate play. (It's tempting to play Who's On First? with the title here.) The play, This, by Melissa James Gibson, is written in a way that New York literati would probably love. There are the punny, witty jokes, bon mots, and non-sequiturs, full of arch attitude. The production currently running at Seattle Rep has a strong cast, including Hans Altweis, Cheyenne Casebier, Nick Garrison, Ryan Shams, and April Yvette Thompson.

The way the play is written, it implies that the banter is intended to keep their deeper emotions at bay. Unfortunately, the characters' dour start to this production makes it difficult to care about any of the characters enough to want to get to know those deeper layers.

The play begins with a dinner party of old friends. Tom (Altweis) and Marrell (Thompson) have a new baby who only sleeps in 15-minute intervals, but they are resolute that they can still entertain. Bestest college friends Jane (Casebier) and Alan (Garrison) are there, along with a new acquaintance, Jean-Pierre (Shams), a French doctor-without-borders who is really a set-up date for Jane.

Jane lost her husband a year earlier, and Marrell is trying to help her move forward in life after the tragedy. All four knew each other in college, though Tom was a groundskeeper or employee of the college, rather than a student. Somehow, Marrell has fallen for and married him. It's clear that the magic has dried up in their marriage, maybe because of a sleepless baby, maybe prior to that.

Jane is still depressed, and Alan - the stereotypical Gay sidekick with an unstereotypical ability to remember every word ever said in his presence - has such an annoying personality that only his oldest friends can put up with him.

The relationships among these supposedly old and great friends are so tense and difficult, it's hard to understand why Jean-Pierre would want to make a return visit to this group. This may simply be a directing choice by Braden Abraham. It's clear that people in this group are unhappy. But potentially, their warmth and real connection might have been demonstrated by playing against that unhappiness rather than stressing it.

There is a shocking hook-up between Jane and Tom, which then is kept secret, and more revelation about Jane and her relationship with her supposedly 'perfect' marriage, and her grief. But if we don't care, then nothing about the rest of the play gets us there.

The cast is certainly strong enough to keep us watching, and the evening still has some captivating performances. It's not a waste of time, but more of a misfire of effort.

Talented L.B. Morse did both the lighting design and the set. This particular set looks intriguing but messy, and some major fussiness about moving doors in what seems like dozens (probably only about six) of set door changes makes for an odd spectacle.

It's lovely to see Shams back on a Rep stage after his energetic performance in 2008's Three Musketeers. His charisma makes one want to see more of him than his relatively tiny role here. Thompson plays a piano-lady and has a wonderful voice and nicely pugnacious stage presence. Altweis and Casebier provide their expected well-done performances.

Garrison, who is normally a joy to watch read a dictionary, is oddly constrained here, unable to show his winning personality and ending up annoying not only his friends, but the audience. Again, this might be more of an internal perception, and the performance might work against it to the betterment of the play. In this instance, even his normal comedic abilities are stifled rhythmically, which feels sad.

For more information, go to www.seattlerep.org or call 206-443-2222. Discuss opinions at sgncritic@gmail.com.

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