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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 14, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 50
Duet les dames
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Duet les dames

New company presents the first in a series of plays written for specific actors

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

BALLARD HOUSE DUET
CUSTOM MADE PLAY PROJECTS
(at Washington Ensemble Theatre)
Through December 17


The brand-new play Ballard House Duet is finishing up a short two-week run, so you'll have to act fast if you want to see it. While much can be made out of the emerging concept of playwrights writing for specific actors, as Custom Made Play Projects is doing with this play by Paul Mullin, written for Rebecca Olson (the concept developer) and Hana Lass, ultimately the play is taken on its merits.

A HOARDER'S UNDOING
The publicity about the piece seems to indicate that its main topic is hoarding. If you're expecting a play that explores the reasons people hoard or its effects, you'll be disappointed. The clearing out of an aunt's decrepitude, while she is recovering from a medical emergency, is only the premise upon which the sisters must re-engage.

The audience is used like an excavator - digging through the sisters' past, finding nuggets of interaction that piece together where their relationship faltered, and helping us care enough about them to want them to get over their estrangement. But you do have to get used to another major device Mullin uses: throughout the play, the actors talk to invisible characters that are crucial to each scene.

It's an awkward device to get used to and one you could question the efficacy for. In some aspects, it feels more like a way to keep the cast small than a useful manner of presenting the scenes. On the other hand, it does keep the focus just on the two sisters. It also adds to the sense of imbalance that the play has, whether intentional or not.

Olson plays the older sister, Heidi, who we learn was 'given' a baby sister, Holly (Lass) on Christmas, an adopted girl of half-Asian extraction. They are very wildly different from one another: Heidi, very outgoing and a bit on the flirty side, becomes a talk-show host who mines her own experiences for revelatory content; and Holly, much more introverted, is extremely religious from a very young age.

IT'S ALL TOO MUCH
There is a lot here to create drama, but Mullin seems determined to really pack it in, giving Holly a son with an inherited defect, Heidi a penchant for almost seducing Holly's romantic relationships, and Holly an actual tryst with one of Heidi's husbands. It's a dramatically overfilled plate that would have been better without all the side dishes.

The references to Seattle-specific places is nice, but the feeling of the piece is that it could take place anywhere, and other place-names could be inserted. If the intention was to make it a very Seattle play, that doesn't come through. The characters' development over time does not seem rooted in Seattle. It's not necessary, of course, but the title suggests this is what the playwright wanted.

Mullin's writing is complex, realistic, interesting, and attention-keeping. His talent is solid and any play of his is worth giving your time to - this one is no exception. Whether this piece stays as is or gets reworked is entirely up to him. Ballard House Duet gives you a lot to think about and is a neat piece for the two actors to sink their teeth into.

For more information, go to www.washingtonensemble.org for tickets or www.sites.google.com/site/custommadeplayproject/home-1 for information on the new company.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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