by Miryam Gordon -
SGN A&E Writer
Here we are, just past New Year's Eve, and it's time to look back and talk about what was memorable about theatre in Seattle in 2013.
In past annual summaries, I've found it hard to limit myself to just a handful of shows. This time, I told myself, I was going to be tough-minded and really acknowledge shows that were experiences, that stuck out, that remain with me still, and demonstrate theatre's ability to change lives by the experience.
Lo and behold, I actually got the list down to 12! Well, plus I just gotta mention a few other wholly amazing acting performances among a few other shows.
Besides starting with what I think of as the highest highlight of the year, Trouble in Mind, part of Intiman's summer festival, the rest are in no particular order.
Trouble in Mind had a tremendous cast, headed by Tracey Michelle Hughes, and addressed race head-on, with many aspects as accurate now as they were when Alice Childress first wrote the play in the early 1950s. Chosen by the intensely thoughtful and motivated director Valerie Curtis-Nelson, and supported by exquisite design, I felt like everyone in the city should see it.
Both Master Harold ... and the boys (by Athol Fugard) directed by M. Burke Walker at West of Lenin and The Whipping Man (by Matthew Lopez) directed by Scott Nolte at Taproot Theatre, also addressed race in different ways, with amazing casts of three, including G. Valmont Thomas (who was also in Trouble in Mind), Kevin Warren and James Lindsay in Master Harold, and William Hall, Jr., Tyler Trerise and Ryan Childers in Whipping Man. They were emotionally evocative and searing productions that honor their producers.
The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Aimee Bruneau, was a revelation of delight in 2009 when the romp was transported to a Southern trailer park for Seattle Shakespeare Company's Wooden O outdoor summer theater. It was a special treat in 2013 to have that same production remounted indoors with almost every member of the original cast, including Kelly Kitchens as Kate and David Quicksall as Petruchio, with a kick-ass ensemble and a scene-stealing performance by Brandon Ryan.
Sheer fun was the feeling from two musical productions that made my jaws sore from smiling and laughing. Altar Boyz (book by Kevin Del Aguila, music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker) at Seattle Musical Theatre, directed and choreographed by Troy Wageman with the help of an amazing lighting design by Chris Frickland and a fantastic cast, was a great satire of Christian rock concert proselytizing. Xanadu (book by Douglas Carter Beane, music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne) directed by David Ira Goldstein and infused with his up-to-date jokes, with a revelatory performance in a small role by Seattle treasure, Jeff Steitzer, also had a terrific ensemble with too many funny moments to detail here.
Rapture, Blister, Burn (by Gina Gionfriddo) at ACT Theatre, did not have a perfect script, but it was refreshing to see women's issues aired and examined, and have four strong women and only one man on stage. It was exhilarating and challenging.
August: Osage County (by Tracy Letts) at Balagan Theatre, starred the fierceness of Shellie Shulkin and Teri Lazzara. This is a massive play that was rendered accessible by Shawn Belyea's emotive directing, and once casting (of an awesome ensemble) was announced, I knew the play would be a success. Shellie is about the only person I can think of in Seattle who could really pull off that role.
The two best world premiere plays from local Seattle playwrights were Undo by Holly Arsenault and Bo-Nita by Elizabeth Heffron. Undo was produced at Annex Theatre with a great ensemble of actors, and a tradition of repeating a wedding ceremony backwards before a divorce that was so real that people believed there really is such a tradition. Bo-Nita, at Seattle Repertory Theatre, starred Hannah Mootz as a thirteen-year-old girl who tells a crazy, awful, compelling story of her recent life that made your heartstrings twang with empathy.
Another beautiful trio of actors performed Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them (by A. Rey Pamatmat) at Seattle Public Theater. Sara L. Porkalob, Jose Abaoag and Tim Smith-Stewart played teenagers on their own, trying to live life the best way they can, and director David Gassner led them into a transcendent production.
Les Miserables was mounted at both Balagan Theatre and Village Theatre. While Balagan's production had a terrific ensemble, by far the most essential experience, even beyond going to a Broadway touring import, is currently at Village Theatre, where Greg Stone (a Valjean Broadway veteran) goes head-to-head with the most human Javert ever, Eric Polani Jensen. You still have 6 more weeks to see it as it moves to Everett! Even if this is not your favorite musical, you owe it to yourself to see the best version of it you are likely ever to see.
Wow! I did it! Got it down to 12....
But here are a few other unforgettable theatrical moments of 2013, embodied by special performances:
A most amazing performance was Noah Racey in The 5th Avenue's The Music Man, as he contorted his body, jumped, slid and just danced and sang his heart out.
Kirsten Potter had a big role in Rapture, Blister, Burn, but her performance in Seattle Repertory's Photograph 51 was luminous and moving, even as she played a still, under control, scientist. Another quiet, but breath-taking performance was that of Mary Ewald in an hour-and-a-half monologue that is Homebody, at New City Theater.
Darragh Keenan had a big year, with leads in The Walworth Farce (New Century Theatre Company) and The Hounds of the Baskerville (Seattle Repertory), but his turn in The Trial (also New Century Theatre Company) was riveting, along with a great ensemble, bringing to life the term 'Kafka-esque.'
Sean G. Griffin really gave a master class in acting in Sugar Daddies at ACT Theatre, as a mysterious man with many stories. And Patti Cohenour and Suzy Hunt also did the same in a musical with their performances in Grey Gardens (a co-production with ACT Theatre and The 5th Avenue). Pamela Reed showed her mettle in a great performance, also at ACT Theatre (one of ACT's strongest seasons, 2013!), in Other Desert Cities, but Lori Larsen almost walked away with the show.
Balagan Theatre gave us a pretty weak production of Carrie the Musical, but allowed us to see two amazing musical theater talents: Keaton Whittaker and Alice Ripley. Keaton, also with a great performance in Balagan/Contemporary Classics' production of next to normal and The 5th Avenue's Oliver!, is coming into her own in a big way, and Alice demonstrated her keen acting abilities, and the two together were magical.
Book-It Repertory Theatre always does great work bringing novels to the stage in world premiere productions. This year, one particular production and one actor stood out just a bit more. Jocelyn Maher starred in She's Come Undone, adapted terrifically by Kelly Kitchens. She had to age from a tiny girl to an adult in her 40s and undergo many traumas, including an on-stage rape. She handled it with amazing ability and I look forward to many more opportunities to see her work.
There you have it. It was difficult to pick just these few and later I may kick myself for forgetting someone, as happens every year. I hope you saw at least a few of these and that you agree that you were enlightened, moved, transformed, and more. If not, let's see what 2014 has in store, together, shall we?
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