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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 27, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 39
Some of Everything Is Illuminated muddies a great story
Arts & Entertainment
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Some of Everything Is Illuminated muddies a great story

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED
BOOK-IT REPERTORY THEATRE
Through October 6


The new Book-It Repertory Theatre stage adaptation of Everything Is Illuminated has some lovely elements and drives to some horrific revelations about people's experiences during the Holocaust. The small cast of Sean Lally as the writer Jonathon Safran Foer, Peter Sakowicz and Michael Winters as Jonathan's tour guides in Ukraine, and ensemble supports Shanna Allman and Susanna Burney, all do excellent work to bring this story to life.

However, the adaptation by Josh Aaseng, an experienced adaptor who also directs this production, is of a book whose style is so specific and special that it's probably impossible to put over as a successful stage play. If you have not read the book, you would do well to read it ahead of time or to read at least a synopsis.

There are two basic stories that are pretty clearly rendered. The main one is Jonathon Safran Foer's writing of a book while journeying to Ukraine with a small picture to find the woman in the picture. Foer's grandfather was saved from the Nazis by this woman and Foer wants desperately to find her and learn more, if he can. The secondary tale is about the guide family: the young American-loving, English-mangling grandson who drags his grandfather into the quest at the demand of his authoritarian and abusive father (Burney in one of her multiple roles).

Both of these men contribute to the book by writing letters to each other that include sections of chapters. Part of the charm of the relationship is that Alex is at first reductively dismissive of Jews as stupid but comes to admire Jonathon's intellect and understanding.

There is another part of the story that is important in the book, but muddies the stage production almost to failure. Foer is searching for Trachimbrod, and the history of the shtetl (a village where only Jews lived when they were not allowed to live freely in 'regular' towns) is bound up in another long-ago relative, the woman Brod.

With fanciful shadow puppetry, the stage production tries to tell this story as well, and the cast gamely acts out a perhaps-fictional story of a baby girl (Brod, played by Allman in one of her roles) being born in the river, after the death of her mother and father in a carriage accident. The baby is taken in by an old, childless man who loves her. Somehow, the town celebrates this myth-founding every year as Trachimday.

You will hear the story of how she meets The Kolker, who is the man she bears children with who are the progenitors of Foer's line. Also the story of how The Kolker gets a saw blade buried in his head and he becomes known as The Dial. But none of these stories help us understand much and indeed stage-craft-wise are so distracting that they overcome the rest of the compelling journey.

It would be one decision to include them and leave their portion in the past, but Aaseng has decided to sprinkle parts of that story into the rest of the confusing current stories. Since even the names The Kolker and The Dial are not described well enough for us to understand why this man needs these extra names, it interrupts the flow of the evening. I had to look up the synopsis to understand what this information was and why this man was important to the story.

There are secrets to be revealed, likely some of the reason the 'illumination' of the title is included. Perhaps the illumination also includes family relationships, historic revelations, the meaning of real love, what happened to the disappeared shtetl, and the perpetuation of anti-Semitism. It could also mean 'embellishment' as in the story-making of the characters and the myths to make reality more exciting.

Aaseng does a great job in helping bring Alex to life as he practices his English and tells fanciful tales to Jonathan. Sakowicz charms and makes us laugh. He seems to be channeling 'SNL's wild and crazy guys' sometimes. Winters also, as his grandfather, is both funny, curmudgeonly, and then sadly pathetic in that role.

Evocative and lovely live music is provided by Michael Owcharuk and Brooke Haze. Sometimes it is too loud and overpowers, but if that were adjusted, it makes for a special touch.

Audiences might want to know that there are very intense descriptions of Nazi atrocities in the town of Trachimbrod. Certainly they are critical to the story and the essential reason it was written. It's Foer's family history, after all.

For more information, go to www.book-it.org or call 206-216-0833.

Discuss your opinions with SGNCritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters. More articles can be found at MiryamsTheaterMusings.blogspot.com.

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Morrissey, Lana Del Rey kick off fall season at WaMu Theater
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Some of Everything Is Illuminated muddies a great story
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Seattle's MEN IN DANCE presents 2019 Adjudicated Choreographer Showcase October 4 & 5
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Pacific MusicWorks presents 'Sanctuary in the City' concerts
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Whim W'Him's 'Choreographic Shindig V' an evening of exciting new works
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Opal Peachey previews Violet's Attic: A Grand Ball for Wicked Dolls, her new madcap show at Café Nordo
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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
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Full lineup announced for the 24th annual SeattleQueer Film Festival
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Breezy Downton Abbey an enjoyably witty 'Upstairs/Downstairs' melodrama
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Nifty Haunt scares up a labyrinth of malevolent tricks and treats
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Hypnotic Ad Astra an emotional moonshot of catharsis and fury
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