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March 10, 2012 Comments Off on REVIEWS: It’s CATCH UP DAY with WEB/Atlanta/A Single Shard Views: 3438 #Theater and Stage, Arts & Entertainment, Stage

REVIEWS: It’s CATCH UP DAY with WEB/Atlanta/A Single Shard

Jason Ko as Tree Ear in Seattle Children's Theatre's "A Single Shard." Photo by Chris Bennion.

Yep…the deluge of new theater openings, the busy-ness of my life and my rotten allergies have all ganged up on me and I’m waaaaaay behind in my reviews so we’re going to play CATCH UP with one post. I know theaters hate “sharing” reviews with other productions, but you’re just going to have to deal with it. Mr. Strangeways is stressed and full of phlegm.

Review: WEB by Brendan Mack. Produced by STAGEright. Directed by Brendan Mack. With Andi Norris, Paul Hobson, Cozy Josephson, Nicole Merat, Ashley Flannegan, Derek Petropolis.

First up: STAGEright’s production of  “WEB” a new play written and directed by Brendan Mack. It closes tonight, so I feel a bit bad I waited so long to post this review, but I also had a lot of problems with “WEB” so maybe it’s for the best…It’s a quasi sequel to E.B. White’s classic children’s novel, “Charlotte’s Web” and focuses on the adult Fern and her tribulations years after the charming events in Zimmerman’s barnyard with Wilbur the Pig, Templeton the Rat, and the wise spider Charlotte. It’s definitely not “Happily Ever After” for our beloved characters; things are looking pretty grim for Fern Arable. She’s on trial for murdering her baby and her defense is using her childhood encounters with talking farm animals as a basis for an insanity plea. Fun!

I will give playwright Brendan Mack some points for originality; it is an interesting idea for a play, mixing a beloved children’s story with a plot ripped from a tabloid headline and the play has some interesting structure and plot twists. It’s also far too long, and the court room scenes are unbelievable, far fetched and inaccurate. The play shines best when we go back in time to the actual plot of “Charlotte’s Web” and the interactions of young Fern with the iconic characters while the contemporary/murder trial plot is heavy handed and overly melodramatic. And, it should be pointed out, that no where in the program does it mention that Mr. Mack had permission to adapt or use the copyrighted characters from E.B. White’s work. As far as I am aware, the work is not in public domain and it’s not satire; it’s new material using existing characters protected by the author’s copyright and I’m guessing it’s on questionable legal ground. I have a strong hunch that the estate isn’t going to approve a work that makes the hired man Lurvy a child molester and casts Fern’s parents in a questionable light as well.

There’s some nice performances from the actors, especially when they’re playing the classic barnyard animals. Paul Hobson as Wilbur, Andi Norris as Charlotte and Cozy Josephson as the Goose (and Fran’s best friend Lucy Fowler) all delight with their work as the original characters. Nicole Merat was a suitably depressed Fern and Ashley Flannegan offered a unique interpretation as Fern’s dour and perhaps deranged mother. But, Derek Petropolis was way over the top as Templeton the Rat and the prosecuting attorney in Fern’s trial but a lot of that was the fault of the writing; for some reason, Templeton is now rather villainous instead of the snarky curmudgeon as portrayed in the original work. It was a poor decision to make, in my opinion, and despite some of the charms of  Mr. Mack’s work, I think STAGE right would have been better off just doing a production of “Charlotte’s Web”…it’s a beautiful piece of writing and frankly, do we need to have a beloved childhood memory tarted up with pedophilia and baby murders?

(Note: Kudos to Brandon Estrella’s set design which cleverly uses plastic wrap to create a spider web effect.)

Review: The Young Man From Atlanta by Horton Foote. Produced by Stone Stope Theatre. Directed by Maureen Hawkins. With Gordon Coffey, Maggie Heffernan, Michael Way, Jaryl Draper, Matthew Gilbert.

Also closing tonight is Stone Soup’s production of Horton Foote’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, “The Young Man from Atlanta”. Set in 1950 in Houston Texas, the play brings together some characters used in Foote’s “The Orphan’s Home Cycle” of play and focuses on Will and Lily Dale Kidder as they cope with life after the apparent suicide death of their only son. It’s never overtly stated, but it quickly becomes apparent to the audience that the son was gay and two different young men from Atlanta visiting the Kidder’s reveal conflicting stories about their son’s life and death. Oh, and it’s a comedy.

I have to be honest and admit that I’m not a huge fan of Mr. Foote’s work. It’s a bit country corny and “Gee, weren’t the Old Days great!” as it wallows in mid 20th century life in The Old South.  It’s all white folks being melancholy because they’re not young and powerful and so twee in its earnest Americana.  For me personally, only Mr. Foote’s skills with creating interesting characters and sharp, snappy dialogue  make his plays worth watching. “TYMFA” is blessed with both  colorful characters and cleverly constructed dialogue but the role of African Americans in his work is still a bit problematic…there are two roles for black women in “TYMFA” and they’re both maids, one young and one old, and both seem to be from the usual Southern realm of “Happy Darkies” who enjoy working for the White Folk. Yes, I know the play isn’t ABOUT these women, but their blandly serene and artificial presence casts a shadow over the play and Mr. Foote’s work as a whole. (And, both Maria Knox as the younger maid, Clara, and Eva Abrahm as the older, former maid of the Kidder’s, Etta do fine work in rather limited roles.) And, as for the gay theme, the whole play is based on the apparent suicide of a gay man, the usual outcome for gay characters of the time period. Mr. Foote’s work could have been filmed in 1950 by Warner Brothers without many cuts…it’s so benign it’s the theatrical equivalent of dinner at The Old Country Buffet but with wittier dialogue.

Stone Soup’s production of the play is fine though a trifle slow paced. Normally produced as a long one-act, it’s been broken up into two halves (primarily to benefit the audience; Stone Soup’s seating isn’t particularly comfortable…) The set is ok and the lighting a bit overly bright for my taste; not much nuance or subtlety to it. The performances are also respectable led by veteran actor Gordon Coffey as the Kidder family patriarch Will. But, the show is largely stolen by the role of Lily Dale, Will’s rather silly and fading Southern Belle of a wife played expertly by Maggie Heffernan who flits, flounces, pouts and poses with the best of the great belles of the Olde South. It’s a charming performance and the highlight of this production. Jaryl Draper, so memorable last season at Stone Soup as the predatory Uncle in “How I Learned to Drive” is largely wasted in the small role as Tom Jackson, a co-worker of Will’s who ultimately takes the older man’s job. He deserves bigger/better roles than this.

Despite the opaque gay content of “The Young Man from Atlanta”, there’s not much to recommend to younger theater audiences. It’s a nice little play with nice moments but it never ventures much farther than, “Gee, remember the good ole’ days when we had black servants and no one talked about gay people…”

Review: A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. Adapted by Robert Schenkkhan. Directed by Linda Hartzell. With Jason Ko, Scott Koh, Naho Shioya, Ho-Kwan Tse, and Joseph Steven Yang. Now through March 18, 2012 at Seattle Children’s Theatre. For ages 8 and up. 90 minutes with one intermission.

ALWAYS try to balance the sour with some sweet, and it’s only fitting that Seattle Children’s Theatre’s current production  of “A Single Shard” is coming to my rescue. Adapted by Robert Schenkkhan from Linda Sue Park’s charming fable about an orphan Korean boy and his rise from being a boy who lives under a bridge, to becoming the apprentice to a master potter, it’s a charming show with great wit and visual appeal for adults as well as children. (It’s recommended for ages 8 and up…a little wordy for very small children).  Yes, the plot is a bit simple and very morale affirming (uh, it’s children’s theater) but it never wanders into the land of Saccharine Banality. It’s aided by the beautiful sets by Carey Wong; the period costumes of Nanette Acosta; the lighting and sound design of Michelle Habeck and Chris R. Walker respectively, and the delightful puppet designs by Annett Mateo. Both the kids and adults in the audience were mesmerized by the story and the stagecraft of “A Single Shard” and the excellent direction by Linda Hartzell who kept the show moving along at a brisk pace, but always managed to create some very lyrical and deliberately paced moments within the action of the story, (including a haunting moment involving some colorful maids leaping off a cliff. It was an example of beautiful but provocative imagery that never talked down to the audience.)

A bit old to be a young orphan boy, actor Jason Ko does an excellent job of  creating the ILLUSION that he’s that young in his role as the lead, Tree Ear. It’s a charming and earnest performance that never feels forced or pedantic. He’s well supported by Scott Koh as the gruff Master Potter Min, and Naho Shioya as the kind Mistress Min, and Ho-Kwan Tse as Crane Man, the father figure in Tree Ear’s life.

“A Single Shard” is a charming show with superb design and production elements and it’s a must see for all families looking for age appropriate theater entertainment that everyone in the household can enjoy. You should check it out.


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