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April 10, 2014 Comments Off on Review: ACT’s Central Heating Lab Shows Are Steamy Views: 2236 #Theater and Stage, Arts & Entertainment, Stage

Review: ACT’s Central Heating Lab Shows Are Steamy

So much naughtiness in one theater building.

Who would have ever thought we’d be saying that about ACT, Seattle’s beloved downtown regional theater formally known as “A Contemporary Theatre”? (Does ANYONE call it that? Ever?) They have TWO sexy shows on stage right now, though both are very different, and they’re definitely not for the kiddies.

And, they’re not technically shows produced by ACT…both shows are being presented by their Central Heating Lab and produced by outside companies. We kind of wish that ACT itself would get this risky with their choices for their mainstage shows…

The ZEXY cast of SEATTLE VICE.  Photo: John Cornicello

Photo: John Cornicello

Review: SEATTLE VICE. Book, Music & Lyrics by Mark Siano & Opal Peachey. Inspired by the non-fiction book of the same name by Rick Anderson. Musical Direction by John Kranz. Choreography by Thaddeus Wilson. Directed by Mark Siano. With Mark Siano, Opal Peachey, Michael Cimino, Ray Tagavilla. Now through April 19, 2014 at the Bullitt Cabaret at ACT.

But, digression is bad for the digestion and we need to talk about these dirty little theatrical treats. We’ll kick off with the lighter and the dirtier of the two, Marxiano Productions’ new cabaret/musical piece, SEATTLE VICE loosely based on the non-fiction book by Rick Anderson and concerning some dirty doings in The Emerald City during the 1960s and focusing on crooners, showgirls, hookers and crooked cops and politicians. Much of it is based on real people including notorious Seattle criminal mastermind Frank Colacurcio, the crooner Gil Conte and Rose Marie Williams, better known as “Madame” Washington and their early days in running nightclubs and brothels.

The two principal creators of SEATTLE VICE are Mark Siano and Opal Peachey, familiar faces to fans of Café Nordo, the popular dinner/bistro theater series. In addition, Mr. Siano is a member of the comedy troupe, The Habit as well as the creator of “Mark Siano and The Freedom Dancers”, another cabaret show full of sexy shenanigans. This time the duo have teamed up to create a semi-original musical/revue with a large cast of characters, many of them in various stages of undress (including totally nude) and all of them involved in many stages of naughtiness. It’s pretty damn filthy and since there’s a full bar available in the Bullitt Cabaret space at ACT, it’s strictly 21 and over. (The show includes some cleverly written NEW songs by Mr. Siano and Ms Peachey that sound like classic pop standards of the era, in addition to actual songs from the period.)

Besides the male and female nudity and barrage of dirty jokes and sultry songs, there’s also some heart in SEATTLE VICE. It’s a love song to a time gone by, a more innocent era before Vice became cold hearted and mercenary. (And, many would argue it’s ALWAYS been that way, but at least in the old days, the songs were better and everyone wore classier clothes…) The show makes a point to recreate the birth of the “lap dance”  and an end to Seattle’s era for actually allowing real strippers. There’s a lot of wistful charm here hiding amid the ribald bits about blow jobs and orgies.

There’s a lot to like about SEATTLE VICE. It’s a colorful, music packed valentine to a long gone era and it features saucy performances from a cast of talented singers, dancers and burlesque stars. It’s not very deep and some could argue that it candy coats a life that subjects women to a life of potential abuse and degradation but the show does make an effort to point out that many women can prosper from life as a sex worker, if not taken advantage of or abused by men, and that the old graft ridden system was in some ways, more honest than the corporate vice that goes on today.

Or, you could just get drunk and enjoy the sexy songs, numbers and performers.

Brenda Joyner and Paul Morgan Stetler in TAILS OF WASPS. Photo by Chris Bennion

Brenda Joyner and Paul Morgan Stetler in TAILS OF WASPS. Photo by Chris Bennion

Review: TAILS OF WASPS by Stephanie Timm. Produced by New Century Theatre Company. Directed by Darragh Kennan. With Paul Morgan Stetler, Brenda Joyner, Sylvie Davidon, Hannah Mootz, and Betsy Schwartz. Now through April 27, 2014 at ACT.

Meanwhile, upstairs at ACT in a suite of rooms not normally used for performances, the New Century Theatre Company are debuting a new play by their resident playwright, Stephanie Timm. It’s TAILS OF WASPS and it’s a brisk 90 minute sexually fueled drama about a handsome, charismatic politician and four of the women in his life. Any similarities between Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner, Mark Sandford, Eliot Spitzer or John Edward are PURELY coincidental…cough, cough.

Obviously, that list of scandalous politicians would indicate that sex plays a major role in TAILS and it should be noted that only one of the four women featured in the play is legally entitled to having sex with the politician… the other three being a campaign aide, a high priced call girl and a street hooker. The 90 minutes of TAILS OF WASPS are neatly and evenly split up between scenes involving those three women and the politician’s wife and all set in various hotel rooms. Despite the familiarity of location and the fact it’s a work about a rather specific topic, TAILS OF WASPS is a fascinating new play and Ms Timm’s strongest work to date as a playwright. It features a powerfully strong central performance from Paul Morgan Stetler as the politician with some rather severe sex addiction issues, and from all four actresses playing the women in his sexual life. The small size of the playing space means that 100s of people cannot attend this production in its short life from now until April 27. Clever folks who enjoy riveting, intelligent adult theater should buy their tickets now, as opposed to later. It’s a must see play.

And, it’s must see primarily due to Ms Timm’s firm grasp of the material and its very concise construction…there’s no excess fat on this play. It’s very obvious that every word and moment in the script is very carefully placed and for a very specific reason. It’s constructed like a very clever house of cards with certain suits of cards referred to over and over again as the play progresses. The recurring themes and patterns of words and moments in TAILS OF WASPS reflect the playwright’s growing maturity as a writer. It’s outstanding dramatic writing.

The writing is enhanced by Darragh Keenan’s assured direction. It’s not easy to direct actors in a tiny space and keep it feeling fresh and organic, but Mr. Keenan’s strong work here as a director means he will always have work available if he ever decides to retire from his primary work as an actor.

As mentioned above, Mr. Stetler is superb as the conflicted yet conniving politician who seems to be addicted to the power dynamics of having sex with women who revere him. He’s well paired with the women who play those women, specifically Brenda Joyner as the worshipful campaign aide, Sylvie Davidson as the upscale call girl and Hannah Mootz as the street hooker. Terrific work from all three actresses who have to convey very different levels of sexual infatuation both real and imagined.

But, the strongest work comes from Betsy Schwartz as the enraged wife. It’s a brilliantly realized performance that captures all the fury and rage and despair of a loyal wife who’s been betrayed in just about every way imaginable. Her scene with Mr. Stetler is the highlight in a play that primarily consists of highlights.

So, that’s it in a nutshell…two sexy wicked plays about sexy wicked people. One is a naughty piece of candy and the other a serious work of theater but both are worth the price of admission. AND, both come from ACT’s terrific Central Heating Lab and long may it continue to heat up Seattle theater.

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