Posts Tagged ‘Seattle Rep’

From the Editor’s Perch…

October 20, 2012

Monolithic Local Theater Continued…


If you’ve ever had a job, you can understand how water runs uphill.  The boss points it out, and the workers all nod and marvel.

This is a bit how I felt after reading in this past week’s Puget Sound Business Journal:  “The Seattle area has a long history of supporting new theatrical works, often with great success on Broadway and elsewhere.  Now the drive that built that legacy is gaining momentum with new programs and investment in cultivating art at its earliest stages.”  (I shake my head and marvel.)

“It’s part of a strategy that brings money back to local theaters that own the rights to the new works,” continues Valerie Bauman, staff writer.  “For example, 5th Avenue’s “Hairspray” has generated more than $1 million in royalties since it was picked up on Broadway.”  (I shake my head this time, with greater understanding…)

I have to say that it’s all part of a strategy that’s beginning to take on a form, here in Seattle, as the local News continues to fluff it up.

In my first piece here in The Editor’s Perch on “Our Monolithic Theater”, I pointed out that regional theaters here and elsewhere have no record of ever producing a mailed play script – unless that playwright first had a relationship with the theater.  It was also shown that our local theaters refused to pick up local shows which were clear hits, responding that they had never found one which was right for their theater.

Now, it’s becoming plainer what makes a play ‘right for their theater’.  It’s pretty simple, really: THEY own the rights.  (And they get the million dollars.)

In return, as was covered in our last piece, the playwright gets to talk to other playwrights, access to their copy machine, and also a reading… if monies can be found, and patience is acquired.  All these things, I repeat, which could be accomplished (and probably has been accomplished) by the playwright him/herself within a few days around here – even if they were living out of a box on the street.

The New Works Program at the 5th Avenue Theater, however,  is promising a little more: “The program also provides an opportunity for artists to get feedback and exposure at the earliest phase of creating a script, a song or a performance.  Along the way, they’re paid for their work.  (This is a pleasant sounding way of saying, along the way you are selling your rights to the work for peanuts, so that we get the royalty money and write the plays destiny.)”


This is the Brave New World to be of our Regional Theater.  And it gripes me.

I try to get my son to eat more naturally made bread, but he likes white bread.  I point out to him that bread with all sorts of whole wheat and grains still has much of the natural nutrition you should seek in a meal.  But he points out to me the laundry list of nutritional additions, almost as long as his forearm, listed on the side of the white bread plastic sack – while my list is ever so small.

Institutions are like my son.  They prefer white bread.  It’s soft; it goes down easy; it hits that golden mean and it’s got all of its benefits listed right there on the side for all to see.  It has ‘proof’ that’s it’s nutritional sound and will build your body in “12 different ways.”  All ‘natural’  bread has is that it’s natural.  Its list of ingredients is very short.

Not long ago I saw a matinee production of the “Pullman Porter Blues” by Cheryl L. West produced by the Seattle Rep.  The set was good; the acting was good; the direction was good; and the writing was good.  But the story was boiler plate liberal.  The regional theaters have been refining this formula for as long as I have been alive.  The play was 4 years in development.  And I imagine in 4 years a regional theater could really leach out all the natural nutrition a fresh script provides and replace it with politically pure proven supplements.  You may have experienced the audience this sort of racial testimony play attracts: a lot of White people who nod and say, “aaahhh!”, as they notice each of the ingredients the playwright has posted on the side of the package.  And then there is a smattering of well-dressed somber Black people.  And God knows what they are thinking.

Playwright Thomas Bradshaw / Photo by Sara Krulwich NY Times

Contrast this with the plays of another Black playwright, Tyler Perry, whose plays went from small church productions to major venues which attracted Black people by the droves.  His plays weren’t right for the regional theaters.  Or more recently contrast this with the plays of Black playwright Thomas Bradshaw, whose “Job” now runs at the Flea Theater –  a private theater run by the husband of the actress Sigourney Weaver – through November 3rd in New York City.  His material “is best described as life with all the ghastly extremes – incest, rape, racially motivated murder – added back in and depicted in a deadpan style that has prompted both big laughs and angry walkouts,” says the New York Times.  I’m doubting this play had 4 years of development.  It sounds like it was popped right out of the oven… or rather it grew beyond all bounds in the writing and shoved its way out on its own.

Being a writer, all I really want is to have my say, and I’ve had it.   I can’t say I’ve attracted either the audience or critical approval to fill a larger venue, even if one of our regional theaters were to approach me.   I’ll practice my craft elsewhere, thank you.  As long as people love to perform there will be live theater.  So look around, I may be there.  All we need is “two boards and a trestle.”

Plays and Such with Jorj Savage

October 29, 2010

Actual Measurements May Vary

THREE TALL WOMEN by Edward Albee

“Albee Play at Leo K.  Allison Narver has mounted THREE TALL WOMEN and I saw opening night last night (10/27/10).  The play within a play became even more so when Megan Cole playing the oldest version of the woman, in her dotage, started calling for lines.  In the first act an over 90 woman rants and recalls her youth while a caregiver and women representing her lawyer listen and deal with her.  At the end of Act I she has a stroke and dies.

A dummy of her dead body remains in her bed for act two.  Megan Cole comes back as a more vigorous version of her elder self to talk with a middle age version and a twenty something version of herself played by the actors from act one.  Nick Garrison appears in a non speaking role.

The play first done in 1991 is autobiographical and Nick Garrison is Albee, adopted to a wealthy family that he didn’t fit into very well.

Hopefully the Rep. will keep doing Albee having done LADY FROM DUBUQUE a few years ago. Some people think he is America’s greatest living playwright. He does bleak well and with humor.”  – Jorj

Drawing by Carl Nelson

From the Editor’s Perch

October 15, 2010

God of Carnage

by Yasmina Reza

Note:  Jorj can’t review this latest offering by the Seattle Rep because of contractual arrangements.  So this leaves your dear Editor the task.  Which is fine with me, because Yasmina Reza is my favorite playwright.

Ruth Yenter Plays a Character with Issues

Most of the reviews I have currently read about this production have been pretty much in the ballpark of what my friend Dan Green had to say at his blog (,  “Pretty funny, pretty lightweight.”   

To which I would reply: “Very funny, but lightweight?  Only deceptively so…”

The problems of human relationships which Yasmina mines with such theatrical success establish her as a leading interpreter of our modern world.  Recently, at an ACT Theater lecture series, Mindscapes, the local historian Mott Greene, detailed some of what we have learned about how our brains make sense of things.   When the external world rewards an idea we have,  by virtue of an arrangement of neuronal networking, these networks become established (myelinated).   What is interesting is that these ideas come from both stimuli entering from outside and from autonomous neural activity from within our own brains.  Carl Jung, the psychoanalyst, had much to say about this.  He described “complexes” which arise from within the brain.  When these complexes are able to define themselves through healthy encounters with the external world, they can become very positive and productive.  However, when they are unable to attach to an external verification, they often erupt as negative manifestations.    So, for example, he found that those patients with some of the most intractable “mother complexes” were actually orphans; people with no experience of mothering.

What I’m getting at is this:  As our culture becomes more and more socially isolating, what with children only raised by one parent, isolated play activities, decreased experience of either parent, tv and computer  use, and decreased traditional experiences – we risk never having the experiences necessary to ‘civilize’ these neuronal activities which continually arise.   And perhaps, we become a society that becomes harder and harder to ‘civilize’, as each issue becomes more and more of a ‘hot button’ and we ‘foresee’ the worst in each other.   In Yasmina’s plays, it’s the issue at hand which is hardly explored – and it’s the hysteria induced by just a slighting familiarity with the issue which produces the play.  In this current production at the Rep, the children have a relatively normal altercation – but the parents make rubble of each others’ entire lives while attempting to discuss it.  What could be more crucial to our complex modern existence but the ability to dispassionately discuss and resolve issues?    This playwright’s success indicates to me that we aren’t doing very well, and that huge numbers of well- educated people recognize this.

Extrapolating, I wonder if we haven’t reached the point often nowadays, where the person you are discussing an issue with simply hasn’t the neural network in place to understand what you are saying.  That is, your “two plus two equals four “ does not ring any bells for them – or if it does, they’re alarms!   And I wonder if this is the next turn Yasmina’s new plays might take.  Whatever, I’ll be there to watch and learn… and oddly, to laugh and enjoy myself.  For awhile.

Photo by Carl Nelson

Plays and Such by Jorj Savage

July 17, 2010

Jorj Often Has a Beer After a Good Show

“You get two shows for one this year and the show runs one more weekend at The Seattle Repertory Theater, Thursday thru Saturday at 8 with 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday and Sunday.

BOX AND COX was a “chase comedy” from the 19th centry and I saw it done in 1965 at Virginia City, Montana with David Arkin in a leading role.  He is Alan Arkin’s cousin. Gilbert and Sullivan borrowed the story of two men who shared the same bed and didn’t know it becase one slept days and the other nights.  They reversed the names to COX AND BOX and substituted songs for chases and cut it to 40 minutes.

There is an intermission while that set is “flown’ and then the curtain rises on the deck of a ship for H.M.S. PINTAFORE. Talk shows host David Ross plays Dick Deadeye and John Brookes is in the plumb role of the suitor no woman would want for a husband.  So the story unfolds, played for some emotion, and the young lovers make a nice couple although Jenny Shotwell can probably break a glass when she gives it everything she’s got. There’s nearly 50 in the cast including the uncles and the cousin’s, he has them by the dozens.”

I found I knew many of the lines by heart and was carried along with the elderly crowd, carried back to an earlier time.

David Ross, in my opinion, could hold his own on Broadway and certainly in Congress but Seattle is lucky to have him getting us fireworks and sparking up Gilbert and Sullivan every year.”    –  Jorj

Photo by Carl Nelson

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