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Oddwoman: Professional acting for free
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Oddwoman: Professional acting for free
by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

The Oddwoman of Pioneer Square
ACT Theatre
Through May 31


Even professional actors like to take classes in acting. They're referred to as "master classes," since, presumably, the actors have mastered acting and just want to keep working at getting better. Actors who are members of Actors Equity (AEA) cannot work unpaid. But there are exceptions. One is a project that the actors do as a kind of workshop. As long as they do the work for free, and no admission is charged, the union allows them to perform for the public. Of course, donations are always welcome.

Theater 9/12 productions are such "actor projects," and The Oddwoman of Pioneer Square, hosted at ACT Theatre, is the current work. While the sets, costumes, lighting, and sound are minimal - though the versatile, maybe cardboard set does a very nice job for itself - you can enjoy professional level acting talents.

This production is written by Charles Waxberg, artistic director and master teacher, and directed by Paul O'Connell. Waxberg based his play on the classic The Madwoman of Chaillot, by French dramatist Jean Giraudoux, written in 1943. Giraudoux's play is a mix of fantasy and political ideology. Similarly, Waxberg imports the same elements into this play. The Madwoman, or Oddwoman, is a personality embraced by regulars in Pioneer Square. She is eccentric and charming and not quite attached to the current world. She gives people made-up names, which they allow, and apparently feel uplifted when she visits.

The political expression in both plays is tension between the haves and have-nots, and the price of progress. Some shady business guys want to drill for oil under Pioneer Square and are willing to destroy the area in order to do that. What price progress?

Where the play works excellently is the second act, in which a trial takes place and the subject is vigorously debated. Each side occasionally makes good points. Where the play has a problem is how the first act is introduced. The setting is in Pioneer Square, at an outdoor café. There is a homeless guy, a flower seller, a waitress, a tourist, a guitarist, etc.

If you know and understand that this is a classic theatrical piece, with classic language and a "presentational" style of acting - and you don't expect realistic acting (from the gut, as it were) - then the context of the first act is clear. If you don't know this, the first act seems to set up a kind of realistic setting we are familiar with, and then people "overact" terribly.

The second act clears all that up, but by then, it might be too late for folks who decide about plays before intermission. This is a fantasy. The acting is formal. The language is formal. The characters are unreal. The Oddwoman and the rest of the cast are more "representational" than they are real people. Having read this, you may well have a much better time with the whole play. In that context, much of the play works well. In that context, the actors are not "overacting."

It will be interesting to see what else Theater 9/12 will produce, and last fall's production of four one-acts was very well acted and written. You don't have to shell out a lot of money, and yet you get a quality show. It's not nearly as risky as the potential for "bad" acting that might pop up in "community" theater. (Wait a minute; I'm not knocking community theater. There is some wonderful work being done by community theaters. But you have to admit that sometimes people are cast because they're the treasurer of the organization, rather than because they pull their weight as actors.)

But even professional level acting will suffer if the script doesn't help them. So, it's incumbent on Theater 9/12 to make sure future scripts continue to live up to the level of actor that is voluntarily putting them on. One weekend left for this one, and more information is at theatre912.com. You can reserve seats, but you don't have to.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.
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