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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 13 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 28
SPT's silly summer comedy offers irresistible delight
Arts & Entertainment
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SPT's silly summer comedy offers irresistible delight

by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

It's summer in the city and, as usual, 'free' is this scribe's favorite word. Combine 'silly' and 'summer' and 'comedy' with 'free' and 'free parking,' and Seattle theater fans have an irresistible combination. It's simply too much fun to miss.

The world premiere production, a commissioned script, is Attack of the Killer Murder ... of Death! The theater is the usually serious, reflective Seattle Public Theater (SPT), which performs at the historic Bathhouse, nestled on the west shore of Green Lake. The author, Wayne Rawley, has a classic tongue-in-cheek satire well in hand - it's a world premiere that should see dozens, if not hundreds, of productions in the upcoming years. It's an out-and-out winner in every department.

Performances continue this weekend with three opportunities: Tonight (July 13) at 7 p.m., and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Admission is free, though donations to SPT's scholarship fund are gratefully accepted. And, to repeat, parking is also free.

The cast is the SPT Youth Ensemble graduating class of 2012 - a group that many participants have studied and performed in over the past eight years. 'The kids are off to college ... and to the world,' Shana Bestock, artistic director and educational director of the theater, noted in her animated introduction to the play. All 11 student actors work well as a polished ensemble. Some are more mature than others. Some are serious about acting and performance careers. All are having the time of their life, and the audience members - mainly family and friends with some adventurous 'theater nuts' wandering in - were laughing their heads off at Sunday's matinee.

The play begins with - what else? - ominous background music. A scream is heard in the darkness. 'Fay Wray time' was this scribe's first reaction. It turned out to be correct.

Our damsel-in-distress is being menaced by some alien creature. The creature, as it lunges after our leading lady, looks like Mr. Tomato Head - and that is not a misprint. (The play's wonderfully terrible title conjures up, of course, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.) Our hero provides endless exposition in a deadpan delivery that defies description - as Dolly Parton often notes at her concerts, it takes a lot of talent to appear to be so talentless. It also takes an assured director with endless creativity to make senseless satires such as this one work like a Swiss pocket watch. His blankly delivered dialogue goes something like: 'Here we are, trapped in a Gothic tale on a deserted island in a creepy Victorian manor with no one we can turn to.' A later line deadpans, 'It is the 1950s, after all.' Exposition 101, this English major thought, as he disgruntledly dismissed the 'world premiere' effort. The first moments were so 'bad' that this writer pondered a quick coughing fit and an awkward early departure. Then the light bulb went on (one of many): 'It's supposed to be bad.' Consider The Rocky Horror Show an antecedent source.

Enter Professor Olga, a towering, statuesque blonde with a horrible Mel Brooks-inspired German accent. She arrives to save the day. But - gasp! - she is really an alien herself. Then 'it' dawned - it's Sigourney Weaver time!

Mr. Handsome Hero tries to save our damsel-in-distress but his atomic laser gun fails to fire. Destruction ahead. (Fond memories of The Skin of Our Teeth, The Torchbearers, and Noises Off clicked in.)

'We're doomed,' Mr. Hero shouts as Mr. Tomato Head, decked out with asparagus feelers, approaches. 'Great, silly fun,' methinks. Then - gasp! - an offstage voice yells, 'Cut!' and the full stage lights come up. In an inspired turn of events, we find that we are on a movie set and what we have seen is Take 4 - or 14 - of a key scene, pushing the production of this cheap horror film 'seriously over budget.'

Sterling Pictures - which, of course, has a 'tarnished' reputation - is hard at work trying to wrap up our title film. 'Olga' is really Desdemona Sunset, the Biggest Bitch in Hollywood. She's trying to save a failing career by 'stooping' to work for Sterling. (Yes, dear reader, try 'stooping' with a Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein accent - it's even funnier that way.)

As the cast of the movie-within-a-play takes a well-deserved break, the truth comes out. We meet the 'real' actors - Martin Van Handsome, Archie Lowman (think Death of a Salesman), diva star Desdemona (think Othello) Sunset (think The Skin of Our Teeth's Miss Somerset - the hapless actress who watches in horror as the set literally falls down around her opening monologue. A rapid quick take, a Cliff's Notes anthology of comically complex theatrical references abound - and this scribe fears he got only the literary ones, missing the bad-sci-fi-film allusions for the most part. The feared 'Sam Silver' is discussed - he will surely cancel production of this fiasco. (Silver is in charge of Sterling Pictures - get it?) But, wait, 'Sam' turns out to be the glamorous Samantha Silver, the fabled heiress! The fun continues.

Our hapless scriptwriter (as in 'The dumb blonde actress was so stupid she f--ked the writer to get ahead'), the aforementioned Archie Lowman, works hurriedly to solve story concerns. The cameraman - who introduces himself as 'The Technicolor King of Cowboy Horse Operas' - assures Olga/Desdemona that she is 'looking great.'

Of course, there's trouble at Sterling Pictures. The young, innocent, very sincere - and very short - Abby Watson, who plays Mr. Tomato Head (cast, of course, for her stature), is - gasp! - fired unjustly. She is obviously the Voice of Reason on the set, so she must go.

Back to filming: Another take - but this time the laser gun works, and Olga-the-Alien drops dead as she is obviously shot by the fake prop that has been - gasp! - replaced with a REAL gun. Her crumpled body is quickly examined and the coroner announces that she has been - the biggest gasp! of Act One - poisoned! Lights out and the first act ends with another Fay Wray scream.

And there are two more acts for you to discover on your own. To be honest, the writer hasn't had so much silly fun since he directed and produced a high-school production of a modern melodrama spoof - the fondly remembered, highly celebrated (by some), She Lured Him to the Primrose Path - But Was Nipped in the Bud.

SPT's 2012-13 season starts in September with Superior Donuts, Tracy Letts' second Broadway production (the first was the Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County). The season continues with The Understudy, in which 'a movie star and his bitter understudy rehearse Kafka on Broadway,' according to the capsule comment. Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them follows, with The Language Archive ending the season in May and June.

For more details on SPT, visit www.seattlepublictheater.org or call (206) 524-1300. Tell 'em SGN sent ya.

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