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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 20 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 29
Intiman summer festival gets down and 'dirty'
Arts & Entertainment
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Intiman summer festival gets down and 'dirty'

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

DIRTY STORY
INTIMAN THEATRE
Through August 25


According to Artistic Director Andrew Russell, Intiman's summer festival has an overarching theme: 'Don't get too comfortable.' Kicking off their ambitious four-play repertory this week was John Patrick Shanley's Dirty Story, which, while offering a lot of laughs, truly embodies that statement.

'Dirty,' in this context, has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with politics, in the broadest possible sense. This is a machine-gun spatter of words and ideas that starts out coming from the character of Brutus Cioppa (Shawn Law), a writer and scion of a rich olive-oil family, who improbably then calls himself 'Jew-German' when meeting with budding MFA-completing writer Wanda (Carol Roscoe), who says she is a 'German Jew.' That doesn't seem relevant in the first act, but it becomes central in the second.

The first act seems focused on a discussion of artistic intent and is labeled 'Fiction.' Brutus is bombastic and caustic about Wanda's writing potential and rains down criticism - which doesn't seem to deflate Wanda so much as challenge her. In fact, Wanda is so eager to be challenged toward exploring a new way of writing that she accepts an invitation to his loft, whereupon Brutus successfully seduces her into an exploration of identifying with the plot of The Perils of Pauline. But the laughs are squelched as the temperature changes and real danger seems imminent.

Farce takes more center stage at the end of Act One and in Act Two, as Shanley's script attempts to poke an element of 'a pox on both your houses' into the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is now clear that Brutus (wearing a keffiyeh) represents Palestine, Wanda (wearing an Israeli Defense Force T-shirt) is Israel, her heroic ex-boyfriend Frank (Quinn Franzen) is the cowboy America, and his father-figure best friend (Allen Fitzpatrick) is the British Empire (with a pan-Anglo accent). And now Brutus and Wanda are dividing his apartment, with Wanda having taken over the bulk of it.

While it might be heartening to know that no one escapes being made fun of, it certainly will discomfort many in the audience as Shanley takes his shots at the preposterous situation there. It's clear that Brutus' family is supposed to be omnipresent, even though he is essentially cut off from them (like the Palestinians are from the rest of the Arab 'family,' who basically abandoned them to their present state of poverty and isolation). References to how important oil is to the U.S. (even though it's not cooking oil) are also present.

The two biggest problems I had are first, that Brutus' omnipresent family (the Arab countries) maybe should have showed up threatening to put concrete shoes on Wanda if she doesn't move out - the threat of violence against Israel is no joke - and second, the analogy of 'German Jew' being synonymous with 'Jew-German' and the couple being 'in bed together' trying to divide up a small apartment just doesn't work. So the polemic is limited and doesn't bring any new insight to the situation. In fact, halfway through the second act, the audience might be the ones feeling like hostages.

The production is an enormously vigorous one. All four actors are top-notch, with Shawn Law pulling more than his weight here in the most challenging role (maybe even more challenging than Hamlet). He commands stage time no matter what aspect of behavior he needs to demonstrate. Carol Roscoe matches Law step by step, exhibiting rapid character shifts from eager student to potential paramour to truculent, exasperated pseudo-spouse. Franzen and Armstrong's roles aren't quite as well-written, but they provide great support.

Director Valerie Curtis-Newton pulls it together in the new Intiman Studio space that feels like similar small 'fringe' spaces all over town. Technical contributions - Jennifer Zeyl's set and props, L.B. Morse's intricate lighting, Matt Starritt's musical contributions, and Deb Trout's whimsical costumes - are all excellent. Zeyl's versatile, interesting hole-in-the-wall loft in particular is key to creating atmosphere. For more information, go to www.intiman.org or call (206) 441-7178.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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