by Miryam Gordon -
SGN A&E Writer
The change in decade brings to mind reflecting on the decade past and the concept of something that endures. Often, we have experiences that stick to us and influence us and theater often has that effect on people. If you take a little poll, a lot of your friends and family could likely relate to you a cultural experience that felt so full and connecting that it remains a solid memory today. Some people's early experiences with theater even changed the trajectory of their choice of careers!
I thought I'd look back on my "Best Of" articles from each of the past ten year and reflect on those memories and what still sticks out for me today as a significant memory that defies the passing of years. I hope you'll join me in revisiting significant productions. I'll be quoting myself liberally from back then.
"Bradford Farwell was riveting as mathematician Alan Turing in Breaking the Code" by Strawberry Theatre Workshop. "Gin Hammond's one-woman play Returning the Bones was masterfully performed with her exceptional abilities." NOTE: "Gin Hammond brought back her astonishing family story in 2019, courtesy of Book-It Repertory Theatre. It was an honor to see it and her again."
"The unforgettable Condola Rashad brought the Congo to Intiman Theatre in Ruined and sang her way into our hearts. Intiman's A Doctor In Spite of Himself (which starred Daniel Breaker) wasn't really a Moliere translation as much as an homage to the great writer, but Moliere would likely have rolled in the aisles as this ensemble romped on the gorgeous set, shook their wonderful wigs, and cracked each other up."
"Eric Ankrim showed us his strength with prince-and-pauper tricks in Village Theatre's The Gypsy King."
"Scotto Moore's When I Come to My Senses, I'm Alive at Annex Theatre, was a not-so-distant-future science fiction exploration about being able to record someone's emotions and then give them to an audience to feel (for a fee)!"
"The most amazing theatrical presentation of the year, The Brothers Size, at Seattle Repertory Theatre, was an unforgettable play. Life in poverty-stricken, racially segregated urban areas of the U.S., with a poetical treatment of dialogue and movement highlighted the subject in a powerfully moving way. Every aspect of the production was top notch, including award-worthy performances by the three actors." NOTE: Frankly, almost 10 years on, this is still a memory I cling to with awe.
"Mike Daisey's The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (also at Seattle Repertory Theatre) was quite possibly life-changing, confronting as it does the horrible conditions by which Apple-made products are assembled in China. It is the quintessential amalgamation of political awareness and theatrical presentation."
"Sick, written and performed by Elizabeth Kenny, was a searing tale of her medically-induced psychosis by the medical establishment's mismanagement, developed and produced by John Kazanjian and New City Theater."
"Intiman Theatre's ground-breaking production of All My Sons, using a black family to great effect in a script written for a white one, showed the out of the box thinking of Valerie Curtis-Newton as director. While Intiman's future looks dim, Curtis-Newton's work should be sought out." NOTE: Prescient.
Seattle Children's Theater produced Jackie and Me, "based on a book about a young (white) boy who gets to travel back in time (as a black boy) to meet baseball great Jackie Robinson, was a tremendous production for any age."
Village Theatre had winners with Iron Curtain, a hysterical blend of puns and piroshkies, as American musical writers are kidnapped to Russia to fix a terrible Russian musical."
"Scotto Moore's Duel of the Linguist Mages was a screamingly smart science-fiction idea and you should get ready to attend his next offering in 2012 at Annex Theatre. Being able to claim nationally-recognized Yussef El Guindi as "local" is a pleasure as ACT Theatre included his new play, Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World."
A LOT of Local Playwriting
"Torso by Keri Healey (produced by Printers Devil Theater), Kittens in a Cage by Kelleen Conway Blanchard (produced by Annex Theatre)."
"Book-It Repertory Theatre had a stellar year, with triumphant productions of The Art of Racing in the Rain (adapted by Myra Platt), and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (adapted by Annie Lareau). Racing included a virtuoso performance by David Hogan as the smartest dog on stage. Hotel had a huge cast with many of our community's Asian-American actors joining in, bringing its uplifting story and informative history to us. Jose Abaoag and Stephanie Kim captured the spirit of twelve-year-olds perfectly."
"SiS Productions ended its long-running serial, Sex In Seattle, with the 20th episode, mostly penned by the supremely talented Kathy Hsieh." NOTE: The Seattle Theater Writers announced a special Gypsy Rose Lee Award to recognize Kathy Hsieh's penning of twenty two-hour plays in this series!
And in other plays: "In upstart crow's production of Titus Andronicus, Amy Thone played herself limp every night in that title role."
This year was bountiful with great productions, memorable plays that have gone on to multiple productions, and searing hot acting.
"Trouble in Mind (Intiman Theatre) had a tremendous cast, headed by Tracey Michelle Hughes, and addressed race head-on, with many aspects as accurate now as they were when Alice Childress first wrote the play in the early 1950s. Chosen by the intensely thoughtful and motivated director Valerie Curtis-Nelson, and supported by exquisite design, I felt like everyone in the city should see it."
"The Whipping Man at Taproot Theatre, also addressed race in different ways, with an amazing cast of three." NOTE: G. Valmont Thomas shows up again and again in subsequent years in some of the top plays of each year with beautiful performances. In 2013, he was a key cast member of Trouble in Mind. He is missed.
"Another beautiful trio of actors performed Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them at Seattle Public Theater. Sara L. Porkalob, Jose Abaoag and Tim Smith-Stewart played teenagers on their own, trying to live life the best way they can in a transcendent production." NOTE: This was our first introduction to the powerhouse that is Sara Porkalob.
"Kirsten Potter's performance in Seattle Repertory Theatre's Photograph 51 was luminous and moving, even as she played a still, under control, scientist. Another quiet, but breath-taking performance was that of Mary Ewald in an hour-and-a-half monologue that is Homebody, at New City Theater. Sean G. Griffin really gave a master class in acting in Sugar Daddies at ACT Theatre as a mysterious man with many stories."
"The Taming of the Shrew, as directed by Aimee Bruneau for Seattle Shakespeare Company in 2009, was a revelation of delight, even in the hot sun, as the romp was transported to a Southern trailer park. It was a special treat to have it remounted with almost every member of that cast, including Kelly Kitchens as Kate and David Quicksall as Petruchio, with a kick-ass ensemble and a scene-stealing performance by Brandon Ryan."
Patti Cohenour and Suzy Hunt enchanted with their performances in Grey Gardens (a co-production with ACT Theatre and The 5th Avenue Theatre). A most amazing performance was Noah Racey in The 5th Avenue's The Music Man, as he contorted his body, jumped, slid and just danced and sang his heart out.
"The two best world premiere plays from local Seattle playwrights were Undo (Annex Theatre) by Holly Arsenault and Bo-Nita (Seattle Repertory Theatre) by Elizabeth Heffron. Undo was produced with a great ensemble of actors, and a tradition of repeating a wedding ceremony backward before a divorce that was so real that people believed there really is such a Jewish tradition. Bo-Nita starred Hannah Mootz as a thirteen-year-old girl who tells a crazy, awful, compelling story of her recent life and made your heartstrings twang with empathy."
"Jocelyn Maher starred in She's Come Undone (Book-It Repertory Theatre) adapted terrifically by Kelly Kitchens. Maher had to age from a tiny girl to an adult in her 40s and undergo many traumas, including an on-stage rape. She handled it with amazing ability and I look forward to many more opportunities to see her work."
The Invisible Hand at ACT Theatre was the most memorable production that year at a "large" theater. The "small" theater moment came from A Small Fire by Sound Theatre Company with Teri Lazzara, Gordon Carpenter, Sara Coates, and Ray Tagavilla.
Worth remembering are: A powerful presentation of Larry Kramer's A Normal Heart by Strawberry Theater Workshop and a surprising Diana of Dobson's at Taproot Theatre. "The surprise about Taproot's production was not that it was well-executed - their productions invariably are - but that it was such a great script that still speaks to today even though it was written at the turn of the 20th Century."
Tracy Michelle Hughes took on Charlayne Woodard's one-woman piece Pretty Fire at Taproot Theatre. Third at ArtsWest with Marty Mukhalian.
Village Theatre's Mary Poppins as performed by Cayman Ilika as Mary and Greg Allen McCormick as Bert were "at the perfect moment in time for these roles." Village also managed an amazing cast for In the Heights with the best choreography of the year (by Daniel Cruz)! Adding to those productions, we got to see Sarah Rose Davis as Funny Girl at Village, who has to have been dreaming of doing that role since she was born!
A raft of challenging subject matters and tight writing were exemplified by scripts such as Black Like Us by Rachel Atkins (by Annex Theatre/Brownbox Theatre), Chaos Theory by Courtney Meaker (by Annex Theatre), Tails of Wasps by Stephanie Timm (by New Century Theatre Company), Balconies by Scotto Moore (by Annex Theatre), the adaptation of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Jeff Schwager (by Book-It Repertory Theatre), Blood Countess by Kelleen Conway Blanchard (by Annex Theatre), and Don Quixote and Sancho Panza: Homeless in Seattle by Rose Cano (by eSe Teatro).
Ryun Yu was riveting in the amazing text of Hold These Truths at ACT Theatre.
"A rich, graceful, ASL-enhanced production of Sound by Azeotrope allowed both hearing and deaf people to understand everything at the same time. Kudos to directors Desdemona Chiang and Howie Seago."
"SiS Productions gave us Paper Angels (excellently directed - with two casts - by David Hsieh) which focused on a little-known history of Chinese-American immigrants and Pratidhwani let us peek inside India with Dance Like A Man. ArtsWest also let us visit China with Chinglish, the indomitable Kathy Hsieh leading the cast."
"Book-It Repertory Theatre also had a great year with two other memorable productions: Little Bee (with the outstanding Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako) and Slaughterhouse-Five, a tremendous effort for us Vonnegut fans!"
"Taproot Theatre's Best of Enemies performed with a tight ensemble and the force of nature that is Faith Russell. Also, Bootycandy from Intiman Theatre, and the very, very, very funny Buyer & Cellar at the Seattle Repertory Theatre make my list."
"Theatre22 and eSe Teatro had a winner with Water By the Spoonful, directed by talented Julie Beckman." NOTE: G. Valmont Thomas had a lovely role in this production.
"The clear rave of the year was Come From Away, Seattle Repertory Theatre's brand new co-pro that has just ended a practically sold-out run. The uncharacteristically musically-oriented Rep also produced a lauded effort, Lizard Boy, from local talent Justin Huertas."
Vincent Delany's The Art of Bad Men was not just well-written, but was well-produced by MAP Theatre. My Dear Miss Chancellor by Caitlin Gilman was a tour-de-force of Victorian fencers with an extra dose of charming by Sophia Franzella, at Annex Theatre.
"Sometimes you see a play that surpasses everything else and you know you've seen something to remember for years. 2016 had The Royale at ACT Theatre. The writing, the directing, the technical execution and the terrific acting combined for a stellar, memorable stage moment and is - hands down - the best thing I saw this year!" NOTE: G. Valmont Thomas had a great role in this production.
"Other productions I loved included Sound Theatre Company's The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, 9 Circles with Conner Neddersen at Strawberry Theatre Workshop, Sorry by Thalia's Umbrella, and Vietgone at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Also Death of a Salesman with David Pichette at ArtsWest."
5th Avenue Theatre's wonderful How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying had a great cast. "It was colorful and fun, and is probably my favorite effort by director Bill Berry." Brenna Wagner introduced herself in the lead role of Violet at ArtsWest.
"Two favorites were Do It For Umma by Seayoung Yim, mounted at Annex Theatre and A Hand of Talons by Maggie Lee, mounted by Pork Filled Productions. A favorite adaptation was Laura Ferri's A Tale for the Time Being at Book-It Repertory Theatre introducing the lovely performance by Mi Kang."
"Exciting writing also included: Can't Talk Right Now by Scotto Moore and From Kings to Controllers by Stacy Flood. Sara Porkalob created two new iterations of her solo piece about her amazing grandmother and will bring another one to Café Nordo in January (Madame Dragon's 60th Birthday Bash)."
Honorable Mention: A very current political piece was written by Nick Edwards where Keven Bordi became a way-fun Trump in Trump the King. It is now sounding more and more prescient!
"Strawberry Theatre Workshop produced my choice for Best Play of 2017, Lydia, with deft direction by Sheila Daniels and a devastating, heart-wrenching leading performance by upcoming talent Sofia Raquel Sanchez."
That play and its inclusion of Latinx families "brings happy notice to the strong, powerful showings in 2017" of major productions centering on People of Color. "Sound Theatre Company's Hoodoo Love, Book-It Repertory Theatre's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and ArtsWest's Milk Like Sugar brought African American-focused stories and performers front and center, and also put spotlights on Black Women's voices."
"(IM)Pulse, a dance theater piece by Spectrum Dance Theater's Donald Byrd reminded us of the historic prejudices against LGBT people and the AIDS crisis. This was a gut-punch that will be remembered."
"Theatre22 had a quiet, but scary winner with Downstairs. Washington Ensemble Theatre has my Favorite Set of the year in Teh Internet Is Serious Business with set and lights by talented Tristan Roberson and a great ensemble of actors. Seattle Repertory Theatre produced my Best Comedy of 2017: the riotous and very un-prim-and-proper Pride and Prejudice."
"The 5th Avenue Theatre started off the year with a rousing version of Pajama Game and then bookended the year with a warm, sweet Holiday Inn with special guest Lorna Luft. They also provided a moving, history-oriented and excellent production of Ragtime."
"Village Theatre provided my pick for Best Musical production of 2017: Dreamgirls! It was said to be on Steve Tomkins "bucket list" before he transitions from Artist Director and our fair community now has enough top African American talent that they can blow our socks off in productions such as these."
"A one-woman show by Y York, Sycorax, turned Shakespeare's The Tempest on its head to surmise that Caliban's mother was black and that was why she and Caliban were despised.
Nadeshiko, by local playwright Keiko Green, also at Sound Theatre Company, told a Japanese tale. ACT Theatre produced a fascinating play about Deaf culture: Tribes."
This year, I called out the "excellent season that ArtsWest had as Artistic Director Mathew Wright continues to elevate their overall presentations, both in terms of choices of scripts and in terms of technical support! In particular: An Octoroon, Hir, Peerless, and Skeleton Crew."
"Lamar Legend had to become several "selves," sometimes almost at once in An Octoroon, and kept up a tremendous amount of energy doing it. Hir, co-produced by ArtsWest and Intiman Theatre, was similarly gutsy and timely in terms of the focus, in part, on transgender youth. Gretchen Krich was brave, hurt, subjugated, resurrected, defiant, and tender in Hir."
"Peerless had a subject matter that I'm extremely tired of personally - high school angst - but it was such a high level of effort with a kick-ass ensemble and a funny-smart script that I was won over. Skeleton Crew starred Tracy Michelle Hughes who was heartbreaking as a factory worker who would not let anyone see her pain."
"Hand to God at Seattle Public Theater was a gutsy and outrageous show. Ben Burris was simply amazing in Hand to God, as he managed the sheer complexity of a boy and his hand puppet. Burris' years of quiet puppeteering in various local theatres were the perfect preparation for this amazing role. Sunam Ellis was the most profane and surprising mother in Hand to God.
"ASL Midsummer Night's Dream by Sound Theatre Company was a massive endeavor by a pretty tiny company to include deaf audiences and actors in a seminal Shakespearean experience. It was completely signed and spoken with a double cast of deaf and hearing actors."
"Native Gardens by Intiman Theatre was a funny skewering of racial stereotypes and a bandying about of tropes about "the Man" and border walls and all manner of topical immigration issues. Ironbound at Seattle Public Theater was a taut, edgy character study in minimalism."
"Seattle Repertory Theatre can always be counted on to do August Wilson scripts to perfection as they did in 2018 with Two Trains Running." NOTE: They are producing Fences soon in 2020.
"Queen from Pratidhwani used the science behind bee-disappearing-syndrome to speak about the perils of research funding and the lure of fame and fortune versus the honor of coming clean about likely-undetectable errors due to bias."
Sometimes, you have to recognize the incredible handwork needed for the set for Pony World Theatre's bizarre, well-done work, Parliament Square. Hundreds of hours were needed for it - to create a huge macramé upstage piece along with an intricate, enormous rendering on the stage floor of the City of London.
"New ways to include otherwise excluded audiences was another welcome trend in 2018 where The 5th Avenue Theatre produced a most unusual Hunchback of Notre Dame with a signing Hunchback."
"Kiss Me, Kate was another fun and funny production at the 5th with the glorious Cayman Ilika making audiences roll in the aisles as she detailed how much she 'Hate(d) Men.'" The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes at Village Theatre was full of inside-theater jokes in a concept that felt like someone should have written this story already of a guy whose life is caught in a musical."
"Sara Porkalob continued to develop her "Dragon trilogy" with Dragon Mama, her real family biographies with scintillating detail. Until the Flood (at ACT Theatre) by Dael Orlandersmith explored various members of the community in Ferguson, Missouri after the 2014 tragedy of the shooting of unarmed Michael Brown. Her show focused on just about every kind of view available and hew of skin color in a fascinating show of how one person can become so very many different people. Y York's The Impossibility of Now was produced by Thalia's Umbrella."
"Indecent at Seattle Repertory Theatre was full of everything brilliant about theater. Sound Theatre Company and The Hansberry Project's Citizen was a powerful and cogent, challenging work about racism with an ensemble that was ready to confront it and stand tall."
"The 5th Avenue Theatre and ACT Theatre co-produced the best Urinetown I can imagine. Village Theatre reprised Million Dollar Quartet with the most amazing cast I've ever seen. Justin Huertas had a great 2019. Justin wrote us the world's quirkiest musical, The Last World Octopus Wrestling Champion (ArtsWest)."
"In a very different, wonderful way, the new work, Sheathed, by inventive and lovely (local!) playwright Maggie Lee, was a wholly new work of essentially sci-fi fantasy, where strong sword-fighting women quested and struggled with deep questions of vengeance versus reconciliation."
If you've read mywhole article, I thank you and I applaud you! It's long& But I really enjoyed looking back at the tremendous output of gorgeous shows over the past decade. I hope you've enjoyed looking back with me and I'd be happy to hear if you agree with my choices.
Discuss your opinions with SGNCritic@gmail.com. More articles can be found at MiryamsTheaterMusings.blogspot.com.