BY ERIC MULHOLLAND, Aug. 30, 2013
Summer is a great time for theater. I know, you must be thinking that this particular summer has been hard to do anything but bask in the warmth of the sun. Who’d want to trade the bliss of the outdoors for a dark theater? It’s obvious this glorious stretch of warm weather has been a welcome break to the usual canopy of gray clouds and rain that covers the northwest. So… to drag any one of us into a theater, the production better be more than good. It better be FABULOUS!
I’m happy to report that, for the most part, summer productions have been worth the time and the money.
First, I made a trip to Seattle to check out the offerings at Intiman Summer Theatre Festival. I managed to see three of their four summer productions and enjoyed them all. Intiman has pared down from a year-round production company, with several past successful seasons under its belt, to a lean summer theater festival. Andrew Russell, Intiman’s Artistic Director, has been at the helm of creating a vibrant scene for summer theater in the city for the past two years. Last year’s inaugural summer festival was a huge success, and this year is following suit.
As far as I’m concerned, the best production in Intiman’s lineup is “Trouble In Mind” by Alice Childress. “Trouble in Mind” tackles race and representation in the American theater. This production surprised me in its honesty and relevance, despite the fact that it was written in the late 1950’s. The performances are stellar with standout Tracy Michelle Hughes, who plays the lead role, Wiletta. Her performance is powerful and touching. She had my friend and I in tears by the end of the play. Director Valerie Curtis-Newton did a stunning job in turning back time to an era of overt racism to remind us how hard it is to break barriers of race, ones that still exist today.
Next, I joined some friends in Seattle for ACT Theatre’s production of “Rapture, Blister, Burn” by Gina Gionfriddo, and directed by Anita Montgomery. Act 1 was a slow burn for me, but by the start of Act 2, I was fully drawn in by the story of main character Catherine, a successful academic who returns to her hometown to care for her mother. Catherine’s life is happily turned upside down when she reconnects with an old flame who happens to be married to her college friend Gwen.
The heat is turned up as we watch the characters struggle with their life choices and try to fight off their feelings of passion and regret. The second act is a witty and humorous exploration of the feminist movement, and how it relates to the lives of three women from three different generations. Mariel Neto, who plays the 20-something Avery Willard, brings in the unconventional wisdom of today’s young people with a humorous performance that had audiences laughing out loud. Likewise, Priscilla Lauris, who plays Alice Croll, Catherine’s mother, brought the humor and wit of the older generation. Her performance was uncluttered and honest.
Locally, I had the pleasure to enjoy Island Shakespeare’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” directed by Rose Woods. Part of the charm of the ISF production this year was the introduction of the newly purchased circus-style vintage tent used as a performance venue.
The tent, lovingly referred to by the company as ‘Henry,’ added to the production style – a blend of American circus and Italian Commedia. “Much Ado” is a lively production and the acting company fully commits to the story to deliver an enjoyable afternoon of free theater. My guests and I brought a yummy picnic lunch to enjoy in the lead up to the performance, one of the more delightful aspects of free theater in the park.
Don’t let the pull of warm weather keep you outside! There is still time to enjoy summer theater locally and in Seattle. I promise ─ you won’t be disappointed that you gave up just a small slice of that summer sun.
Eric Mulholland is an actor, teacher and writer living on Whidbey Island.
Upcoming theater events on and off the island:
- “Lysistrata,” “Trouble In Mind,” “Stu for Silverton” and “We Won’t Pay, We Won’t Pay” – Intiman Theatre Festival, Seattle; through Sept. 15.
- “Much Ado About Nothing,” by William Shakespeare – Island Shakespeare Festival Shows start at 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, through Sept. 15. Admission is free!
- “Play On,” by Rick Abbot – Outcast Productions at the Black Box Theater in Langley; Sept. 20 to Oct. 5.
- “Sugar Daddies” by Alan Ayckbourn – ACT Theatre in Seattle; Oct. 4 to Nov. 3.