On Tuesday and Wednesday ACT Theatre presented the Icicle Creek Theatre Festival. I’ve been obsessed with new work lately and I love seeing plays in process. (I was even more excited [because I’m a nerd] that these plays had a dramaturg work with them.) Similarly to Pipeline, a talkback followed the reading with the playwright, director, and dramaturg leading the discussion.
The first night featured You for Me for You by Mia Chung. From the Icicle Creek Festival website:
In You for Me for You, Mia Chung explores the lives of two sisters from North Korea who escape one harsh and unforgiving reality only to enter another very foreign world; a world where a smuggler and a paper balloon can shape a woman’s fate.
With whimsy and magic, the play journeys through time, space and evolving identities, crossing borders of the mind and heart, and examining what it takes to create and sustain a family and a life in a new world.
The staged reading was directed by Sheila Daniels, had beautiful non-linear story-telling, and amazing depictions of communication breakdown. I particularly enjoyed the generic white woman talking in a fast-paced, broken-down, mechanized way illustrating Yuna’s attempt to parse out words. The sister connection was beautifully portrayed, and the simple moments with small objects were well-rendered and captivated the simple in a complex environment. The stakes resonated beautifully. The life Yuna lives in New York on behalf of Minjee, her sister, only to sacrifice it for Minjee’s life which she may not appreciate showcased the inherit risk in trusting and loving someone.
I am smitten with the play and playwright. Chung’s work was poignant, funny, heart-wrenching, challenging and incorporated moments of magical realism – all with without becoming over-sentimental.
The second night featured The Whale by Samuel D. Hunter. From the Icicle Creek Festival website:
The Whale is a poetic, disturbing and strangely beautiful journey through the life of a small-town shut-in named Charlie, whose self-imposed exile is the result of a brutal and disturbing form of internalized homophobia. His fascination with Melville’s Moby Dick, and his literal, and figurative connection with the solitary, hunted beast bring poignance and power to this startling and lovely new play. The Whale was recently awarded the Marin Theatre Company’s Sky Cooper New American Play prize for best new American play.
The reading was directed by newly appointed interim artistic director of Intiman, Andrew Russell. I was less smitten with this work, though that doesn’t mean I didn’t find value in it. There were many themes floating around, all of which had potential, but were repeated so often they lost vitality. Some of the balls in the air were excess, hypocrisy, opposites, honesty – all really amazing, but all repeated to excess (which may have been the point). The execution of these ideas felt watered down. The main character Charlie felt real, but the characters who orbited him felt like illusions, felt caricature-ized with less agency than the man who could no longer move himself off the sofa.
There were however, some very interesting elements at work. For instance, the play featured a large (600 lb) man who was on the stage the whole time, and because of his huge-ness, he doesn’t move much. The other characters simply orbit around him and so the idea lends itself to potentially incredible movement work to translate effectively. (Russell actually staged this on its feet so we were given a taste of what that might look like.) The essay the daughter wrote about Moby Dick was an amazing idea and well-executed in the first and last moments in which we heard it. The writing was very sweet and highlighted the major conflict between father and daughter and how they view one another without being over-sentimental which is a hard balance to strike.
I would love to see both of the plays again fully staged to see how they change. They each offered artistic views not otherwise present on Seattle stages and it’s always a privilege to see a writer’s process.