February, part two: White Hot, The Bells, and Grotesque Animal

Here’s the continuation of short show responses for February. Sorry for the delay. Hopefully I will have caught up through March by the end of this week, and then go back to writing longer pieces about the shows I see. Also, I’m writing for The SunBreak, so look out for my debut piece later this week.

White Hot at West of Lenin

After seeing White Hot my first thought was, “Ah. There’s your backbone, Seattle theatre.” If there’s one thing White Hot had it was spine, cojones even. But aside from the shock value of seeing something new for the current Seattle theatre scene, there was a lot to love and debate about White Hot. The design was phenomenal to the point where scene changes and transitions made me sit up a little taller in my seat. Though the show spelled out “the message” overtly in a monologue (this is a show about despicable, unlikable people with a no-hope ending) I found myself compelled to watch on. The shock and violence of the piece was not exactly new, but was well-executed. And the actors handled sprawling intense dialogue with ferocity. Overall, it was a play that did not passively act on you; engagement needed to happen and dialogue about it was necessary to fully process what it accomplished. I would love to see more shows that aspire to shake-up audiences. Also, shout out to the skills of Ray Tagavilla. I’ve only seen him in two productions (the other being Lie of the Mind) but I’m amazed at how captivating he was for a relatively small part. I want to see more of him on the Seattle stage.

Strawshop’s The Bells at Erickson Theatre

I heard a reading of this play many, many months ago when I worked at Intiman as a House Manager. I remember hearing it and thinking, “This is good, but a slow pace would kill it.” There’s not a lot of action. And because you guess early on that the “twist” is not so much a twist as the inevitable direction, it’s important for the rest of the story to move at a steady clip. That’s where Strawshop lost me a bit. Though the play was well-acted, designed, and directed, they decided to keep the pauses long and pointed. The same happened for the transitions even though the transitions were using opposite sides of the stage. The lights had to fully black out (usually at 3-5 second fade time) before the lights would go up on the second half of the stage (again, at a 3-5 second fade time). This made for a longer piece with less weight. The set design was phenomenal balancing between realism, and suggestion of snow and mountain terrain. The sound, especially the bells themselves, was haunting.

El Pasado es un animal grotesco at On the Boards

The turntable of time going around for a ten-year span was surprisingly captivating especially considering the production was based in narration as opposed to action. Despite that (or, perhaps because of it) there were many moments of laughter and calls to action. The themes of transformation, progression, separation, and falsely presenting a persona connected the separate story threads over the backdrop of political upheaval in Argentina. Clear parallels from the decade the author describes in Argentina to our contemporary decade in America compelled the piece throughout, though the narration never makes the comparison directly. And though, I don’t think the intention was to have the piece show how “we are all one,” I liked that the production was different things to different people. On the Boards is a force to be reckoned with, and I’m continually amazed at what they bring to their stage.

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