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Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Review of RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN at ACT in Seattle - With Video Highlights

Kirsten Potter, Jeffrey Frace, Kathryn van Meter,
Photo: John Cornicello - See more at:

People say hindsight is 20/20, but three old friends in a new play called Rapture,Blister, Burn, still need glasses to re-examine their lives when reunited, years after college. Running at ACT—A Contemporary Theatre until August 11, it offers Seattle audiences a hilarious and piercing look at one of life’s greatest truths: choices have consequences. One of those consequences can be regret. That realization hits like a bomb in the lives of these characters and shakes up theatergoers with as much reality as laughter.
Director Anita Montgomery has made the most of Gina Gionfriddo’s brilliant script and this dynamite cast of five extraordinarily talented actors. The weaving together of plot and personality creates a captivating performance. After graduating from college, sexy, single Catherine Croll (Kirsten Potter) has become a nationally known feminist writer and academic. Her former friend, Gwen Harper (Kathryn Van Meter), chose the domestic life as the stay-at-home mother of two sons, boys the audience hears about but never meets.

Kathryn van Meter, Kirsten Potter, Mariel Neto, Priscilla Lauris Photo: John Cornicello - See more at:
Each woman dwells on what she’s missed because of her choice. Their lifestyle differences alone could create plenty of potential for conflict on its own, but Gwen is now married to Catherine’s old college boyfriend, Don Harper (Jeffrey FracĂ©), after causing the couple’s breakup. This reunion makes her nervous. Her husband has his own set of second thoughts. And Catherine’s return reminds both of them just how far removed he’s become from the intellectual his former girlfriend has always imagined him to be. He is actually an unambitious man who drinks too much (while Gwen has quit drinking) and whose only sex life is whatever thrill he gets from pornography. Gwen sees all the shortcomings of the man she once stole from Catherine, while Catherine sees only her romanticized memory of him, at least in the beginning.

Jeffrey Frace, Kirsten Potter
Photo: John Cornicello - See more at:
In a play labeled a “comedy,” this situation might not sound all that funny. But real life is always the best source of humor, and there is probably no scenario more real than watching two women have second thoughts about their choices. In spite of feminism’s long history in America, it never has succeeded in fulfilling the dream of having it all, or having it both ways, when it comes to balancing career and family. That message is delivered here with sizzling wit and keen observation. In addition to dealing with the women’s movement, the play examines issues like pornography, alcoholism, the balance of power in relationships, and the views and experiences of different generations of women. In addition to the plays theme of the grass always looking greener on the other side of the fence, it also reminds us how entrapping expectations can be, and how we tend not to see or accept people for who they really are.
Kathryn van Meter, Kirsten Potter, Mariel Neto, Priscilla Lauris
Photo: John Cornicello - See more at:

The older generation is represented by Catherine’s mother, Alice Croll (Priscilla Lauris) who probably draws more laughs than anyone with her absolutely charming and funny portrayal of an adoring, doting, cheerful, non-interfering mother who sees only the best in everyone and takes both a heart attack and women’s issues in stride. She politely dismisses her daughters anxious fussing over her health—Catherine’s excuse for coming home—and is always ready to be the perfect hostess, including mixing drinks. It becomes clear that, although Catherine is supposedly there to help her mother, it is the daughter who is the perpetually needy one.

Jeffrey Frace and Kirsten Potter Photo: Chris Bennion - See more at:
On the opposite end of the age scale is current college student Avery Willard (Mariel Neto). She brings her own no-holds-barred commentary on the love triangle situation, along with the perspective of modern youth. But behind her liberal attitude toward sex, she shows a surprising mix vulnerability, maturity, and common sense, making this character complex and interesting.
I love the Allen Theatre at ACT, and Scenic Designer Matthew Smucker put together the perfect setting for non-stop domestic drama in this theater-in-the-round. Since every seat is a good seat, they’ll all go fast. I recommend you reserve yours now, for an evening of thought-provoking laughter and some of the best acting you’ll ever see. You will be captivated and entertained throughout and treated to a surprise ending. Congratulations to the entire cast for an outstanding performance. Rapture, Blister, Burn is ACT at its finest.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Review of PIRATES OF PENZANCE at Seattle's 5th Ave Theatre

The Pirates of Penzance is running at The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, until August 4, and if you’ve never seen this work by Gilbert & Sullivan, just knowing it has remained popular since its premier in 1879 is reason enough to be intrigued.
The Pirates of Penzance at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Credit Mark Kitaoka
 That’s 134 years of continuously drawing audiences. Originally called a “comic opera,” and considered the forerunner of musical theater, it is historically significant and worth seeing for that reason alone. And even if you have, already seen it a dozen times, this is new production, full of surprises. Set in the Victorian era, like the original, this one is physically set in British Columbia. The authority of law is represented by Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Although the view of what seemed to be Mount Rainier, in the background, looked like it would from Tacoma, the shoreline could have been Vancouver Island, B.C.

The Sergeant of Police (Jared Michael Brown, center) is the leader of a brigade of Canadian Mounties in The Pirates of Penzance 
at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Credit Tracy Martin
Watching the show last Friday night, I found much to appreciate, admire, and enjoy, and I recommend it for many good reasons. But before seeing it, I had my doubts because of the silliness factor. Maybe I’m too serious, but I like art to inspire reflection. It’s hard to look too deeply into something that appears so shallow, yet this classic does contain timeless observations about human society and the conflicts and contradictions still as present in our modern lives as in those of its characters. And it's certainly highly entertaining.
(l-r) Frederic (Hunter Ryan Herdlicka) and Ruth (Anne Allgood) in The Pirates of Penzance at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Credit Tracy Martin
For those who are unfamiliar with Pirates, the backstory concerns a boy having been orphaned and then being unintentionally indentured to a band of pirates through a misunderstanding on the part of his nursemaid, Ruth. One of my 5th Avenue favorites, Anne Allgood, a veteran of Broadway, starred in this role. The story begins when the boy, Fredericplayed by Broadway star Hunter Ryan Herdlicka—reaches manhood and has fulfilled his obligation to the pirates. He then decides to leave them, and the isolated existence he’s known, to experience a normal life and meet young women. The only woman he has supposedly ever seen is his much older nursemaid Ruth. He also faces a moral conflict; he knows that the pirates who have been like family to him are actually criminals.
Brandon O'Neill as the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Credit Tracy Martin
Other significant characters are the pirate King—so perfectly portrayed by the dashing and talented Brandon O’Neill—and the Major General, played by David Pichette, who also did a great job in his role. The Major General's  daughter, Mabel, is Frederic’s love interest, with Anne Eisendrath starring in that role with ease. In addition to having the daughter Mabel, the Major General has adopted, or at least provided a home for, many other young women who call him “father." Conveniently, there are as many of them as there are available pirates. And those pirates, whose real identities will later be revealed, are much more soft-hearted than menacing. But remember, this is all a farce.
David Pichette, as Major General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance at The 5th Avenue Theatre
Credit Mark Kitaoka
The story includes conflicts between age and youth, crime and the law, male and female, sexual passions and Victorian restraint, social status and lack of it, societal restrictions versus freedom of choice, and more. But the overriding conflict revolves around duty versus personal desire, with young Frederic at the center of that. His way of dealing with that conflict is, of course, totally outlandish, but so is everything else about The Pirates of Penzance.

Silly as it is, this show is also a lot of fun. Part of the fun comes from trying to catch all the little details. I think you could watch it ten times and still not see everything. On the drive home, my companion for the evening mentioned several funny things I’d missed. For example, there’s a pirate who goes around with a fake parrot on his shoulder, and when an equally fake Canada goose lost its head to the swipe of a sword (no blood involved) the pirate covered the parrot's eyes against such violence.

(l-r) Frederic (Hunter Ryan Herdlicka) and Mabel (Anne Eisendrath) in The Pirates of Penzance at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Credit Tracy Martin
The one thing serious about this production is the seriously great singing, especially by O’Neill. His powerful voice and bold physical actions made his character of the pirate king both irresistible and unforgettable. I’ve always been a fan of O’Neill but especially enjoyed watching him in this role, marveling over his athleticism and natural grace that display his well-honed theatrical skills. Eisendrath is a fine soprano whose beautiful voice elevated her role as Mabel to a level beyond its usual potential. Likewise, Herdlicka demonstrated the reason behind his impressive career, with a voice worthy of any role.
(l-r) Frederic (Hunter Ryan Herdlicka), Ruth (Anne Allgood), and the Pirate King (Brandon O'Neill) in The Pirates of Penzance at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Credit Mark Kitaoka
But, from a woman’s perspective, I must say that Anne Allgood’s portrayal of Ruth was the most heroic. In a good story, the main characters should be on their own journeys, during which they must face challenges and learn lessons, ending up different than when they began. Hers was the only character who actually changed and came into her own sense of personal power and strength by the ending, quite an accomplishment for a single, middle-aged woman during the Victorian era, and it resonated well.
Frederic (Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, left) and the Pirate King (Brandon O'Neill, right) in The Pirates of Penzance at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Credit Tracy Martin
Plot aside, the production dazzled in many ways, and the sets were absolutely stunning, among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen at this theater. There were only two different sets, but they did the job, gorgeously. In one, colorful starfish cling to boulders along the coastline and you can almost hear the sea and smell the evergreen forest. In the other set—the ruins of a cemetery on the Major General’s estate—the lighting and ambience created a beautiful scene. James Rocco’s direction and choreography gave this production a flawless flow and appeal. I offer my most sincere praise for the amazing Tom Sturge, once again, for his amazing scenic and lighting design, worth the price of a ticket alone. Christine Tschirgi scored another victory with her great costume designs and Joel Fram with music direction.

With such a team of professionals, every show at The 5th Avenue is worth seeing. I am not much of Gilbert & Sullivan fan, but I enjoyed every minute of this delightful production. I’m sure you would too. You can order your tickets right here. And just to get inspired, you can take a look at this slideshow. Enjoy!

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013



Last night my husband and I saw Tacoma from a new perspective. We decided we didn't feel like cooking, so we drove over to Brown's Point to have a light dinner at the Cliff House Restaurant, a local icon at 6300 Marine View Drive, Tacoma, WA 98422. According to some history told to us by an employee, the first version of the Cliff House appeared in 1925, a small tavern that later burned down. Then a real restaurant was built on this site, literally at the edge of the steep cliff, and it became the popular place it has remained for decades. I had not been there for a long time, but I'll be back. After recent renovations, it's now nicer than I remember. You can click here to see photos of the interior as it is today.

But no matter how lovely the inside is, we had come for the view, which is great from any window. We decided to eat in the bar to partake of the happy hour menu but then changed our minds and ordered salads from the dinner menu, mine the Herb Grilled Chicken Caesar, his the Fresh Blackened Salmon Salad. Both were scrumptious with nice fresh greens.

My husband also enjoyed an interesting Washington State beer on tap from Iron Horse Brewery. It was called "Quilters Irish Death." I'm not Irish, but I am a quilter, so it was a little scary to try a sip! Wow. I'm glad I did. And I lived to tell about it. That night I chose to just go with water, but the beer was deliciously different and I'd recommend it.

With that gorgeous view, relaxing atmosphere, and excellent service, we loitered a bit, but even after we went out the door it was hard to leave. I took more photos from the parking lot.

I'm looking forward to going back to the Cliff House Restaurant. I'd like to see a colorful sunset from this vantage point and to try some of the tempting dishes on the menu. They also have live entertainment. If you haven't been here, come check it out.  You can make your reservation by calling (253) 927-0400. Just the trip along Marine View Drive is a treat in itself and a reminder of how good life is here in the Northwest.
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