When other University of Washington acting grads were typing up r鳵m鳠and getting head shots, Norman Langill was shopping for a flatbed truck to tour his brand of populist vaudeville around backwoods Washington. Langill has spent most of the last 20 years on somewhat more lucrative endeavors, as producer of Seattle Center's Bumbershoot and AT&T Summer Nights at the Pier, but he's never lost the vaudeville itch, and this coming fall he's going to scratch it big-time, with Seattle's first professional Euro-style cabaret.
Langill promises first-class food and drink as part of the prix fixe package, but the heart of the evening will be the kind of exotic entertainment one sees in the streets and the clubs at great European summer festivals like Edinburgh and Avignon. Langill has recruited clown-mime guru Arne Zaslove to run next week's auditions (sorry, by appointment only) for "multitalented, multiskilled" performers "with excellent improvisational technique, comedic abilities, and a strong foundation in 'physical' theater."
"We want it to be the kind of combination of circus and intimate nightclub you read about in histories of European entertainment between the world wars," Langill says. "A place like Sally Bowles' Kit Kat Club, where the audience is as much a part of the show as the performers."
Titled Teatro, this latest initiative from Langill's nonprofit One Reel enterprise is to be sited on Pier 62, housed in a 400-seat wood, glass, and canvas fairground tent imported for the occasion from Belgium. "There's only a dozen or so of these babies left," says Langill. "They were built as portable dance halls back around the turn of the century, and the families that own them live off them by renting them out. This is the first time I know of that one of them has made it to the West Coast."
You'd think it would be a stretch to blame a postponed production in Seattle on Bill Clinton's putative sexual peccadillos, but Intiman Theater's PR department has pulled it off. House Arrest: first edition, a dramatic investigation of the evolving relations between press and presidency in America by famed docu-dramatist Anna Deavere Smith, has been shifted from June 1998 to May 1999, "to allow Smith," says last week's press release, "to take into account the extraordinary political, legal, and media situation now unfolding in our nation's capital."
But hold the phone: Wasn't "taking account" of current events just what the four theaters slated to present House Arrest had in mind when they commissioned it? Intiman's '98 season brochure even boasted about how the show "will evolve as it journeys across the country, giving each producing theatre the unique opportunity to contribute to the development of what could be the most significant theatrical event of the century."
Could be; ain't yet, according to WashingtonPost theater critic Lloyd Rose, whose review of House Arrest's November world premiere at Washington's Arena Stage suggests a less inspiring reason for Intiman's postponement of that leg of the show's national ramble. Mincing no words, Rose wrote that "House Arrest plays like a first draft—overlong, inchoate, unfocused, dull. This isn't the sort of unformed mess whose final brilliance is evident in its very chaos, either."
Rose, who praised Deavere Smith's earlier solo shows on hot political subjects, Fires in the Mirror (about New York's Crown Heights riot) and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, blames the failure of this one not on the cast of 14 ("crackerjack") or the direction by Mark Rucker (who staged Shakespeare's Shrew for Intiman last year) but squarely on Deavere Smith's script.
According to Rose, House Arrest has "four narrative strands. The most successful is the one nearest to Smith's earlier work: Actors re-create, down to the smallest pause or cough, taped interviews with various well-known people" (James Carville, Studs Terkel, Peggy Noonan, etc.). In strand two, actors stand in for historic political figures; in the third they represent a theater troupe doing a piece on the presidency; in the fourth, they rehearse scenes from that imaginary piece. "The only strand that has any business in front of an audience at this point is the first one," Rose says bluntly.
Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum was supposed to present the show between DC and Seattle, in April and May. Looks like that staging is off too, but rather than dropping the piece from its schedule entirely, the Taper's Gordon Davidson says it will be "workshopped" there this spring: a straightforward and creditable solution to a tough situation.