Bumbershoot, with its heady combination of fragrant food stands, impromptu drum circles, and tribes of various rock groupies, may not seem an exceptionally hospitable climate for such "elite" fare as live theater. In fact, the greatest difference you'll notice with theater audiences at the Labor Day festival is that having paid their fee at the gate, they feel under no obligation to sit through a show that doesn't keep their attention firmly fixed on the stage. (Which makes the annual offering of Intiman Theater all the more courageous; it's actually got the firm conviction that a drama about Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution, Chay Yew's Red, can hold people in their seats over the competing interests of soap-box derbies and Jethro Tull.) Mostly what you'll find at Bumbershoot are monologists, circus acts, physical movement troupes, and other folks used to dealing with unruly crowds. That being said, there's some fine work going on during the three-day extravaganza.
Eric Bogosian—The biggest out-of-town theater headliner is the New York monologist with attitude, who two Bumbershoots ago treated Seattle to a high-energy rant that was equal parts comedy and vitriol. At 45, Bogosian is getting a little old for the "angry young man" status that made him his name, but as his recent forays into playwrighting have shown (both SubUrbia and Griller have garnered respectable critical notices), he's tempering his rage with more mature considerations. Having said that, his newest piece, Kicks Against the Pricks, is billed as a "sequel" to Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll, in which a wide variety of characters do the high-profanity rag concerning any number of personal and social issues. Bogosian is an engaging performer, smart and mercurial, and he's cut back a lot on his touring schedule in favor of writing and film appearances, so catch him while you have a chance. Opera House, Sun 3:15-4:45. —John Longenbaugh
Heidi Schreck—If Bogosian's high-octane in-your-face style is not to your taste, try Backwards into China, featuring this completely charming young performer. Schreck's lyrical wanderings are part autobiography, part poetic musings, and mostly concern her trip to Russia to teach English in a Siberian railroad town. With the traveler's true love of the peripatetic, she takes side trips into recollections of her first love, her work for a St. Petersburg newspaper, and such fashion accessories as some serious winter boots and a big furry hat. Bagley Wright Theater, Sun 1-1:30. —John Longenbaugh
Hunchback—For some more homegrown talent, you can also catch a sneak preview of this new musical adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Composer/lyricist C. Rainey Lewis will present a full production of her new rock opera this October, but Bumbershoot audiences will have a chance to sample a smattering of what's to come. As to how Hugo's deaf and lame protagonist will fit into a singin' and dancin' extravaganza, well, we'll just have to see, won't we? Bagley Wright Theater, Sun 3:15-4. —John Longenbaugh
UMO Ensemble—UMO is the most innovative, exciting, creative, and imaginative theater troupe performing in Seattle today. Anyone who disagrees can meet me over by the Flag Pavilion for a serious tussle. That being said, Body Inheritance is a lesser work from the group, essentially a series of acting and physical movement exercises playing with the idea of the language between mind and form. Still, it's got music, trapezes, and a lot of brilliant focus, and I have it on good authority that the troupe has continued to work on the form and themes since the work's premiere last year. Bagley Wright Theater, Sat 12:15-1, Sun 6-6:45. —John Longenbaugh
Miss Dina Martina/Sarah Rudinoff—This potent double-bill features two performers whom I always enjoy seeing: the always very marvelous Miss Martina, whose misuse of the English language and unflappability is truly mesmerizing; and the tough and smart Rudinoff as nightclub performer Virginia Tumble, who doesn't so much celebrate her life as celebrate the life she almost had. The Music Box, Sun 6:15-7 (Dina), 7-8 (Rudinoff). —John Longenbaugh
Seattle Mime Theater—This troupe is a longtime favorite of Bumbershoot audiences, not only for its consummate physical theater work but for its willingness to stretch its own boundaries and the expectations of its audiences. This year it presents two pieces, one featuring mask work and the other, interactive comedy. Cool stuff, way beyond the "white face" and "invisible walls" sort of thing you might fear. Bagley Wright Theater, Sat 5-6. —John Longenbaugh
True confession: It's been 15 years since I last stepped foot inside the guarded Bumbershoot gates. Despite good intentions, not to mention a strong sense of duty, ochlophobia (strong dislike of crowds) always wins out—until now. Although there are more than a dozen Bumbershoot dance performances to choose from this year, the fabulous Doug Elkins Dance Company wins the prize for promising to lure me out from under my solitary rock. I am veritably panting in anticipation of seeing this New York company live.
Elkins' is the first postmodern choreography I've encountered that succeeds in combining romanticism with channel surfing, transcendent spirituality with organized chaos. Critics routinely compare his dance structures to those of Balanchine and Mark Morris. And like these two masters, Elkins is also a collector, scavenging scraps of movement like a magpie. Shades of capoeira, aikido, TV, breakdance, Trisha Brown, Jackie Chan, ballet, hip-hop, and kick-boxing inform his dances, but this ain't your everyday multicultural pastiche. Through timing and context, Elkins creates a new language, at once entertaining, savvy, and emotionally invigorating. His music palette ranges from the devotional qawwali songs of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for Center My Heart to 13th-century French motets for The Sky Is Falling. Thanks to Elkins' breathtaking dancers, the resulting choreographic stew is wonderfully clean, each movement "flavor" distinct yet miraculously of a whole. Early bird gets the best seat! United Airlines Opera House, Sat 4-6; also at Bagley Wright Theater, Sun 8-10 and Mon noon-2. —Lodi McClellan