IT'S NOT LIKE Bumbershoot has ever been a theater Mecca, but this year's theatrical lineup offers only three "serious" entrants: the Seattle Mime Theater, solo performer K. Brian Neel's "theater noir" thriller Double Climax, and Beth Amsbary's meditation on icons and a pregnant Virgin Mary, The Maiden and the Makita. The rest of the Festival's live performance is dominated by comedy, from big names like Sandra Bernhard and Eric Bogosian to local groups Dos Fallopia and Kazoo!
Bagley Wright Theater Monday, 1:45-2:45pm
A decade after the demise of the stand-up comedy circuit, it seems like you can't throw a tomato at a Bumbershoot stage without hitting a performer mouthing wisecracks. To some extent, this is a reflection of what's been happening in Seattle's fringe theater scene in the last couple of years. Sketch comedy is now a standard component of late-night theater groups. (Earlier this year a new comedy troupe adopted the moniker "Sketch 13" because they figured there were at least a dozen other local groups.) Fans of this fast-paced comic form, based on the sort of brief playlets made famous on Saturday Night Live, can indulge their appetites with one of the best of the bunch at Bumbershoot, Kazoo!, the creation of writer/producer Winlar.
Winlar, who received his odd moniker during his stint in the army ("It's a very involved story involving Kevlar helmets," he apologetically explains), originally planned on becoming a playwright, not a comedy writer. "I was at the UW on the playwrighting track, and everything I wrote just happened to be less than 10 minutes long. And funny, for that matter. Sad but true." Eventually he'd accumulated enough material to bring a show to the Seattle Fringe Festival, and Kazoo! was born. The company consists of a loose collection of actors, occasionally including the playwright, who perform bite-size send-ups of commercials, folk songs, bickering astronauts, road rage, and anything else that strikes the writer as particularly funny.
THE FIRST KAZOO! led to four more incarnations, as well as a stint for Winlar writing for Almost Live along with continuing work for KUOW's Rewind and The Bob Report with John Keister. Bumbershoot audiences will get what Winlar calls a "best of best of," a 50-minute distillation of his comic material. As to his own feelings about comedy's influence on the Seattle theater scene as a whole, Winlar sees it as positive. He points out that the humorous stuff attracts audiences who might never make it to live theater otherwise. But he also admits to being occasionally annoyed by the limitations of the genre. "I'd love to see the advent of 'sketch theater,' short little plays that weren't necessarily trying to just be funny. I've got a lot of stuff written that's short but not humorous at all. I guess I just have completion anxiety. Until it comes along, or until we invent it, I guess I see myself just traveling along the comedy track."*
Artaud: A Multimedia Conversation with Clayton Eschleman— Antonin Artaud, best known for his formation of a "Theater of Cruelty," remains the epitome of the artist as genius/madman. (He spent a significant part of his later life in mental institutions.) His thoughts on drama, from the idea of using unconventional "found spaces" to his insistence on the sensual (as opposed to the literary) experience of drama, remain central concerns of the theatrical avant-garde. This presentation includes a lecture and a visual presentation focusing on the artist and his work. Bagley Wright Theater, Sat, 6-7:15pm
Beth Amsbary—The Maiden and the Makita, which premiered at the Seattle Fringe Festival two years ago, is Amsbary's eccentric musings on the nature of icons. The show takes in a tremendous amount of material, from technological to theological, all centering around the overheard confessions of a very modern Virgin Mary and her attempts to assert her independence. Amsbary's sweet and open style, which works in original folk tunes, comedy, and deeply felt monologues about faith and sensuality, is entirely original. Bagley Wright Theater, Sat, 8:45-9:45pm
K. Brian Neel—This local actor/writer brings his high-energy exercise in cinematic theater Double Climax to the Bumbershoot stage. Neel's eccentric concept is to play all the parts in a classic "wrong man" detective story, where an apparently naive protagonist is plunged into a criminal underworld of violence and treachery. Worth seeing, if only for the brilliantly executed fistfight between two men in which Neel plays both parts. Bagley Wright Theater, Sun, 6:30-7:30pm
Sandra Bernhard—Brilliantly bitter, singer/comedienne Bernhard plays a subtle cat-and-mouse game with her audience with her solo show I'm Still Here . . . Damn It. The entire evening is a series of sucker punches designed to lull you into enjoying some cheesy entertainment before an arch comment puts you back in your place. (At one point, a soulful lullaby to her new child morphs insidiously into Journey's "Don't Stop Believing".) Sarcasm with a sophisticated taste. Boom Box, Key Arena, Mon, 1-2:15pm; Interview Stage, Exhibition Hall, Mon, 3:30-4:15