Northwest Asian American Theater ends February 4
Northwest Asian American Theater's production of Straight provides a titillating expos頯f Christian-based gay-to-straight conversion therapy. In it, actor-writer David Schmader swears to plunge in further "than any undercover journalist from any gay magazine!" When he thrusts himself into the very creepy world of open-armed, fag-hating fundamentalists, he meets a doctor who purports that altering glandular secretions will change sexual urges (and that this can be happily accomplished through yoga). Schmader takes us to ex-gay counseling, where nonpracticing homosexuals meet and flog themselves with choice biblical passages while praying for the celestial delivery of lustful thoughts about women, then to a retreat in Texas, where he watches gays learn to play football "about as well as a dachshund can swim" and sees dykes with makeovers resembling spray paint vandalism. He also comes across his personal "hetero mentor," a guy with Bret Fauvre looks and a mode of discourse best left printed on Sunday school pencils.
Schmader's insight comes from both his pithy writing and the rigorous self-evaluation being gay (painfully) provides. He fights the urge to stereotype, trusts his own moral barometer, and gives the same anger and sympathy to struggling ex-gays and homophobics alike. Although he believes he's not a good actor, Schmader's at least learned to finish his sentences with longish pauses, giving a laughter-cramped audience time to pull themselves out of the aisles—because he's beating the "smiley-faced gay-bashers" at their very own game.
Open Circle Theater ends February 24
When author and illustrator Edward Gorey was asked why such horrific violence and relentless terror were the focus of his work, he simply replied, "I write about everyday life." His morality tales are of a sort that only he knew the morals. In them, small, hollow-eyed children languish in dark places as members of high society hide perversities behind a velvety Victorian veneer. Even so, his seductively abhorrent narratives aren't exactly what one would consider traditional material for a musical. Yet Open Circle's production of Gorey Stories brings the artist's darkly drawn tales to life with a masterful musicality and perfectly executed, expressionistic choreography.
This musical with a body count languished a few moments at the start while the cast found their voices and a common energy, but once it got going, the dynamic force of the dozens of distinct characters could not be denied. Esther Williamson, all innocence and grace, shines as the Hapless Child. The powerful operatic voice of Christy Villareale mesmerizes the audience, even as she sings about a cup of cocoa. And Ron Sandahl's portly presence dominates the second half as he plays Mr. Earbrass, the straying novelist.
Shadow puppets are used in an effectively comic style to tell of the fierce child-eating Wuggly Ump as a chorus sings. A short film is also screened but seems jarringly out of place with the rest of the production. The popular sadistic alphabet rhyme "The Gashlycrumb Tinies" ends with the actors assuming schoolyard personae who sing into the distracting and uncertain darkness.
Theater Schmeater ends February 25
You could close your eyes and just listen. Song, poetry, and storytelling earmark Home—written by Samm-Art Williams and directed by Cornish's Timothy Piggee—that opens Theater Schmeater's "Faith and Mystery Season." Harkening back to a Harlem Renaissance style of writing, the script outlines a black man's life via dreamlike metaphors, and forsakes both the grit of reality and its own 1970s origin.
Raised in Crossroads, N.C., Cephus Miles (Melvin Ellis) doesn't have aspirations that reach beyond his uncle's farm gate. The security of Cephus' life disappears when he objects to the draft, heads north, and spirals into drunken disgrace. Urban contamination of bucolic purity is an American conviction; however, this format transcends to larger spiritual themes. Two women (Deanna Companion and Selena Paquiet) play a fascinating, amorphous swirl of characters who emerge and vanish around confused Cephus. Paquiet enlivens the thick language with a smooth, beguiling gravity as she rolls from hooligan to harlot. The convincing talents of all three actors anchor a play lacking scenes, acts, and grammar. Some poetic lines gag you quicker than chicory coffee, such as "holding a plant, you can feel God's heart." But Piggee takes a clever turn by creating songs that add dimensions of sensual music and black heritage.
The play's edge, already dulled by stereotype, is further whittled away by Williams' trite ending. Piggee's accomplishment with this beautiful but burdensome script is crystallized by the moment when, packed onto a homeward bus, a woman awakens, observing that the night's scent has changed to something warmer and finer.