Unlikely venues offer some surprises.

HERBERT MATTHEWS GOES TO THE SIERRA

venues and prices vary

for information, call 860-7163

or see www.printersdevil.org

runs Sept. 1429

THERE'S NOTHING about a typical

theatergoing experience that prepares you for Seattle musician Herbert Bergel's rock opera Herbert Matthews Goes to the Sierra. While some may see the story of a reporter capturing the life of Fidel Castro as the chance to wax political on a grand scale, Bergel is content to create a half-hour of amusing musical ditties, complete with a dotty grandmother, her pesky grandkids, and a fiesta boat coming in from Mexico. Rather than bemoan the loss of detailed character development and engaging plot twists, the ever-inspired Printer's Devil

theater company uses it as a strength.

Herbert Matthews cries out for a production filled with as much ambiance as substance, so director Kristen Palmer took the play off the usual stage and out into clubs, libraries, and coffeehouses. Rather than ask an audience to focus on the opera as the whole event, the show has been surrounded

with an eclectic mix of rock bands and

other performers.

It's a wonderful idea, and there were glimmers of success for the opening test

at Graceland. Jenny Kays' brilliant vocal games as Herbert's spacey wife Nancy held a powerful force in a venue designed for up-close microphone gymnastics. After Herbert Matthews, Abigail Grush's band and her punk-laced, accordion-thumping tunes led off with the crowd pleaser "You Can Have My Goat," a perfect match to follow Bergel's quirky banter and his playful, clarinet-lead rock chords.

Yet the audience, essential to any performance built around atmosphere, never

truly settled into the unconventional environment to make the evening work. As soon as it was over, most people—including Printer's Devil folks—bolted for the door, missing Grush and her band before they even took the stage. You wish the audience had given the idea more of a chance. Not every venue will work, but even if Printer's Devil creates only a handful of moments where everything truly comes together, how electrifying it will feel to be there when it happens. Molly Rhodes

WHAT HAPPENED WAS

Liberty Deli, 2722 Alki S.W.,

935-8420, $29 (includes buffet dinner)

6:30 p.m. Fri., Sat., select Sun.

runs Aug. 31Oct. 6

IN THIS AGE of daredevil, "extreme" action, with athletes skiing off cliffs, kayaking down waterfalls, or bungee-jumping in the nude, it's worth remembering the one endeavor for which no amount of training or high-tech equipment can soften the personal risk: the dreaded first date. Playwright Tom

Noonan's two middle-aged co-workers having a meal together may sound ordinary, but the interest lies in watching their carefully burnished masks slip away. Recognition makes it both uncomfortable and riveting, even in the spare staging of this West Seattle delicatessen.

We can tell from Jackie's (Kady

Douglas) dark dress, tapered to show off her curves, that she's anxious about the man she's cooking dinner for in her New York apartment. She is a nervous, sometimes dizzy woman, an executive assistant in a large law firm. Michael (Thomas

Hewitt Brooks), a paralegal in the same office, proves to be a briefcase-toting snob. Through crisp baritone syllables, he tries to impress her with his command of trivia ("Did you know that birds are dinosaurs?"). The couple couldn't be more mismatched, yet their need for each other—for someone—is palpable.

But neither is what they seem. When Michael tells her of the book he is writing to expose the legal profession, Jackie reveals her hidden life as a writer of bizarre, twisted tales. Michael, we will learn, is hiding a more shameful secret. By the end of their evening of stumbling, the two are stripped emotionally bare, and we're unsure of where they will end up.

It's often asserted by purists (usually actors) that theater can happen anywhere, as long as talent is on display. That's hogwash, of course; sets, costumes, lighting, and all the embellishments fully rendered are what make the magic of theater. Still, this production, mounted on an improvised stage practically

between the brisket and the brie, offers some credence to that notion. The talent here is certainly ample, and director John Patrick Lowrie is wise enough to know that for all of Jackie's nervous chatter and Michael's pompous ramblings, the drama resides in what goes unsaid. Its very

ordinariness commends itself to our

sympathies. Gianni Truzzi

info@seattleweekly.com

 
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