A CHORUS LINE
The 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., 206-292-ARTS. $15-$58. 7:30 p.m. Sun. and Tues.-Wed.; 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 2 p.m. matinees Sat.-Sun. Ends Sun., Feb. 16.
When Brett Nugent hobbles out of the ensemble to "tap" the first song-and-dance solo, "I Can Do That", and your immediate reaction is, "Well, no, obviously, you can't," you get the feeling that the rest of director Stephen Terrell's limp take on this iconic 1975 musical is going to be similarly disheartening. The feeling never goes away: Performers keep stepping up to try and wow you, while you end up sighing and waiting for Chuck Barris to show up with the gong.
Michael Bennett's legendary show doesn't date all that well, anyway. The pop psychology that suggests a director would care to grill a chorus of auditioning dancers about their innermost feelings is almost laughable now. But, done right, its bald-hearted salute to the passions of the people who spend their lives making musical theater can still get the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up. This 5th Avenue production, unfortunately, has only the memory of that youthful magic to get you going; and, sorry, almost everyone here looks like they might've been around to audition for the original production. There are some fine voices (Kathryn Arnett's ascending solo in the always lovely "At the Ballet" is something to hear), but only Taryn Darr pops out to deliver a number like she knows it's her big moment. Her ode to "tits and ass" has the showstopping kick the rest of this Line never manages.
Nippon Kan Theatre, 628. S. Washington, 206-340-1445. $13-$15. 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat.; 7 p.m. Sun. Also 10:30 p.m. late-night Fri., Feb. 21. Ends Fri., Feb. 21.
Monkey Wrench Puppet Lab isn't going for cute with its meshing of Mary Shelley's gothic horror tale and the one about the wooden marionette who just wanted to be a real boy. The title character is a mute kid who is decapitated and has his noggin successively reattached by circus freaks to a baby doll, a seal, a dog, et al., while his beheaded body is picked up by a horny pair of female Siamese twins who drool, "We don't question a good thing when we find it."
As conceived and designed by Brian Kooser, this weirdly charming, Bunraku-style adult puppet show is full of color and light—and a decidedly dark irreverence. (When God descends from the heavens, he accidentally demolishes someone and is denounced as a "motherless, omniscient bastard.") The production has the mischievous melancholy of a Tim Burton film—strange and sad things keep happening, but it's out to have fun. Everything is helped immeasurably by the grandly kaleidoscopic live musical accompaniment of Circus Contraption, whose offbeat cabaret melodies give the proceedings an odd sort of uplift. If Stephanie Timm's playful script had pushed everything a little further, the show would have real resonance. That it doesn't—instead remaining fanciful and bleakly funny—is no real tragedy. And Kooser's design is wonderful—there's a dreamy, terrific underwater sequence done in black light that brings out the wide-eyed child in you.
ALL MY SONS
Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., 206-781-9707. $10-$26. Pay-what-you-can Wed., Feb. 5. 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Thurs.; 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 2 p.m. matinees Sat. Ends Sat., March 1.
Arthur Miller's post-WWII reflection on how greed and complacency have eaten away at the soul of our nation seems as relevant now as it must have in its initial 1947 bow, since we're more caught up in blind consumption than at any time in our history. Bravo to Taproot Theatre for wisely bringing it back to audiences. Now if only director Karen Lund understood exactly how deep the play goes.
The Keller clan, headed by would-be wise owl Joe (Robert Gallaher), has made a fortune selling airplane parts to the armed forces, faulty parts that killed a squadron of pilots—leading to criminal charges the family narrowly escaped. Yet Lund's actors inexpertly glide above the surface of that moral dilemma, as if they either have no idea of the larger rumblings below or have been given no guidance in how to express them. There's no urgent sense of just how high the stakes are for these people, of how desperately they're clinging to lies they've told themselves in order to go on living. Scott Plusquellec, playing the son in love with his dead soldier brother's girl, throws away the evening's most important speech as though it were a bit of bothersome banter. The show works in a half-hearted way in its more obviously dramatic moments (e.g., Kim Morris letting the veil slip from Kate, the matriarch who refuses to accept the death of her eldest son), but we never feel the troubling quiet of the willfully ignorant world that Miller viewed with such timeless concern.