Gangsters, Pee, Nazis, and Homos

Local theater had something for everyone.

Artistic director Sharon Ott filed her resignation from the Seattle Rep after years of helming woeful spectacles, then led her theater into one of its strongest seasons in recent memory. The Empty Space finally put Sarah Rudinoff center stage, then announced that it would literally become an empty space if it couldn't raise the funds to match its egregious debts. Meanwhile, New City Theater kept quietly producing low-rent, must-see meditations on American society that felt more urgent than anything going on in either the fringe or regional scenes. Welcome to the wonky world of Seattle theater circa 2004.

One good sign: It wasn't difficult to pull together a 10-best list of the year's stage offerings. If anything, there were even more shows worthy of mention: May Nazareno's thoughtful solo Dead Woman Home; Strawberry Theatre Workshop's stirring Woody Guthrie collage, This Land; and the feisty Fresh Goods/Shunpike collaboration [sic]. Some terrific individual performers also outshone their material this year: Gretchen Lee Krich did a wickedly dead-on Lana Turner in Empty Space's (L)Imitations of Life misfire; and Marya Sea Kaminski's libidinous first lady in Washington Ensemble Theatre's overly smirky Laura's Bush may have been the funniest performance I saw all year.

The Year's 10 Best in Theater (in no particular order)

Ubu

Sarah Rudinoff came into her own as a big, bad baby despot in director Ki Gottberg's slangy, surly adaptation of the Alfred Jarry political burlesque. La Rudinoff had the mischievous charisma of a classic clown; Gottberg gave her one hell of a surreal circus to ply her charms.

Urinetown

The Broadway import of the year at the Paramount: a consistently hysterical show about a metropolis choked by an insidious water monopoly. A Simpsons-worthy spoof of Broadway musicals that's actually better than most of the stuff it's spoofing, it sent you out humming, "It's a Privilege to Pee."

Singing Forest

Playwright Craig Lucas' dark comic meditation combined Holocaust horrors with a door-slamming modern farce involving neurotic Starbucks employees and sniveling gay New Yorkers. It was mammoth, messy, and arguably not ready for public consumption. It was also essential theater at the Intiman, with a knockout performance by Anne Scurria as a psychoanalyst tormented by a past she cannot cure.

Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

Possibly the year's best-directed show—the half-amateur/half-pro cast felt united in its intentions—John Abramson's venomously animated take on Brecht's gangster allegory had real sting at Capitol Hill Arts Center, plus a leading turn by Darragh Kennan that combined cartoon savagery with Pacino-like prowess.

Our Town

Tom Skerritt, as the Stage Manager, seemed a little in the dark about his lines, but no matter—Bartlett Sher's exquisite Intiman staging shed new light on the haunted heart of Thornton Wilder's bittersweet piece of Americana.

Take Me Out

A baseball hero comes out of the closet, and all hell breaks loose. The most delicious surprise of Richard Greenberg's prize-winning comedy, directed at the Rep by Joe Mantello, was how exposed the production's generous locker-room nudity made you feel.

Pride and Prejudice

Book-It brought back its big, boisterous staging of the Jane Austen classic. Why read the book when you can hear the words in such rich company?

Alladeen

New York's Builders Association and London's motiroti mounted a technically stunning, multimedia look at corporate call centers outsourced to India. Anyone who saw it at On the Boards will never hear a voice at the other end of the phone the same way again.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Nick Garrison returned to the Re-bar as John Cameron Mitchell's glam-rock goddess and made countless Seattleites unspeakably happy. Long may he reign.

The Designated Mourner

New City director John Kazanjian, with the year's sharpest ensemble, took Wallace Shawn's trenchant, tricky script and said more about the state of the nation than all the blatantly Bush-bashing pieces of local liberal theater combined.

And Six Disappointments . . .

Living Out

Sharon Ott's Seattle Rep production about lovable Latino nannies and their angst-ridden white employers foreshadowed Hollywood's similarly icky Spanglish.

Jesus Christ Superstar

I don't know how to love Him, and neither would you if you had guffawed through Theatre Babylon's Manson Family massacre of the Andrew Lloyd Webber pop opera.

Jumpers

Tom Stoppard debates the existence of God in a metaphysical comedy. I prayed for intermission during ACT's interminable staging.

The Time of Your Life

Proof that big names—director Tina Landau, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, a New York Times rave—and even bigger pretensions are enough to intimidate a Seattle audience. This distended deconstruction of William Saroyan's Depression- era heartbreaker at the Rep put to sleep nearly everyone sitting around me. They all gave it a standing ovation.

Line One

Annex Theatre actors wearing earpieces recited verbatim what they heard from Annex Theatre friends and family members calling in to the venue from cell phones. Self-indulgent? Not if you've got free minutes.

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Just in time for the war in Iraq, David Armstrong's show pimped the Grand Old Flag at the 5th Avenue. Shameful.

swiecking@seattleweekly.com

 
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