Opening Nights: Beckett, Berlin, Beaches, and Rowdy Gypsies

PICK Rockaby & FootfallsNew City Theater, 1404 18th Ave., 271-4430, www.newcitytheater.org. $15. 8 p.m. Fri.–Sat. Ends March 14.Samuel Beckett deliberately denies audiences what they feel entitled to: comprehensible dialogue and escalating conflict. Instead he forces them to sit in a spare room with ambiguity, repetition, and dissatisfaction. That puts a huge burden on the actor(s) to be riveting. Fortunately Mary Ewald meets that challenge in the startling, hypnotic Rockaby and the woeful, galumphing Footfalls, paired late works by Beckett in this 52-minute doubleheader (including intermission). It's the first live-theater piece by longtime Seattle experimental filmmaker Janice Findley.Rockaby spotlights a splendidly dressed old woman, perched like a child on a high chair. While she rocks we hear the soundtrack of her consciousness looping, cursing, repeating. Findley sits the woman on a hidden-bottom Barcalounger controlled by an unseen hand. She can't bear (and neither can we) the mysterious interruptions of her chair's rocking. The chair's raised vantage puts Ewald's eyes at our level, and its compositional formality evokes the observer/observed mood of an Old Master painting, forcing us to cohabit the ruminative prison at life's end. Ewald's stare is a riptide that draws us, but the recording sounds like a different person, possibly a nod to the difference between how we conceive of ourselves and how others perceive us.Findley says she was drawn to these two plays, both about caregiving, while looking after her ailing mother. Her simple staging is an imaginatively faithful rendering of Beckett's directives, right down to the glinting spangles on Ewald's Kooch-designed dress.Footfalls is also well-suited to New City's small black-box venue. Here Ewald plays May, a prematurely ancient shell of a human who relishes the sound and feel of her own arthritic pacing outside her mother's sickroom. Over the course of four segments, she carries on a series of monologues and verbal exchanges with the offstage voice of her mother (played by Leticia Jaramillo). Is the mother a projection? Is May herself a revenant? What made her choose this abdication of life? Does she have OCD? Did Beckett have OCD? (In his stage directions, he was very specific about how many seconds each "lap" of May's pacing should take.) Dressed in a gossamer gown seemingly made of spiderwebs (or her own long gray hair, or some other detritus), May husbands a narrowing range of expression within the literal rut her own hobbling has carved. Though at times the spare dialogue starts to build tension like a psycho-thriller, inevitably it fades away like the dimming light in this bleak corridor. MARGARET FRIEDMANPICK Rubble WomenDavid Smith Warehouse, 1107 Harrison St., 800-838-3006, www.umo.org. $12–$20. 7:30 p.m. Thurs.–Sun. Ends March 15.Arbeit macht performance art in this 70-minute, eight-actress meditation on the Trümmerfrauen—the female citizens of Berlin conscripted to clean up the bombed city in 1945. It's the latest work by the UMO Ensemble, a Vashon-based "physical theater" troupe whose shows reach past text to dance, puppetry, clowning, acrobatics, and aerial performance. Company co-founder Martha Enson's conception also weaves in the Grimm tale of a woman whose hands are sacrificed to the Devil, and allusions to other beleaguered women of legend (Psyche, the Little Match Girl). But this spare and affecting performance is less didactic than it sounds. Through word, music, and movement, it transforms destruction into order, much as the rubble women did: The toting of chunks of brick from one pile to another becomes a round dance, the slamming of a briefcase becomes a gunshot, and Zen-like riddles become suffused with both sorrow and a resilient hope. GAVIN BORCHERTSalt WaterLive Girls! Theater, 2220 N.W. Market St., 800-838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.com. $10–$15. 8 p.m. Thurs.–Sat. Ends March 7.Two angst-ridden queer girls, Sybil and Alison, make their way to the ocean shore after ruining a mutual friend's life. We don't know who this third girl is, why they wanted to ruin her life, or how they did it. We also don't know how Sybil (Jade Justad) manages to walk around in the sand in three-inch heels. No matter: If they hadn't been on the beach, they never would have met the mermaid (Gina Bling), who I suspect would be a dominatrix if she had legs. She serves as a catalyst, though not a particularly necessary one. Sybil and Alison argue a lot, the mermaid prods them to argue more, and they oblige. At one point Alison (Andrea Avila) admits to a mermaid fetish, but the notion is quickly dropped, perhaps due to logistics. Gina Young's original script is full of abstractions, but the sentiments ultimately boil down to this: "Love me!" "No!" In the end Salt Water, a production of Poor Choice Theater, left me with more questions than answers, but I give Young credit for her unique exploration of a universal experience. BRENT ARONOWITZ PICK Under the Gypsy Moon Teatro ZinZanni, 222 Mercer St., 802-0015, www.zinzanni.org. $104–$155. 6:30 p.m. Wed.–Sat., 5:30 p.m. Sun. Ends June 21.Chaos ensues when a caravan of gypsies crash the party in Teatro ZinZanni's newest production. Club ZinZanni owner Ricky (Canada's Joe DePaul) is lovesick, and so leaves his maitre d' Victor (France's Charly Castor) to straighten out the mess that naturally arises when nomadic kleptomaniacs are running loose on your property and having torrid affairs with your co-workers. Things get more complicated when Victor's former flame, Zara the gypsy queen (Seattle's Duffy Bishop), shows up. Hands down, Bishop is the best part of the show, her husky voice and explosive delivery reminiscent of the late Janis Joplin. Not once during the three-hour show did the gypsy queen–cum–rock star lose her fiery spark.In Teatro ZinZanni tradition, Gypsy Moon enlists several international circus acts, including a charming juggler (Israel's Bernard Hazens). Ukrainian contortionist Vita Radionova will leave the cast after this week, while Russia's Elena Borodina, an "equilibrist," will join. Representing the local scene is sultry acrobatic act, and real-life couple, Duo Madrona (Ben Wendel and Rachel Nehmer). England's Geoff Hoyle, an original Broadway cast member of The Lion King, easily wins over the crowd with his improv comic skills and eye for unlikely but promising audience participants. (During my visit, he singled out a woman whose water looked dangerously close to breaking.)The production does raise a couple of questions that go unanswered. For instance, how did somebody as emotionally unstable as Ricky manage to become a club owner in the first place? And why exactly are all the gypsies dressed like Captain Jack Sparrow and his gang from Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean? Maybe these things don't matter. It's easy to ignore any loose ends when there are lithe bodies flying over your table as you eat a five-course meal. ERIKA HOBART

 
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