Opening Nights: Domestic Comedy, Domestic Tragedy, and the Iraq War in Dance

The Marriage of FigaroMcCaw Hall, Seattle Center, 389-7676, www.seattleopera.org. $25–$177. 7:30 p.m. Wed., Fri., Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Ends May 16.The niftiest bit of stagecraft in this production of Mozart's bubbliest comedy is director Peter Kazaras' decision to make the Act 1-to-Act 2 set change during the Act 1 finale—Figaro's aria "Non piu andrai." Figaro, valet to Count Almaviva, is teasing the page Cherubino about being sent to war, and just as the music turns martial, the Countess enters upstage and stares down her philandering husband, neatly suggesting not only their battle to come but that they'll be equally formidable combatants. At the end of the four minutes of bustle, with doors opening and closing and liveried servants pushing chaises longues into place, the Countess stands alone ready to change the mood completely with her poignant aria "Porgi amor." Very effective.Not everything works as well in this adaptation of Kazaras' 2005 staging for the Seattle Opera Young Artists Program. Altered for the worse is the Act 4 nighttime garden scene, victim of a fairly common miscalculation. The Count sneaks off to keep an assignation with the maid Susanna, into whose pants he's wanted to get for the entire opera (her Act 3 wedding with Figaro hasn't deterred him). Only it's actually the Countess, dressed as Susanna, who meets him, with Susanna herself in hiding as a witness and a jealous Figaro, not in on the ruse, seething in the background.Designer Susan Benson provides just a few statues and a bench for this garden set, though, which makes the everyone-hiding-from-everyone-else comic business totally implausible. (Are they saving money with an eye on this summer's Ring? Somebody take a donor to lunch already and ask her to spring for some topiary.) Yes, this detail makes a difference, because if this tangled scene doesn't come off, the reconciliation that follows—the final revelations and the Count's plea for forgiveness (which can be one of the most moving scenes in any opera)—has less impact. And so it is here. Exhausted from 20 minutes of pretending not to see each other, the cast can't manage to bring the show to a fully satisfying climax, and it just runs out of gas. Even Mozart's score seems to feel the let-down; his closing happy-ending ensemble has never sounded so perfunctory.At other times, though, Kazaras' blocking of the comic bits, coupled with Jonathan Dean's beautifully slimmed-down supertitles, do an admirable job of clarifying the complicated plot. Vocal honors go to the men: Oren Gradus' effortless boom as Figaro and Mariusz Kwiecien's compelling suavity as the Count. Darkly vulpine in the title role of SO's 2007 Don Giovanni, Kwiecien finds a better balance here: imperious yet still sympathetic. Conductor Dean Williamson manages a similar deft balance between elegance and boisterousness, bringing a special bounce to the overture in particular. GAVIN BORCHERT pro re nataLAUNCH dance theater at HaLo, 500 E. Pike St., 324-7263, www.LAUNCHdancetheater.com. $10–$20. 7 p.m. Wed., May 6–Sat., May 9, plus 10 p.m. Thurs., May 7.Ricki Mason starts her newest evening of dance theater with a choice between violence and farce. As performers Jody Kueh-ner and Monica Gilliam use a bicycle pump to overinflate a balloon, we know that they can either let the balloon go, sending it careening through space with a jet-propelled fart, or they can keep pumping until it blows apart and we flinch at the explosion. In pro re nata, Mason chooses the kaboom, as she tries to understand the war in Iraq from the perspective of someone living here in the U.S., and so the balloon becomes a stand-in for an IED as it bursts, scattering bits of rubber instead of human flesh.Mason sees the war at a distance, and pro re nata (the medical Latin for "as needed") is full of theatrical devices that represent that far-away reality. The three women, buttoned down in long brown coats, stride through a set of slow-motion drills and flanking maneuvers, pretend to fold a flag, and mime close-quarter executions and suicide. They use the old Operation board game as a substitute for battlefield surgery, transplanting tiny bones with minimal success. The audience is split into two sides of the room, and as a curtain of gold-colored streamers lowers in between, each group depends on a live video feed to know what's happening "over there."There are few truly successful dances about war or battle that engage our sympathies without resorting to platitudes or melodrama. Probably the best aspect of pro re nata is the movement invention. Her eccentric variations on slow marching have the same precision and artificiality that fascinate us about the real thing. The spoken text, by Rebecca Brown, helps make some of the movement elements in the work more specific: We hear "I thought if I could see, I could understand" as Mason lugs a gigantic video monitor across the stage.Mason has set big physical goals for herself and her performers, using the differences in their personal styles to their advantage. She herself is small and agile, and in a long sequence that hovers between standing and sitting she crawls along the floor like an elegant crab. Kuehner, with long legs and a long torso, cantilevers like a construction crane and lopes across the stage in an extended solo. Wearing star-shaped pasties and juggling a lit sparkler, she's a music-hall version of the Statue of Liberty. Gilliam appears in a short film that tries to illustrate the difference between here in the studio and there in the war, as she struggles to run and dodge across a sandy expanse. Her weaving and reaching is simultaneously lovely seen as movement and frightening seen as documentary.Some of pro re nata works better as concept than as theater—the curtain that separates the two "worlds" reflects the stagelight into our eyes at random moments, and the video feed from the other side of the divide can be as frustratingly hard to watch as real-time video-phone calls. But for those of us who experience wartime from far away (that is to say, most of us), that frustration mirrors our own. SANDRA KURTZ Rabbit HoleRichard Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave., 364-3283, www.reacttheatre.org. $6–$15. 8 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 2 & 7 p.m. Sun. Ends May 31.Becca and Howie Corbett, a couple whose 4-year-old son was hit and killed by a car four months earlier, are forced into self-examination when the driver of the car asks to meet them. Becca's kooky, irresponsible sister Izzy gets pregnant, and Becca's tipsy mother gets into the act too, apparently for the purpose of having another character to supply family backstory. The Seattle premiere of David Lindsay-Abaire's 2007 Pulitzer-winning "kitchen-sink drama" is enlivened by salty dialogue and Ellen Dessler's spunky performance as Izzy, yet still feels heavy due to the atmosphere of extended grief-turned-depression and conservative directorial choices by ReAct's artistic director David Hsieh. The script registers as safe compared to Lindsay-Abaire's darkly absurd Fuddy Meers and zany, madcap Wonder of the World, while reprising the playwright's wonted subject of a married woman recalibrating herself for a changed life. As the contrite 17-year-old driver Jason, Alex Adisorn's sincere, naturalistic optimism refreshes like a gust of oxygen in a still room. MARGARET FRIEDMAN

 
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