Opening Nights PThe Importance of Being Earnest Center House Theatre


PThe Importance 
of Being Earnest

Center House Theatre at Seattle Center, 733-8222, $29. 7:30 p.m. Tues.–Sat. Plus Weekend matinees. Ends APril 13.

In Oscar Wilde’s 1895 comedy, style largely depends on the way the women are played. The men get plenty of good lines, but it’s the women who deliver Wilde’s most pointed satire: heroine Gwendolen, who says the most subversive things; her mother Lady Bracknell, the carved-in-marble voice of Victorian rectitude; and ingenue Cecily—“the apple-blossom type,” as Wilde once described one of his characters in a different play.

It was refreshing, in Seattle Shakespeare’s distinguished production, to see Kimberly King play Bracknell as something more than a mere bitch (a miscalculation even Judi Dench made in the 2002 film version). She’s even allowed to be charming occasionally; and of course no woman in Victorian London would have gotten anywhere without that skill. Gwendolen is sometimes treated as a sort of Bracknell-in-embryo, but here that foreshadowing comes from Cecily, whom Hana Lass gives an edgier, sharper tongue than usual. She and Emily Grogan as Gwendolen play their Act 2 confrontation a little harshly; for me, the scene’s humor comes from seeing the two chafe against surface propriety as their anger mounts. Raising their voices does put a bit of a brake on the pacing.

It also steals some of the thunder of the broader humor in the act-climax argument between the two friends for whom Gwendolen and Cecily have fallen (under the false assumption that their names are Ernest): Jack (Connor Toms) and Algernon (Quinn Franzen). Both are first-rate, though I like a stuffier Jack and an airier Algy, just for the sake of comic contrast. But Franzen has one distinct advantage in the role: He actually looks quite a bit like a young Wilde, and the character’s function as the playwright’s alter ego was never more delightfully apparent. It made his entrance at the very top of the show a pleasant shock. Gavin Borchert

PThe Suit

Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St. (Seattle Center), 443-2222, $15–$80. 7:30 p.m. Tues.–Sat. Plus matinees. Ends April 6.

Trailing great reviews behind it, Peter Brook’s international touring production of The Suit had me feeling nervous with anticipation, like a sci-fi fan before seeing Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Would it live up to the standards of Brook’s long, eminent stage career? Happily, unlike that George Lucas flop, every element of this parable proves nothing short of a heavenly hit.

Set in 1950s South Africa during apartheid, Can Themba’s 1967 short story was first dramatized during the ’90s in South Africa and France. Using the same text by Mothobi Mutloatse and Barney Simon, Brook and his collaborators (Marie-Helene Estienne and Franck Krawczyk) relate what’s essentially a simple story of adultery and revenge. From there, The Suit expands into themes of hurt, humiliation, and forgiveness, which certainly have resonance in the post-apartheid South Africa of today.

In his late career, Brook, 89, is now celebrated for simple and strong scenography (unlike his old spectaculars), with set designs that are simultaneously sparse and vivacious. Here, the bright colors and geometric lines remind me of Mondrian. Three performers share the stage, brilliantly and believably expressing the anguish of the script. After a prelude showing the happy Matilda (Nonhlanhla Kheswa) and Philemon (Ivanno Jeremiah), the latter must ride the bus home to confront his adulterous wife. During his morose monologue—his body jerked and jolted during his commute—Jeremiah verbally and physically nails the torment of trying to travel, with alacrity, on packed public transportation.

Upon discovering his wife’s infidelity, Philemon provides a peculiar punishment, insisting that her lover’s abandoned suit be treated as a prominent houseguest. It’s an impossible situation: a vengeful husband, a guilt-ridden wife, and the token of her shame being used to oppress her. Narrating The Suit is Jordan Barbour, who also plays Philemon’s unnamed friend; in their conversations we learn about racially integrated Sophiatown, a suburb of Johannesburg, where the play is set. That vital community will soon be segregated by the authorities—doomed, perhaps like this marriage.

A trio of musicians provides tunes that range from Schubert to period Swahili pop to American standards like “Strange Fruit” (the latter being quite excellent). Still, in such a compact 75-minute show, I actually could’ve used less music, which felt a trifle indulgent.

Is it apartheid that makes Philemon so cruel? The Suit implies as much. Themba’s original story makes this something of a period piece, and we’re now 25 years post-apartheid. Still, as we see in the ongoing legal battles over marriage equality, those who have power over a minority will cling to it as long as they can. Alyssa Dyksterhouse

Uncle Vanya

Garden House, 2336 15th Ave. S., 
800-838-3006, $15–$22. 8 p.m. Wed.–Sat. 4 p.m. Sun. Ends april 5.

The first thing you notice about Akropolis Performance Lab’s Uncle Vanya is the sheer physicality of its Vanya, played by Joseph Lavy.

Anton Chekhov’s 1897 play, fittingly staged in the parlor of Beacon Hill’s Garden House, opens with Vanya, shirt sleeves rolled up, dragging much of the set over his shoulder. As the ensemble cast sings the first of the production’s many powerful Russian choral arrangements, Vanya unloads his burden, literally setting the first scene for this fin-de-siecle family drama. It’s a fitting image, and not just because Lavy—who also directs the production—manages to carry the two-and-a-half-hour play almost entirely on his own. Truly, Uncle Vanya is a play about labor.

Vanya has spent his life working the fields of his late sister’s country estate, pulling the property out of debt with the help of his niece Sonya (Margaretta Campagna) and supporting the professorial career of his brother-in-law, Serebryakov (Scott Maddock). The story begins shortly after the latter, crippled by a lack of money, recognition, and youth, moves from the city to the country estate, joined by his alluring, and endlessly bored, young second wife Elena (Samantha Routh).

It is the introduction of the couple’s idleness, both dependent on Vanya’s labor yet despising it, that sets the family and their neighbors on edge, exposing deep-seated unhappiness in just about everybody and eventually leading to gunshots and lots of wailing.

But back to Lavy’s Vanya. It is tempting to imagine Vanya as a man worn down by village life, too old at 47 to win the affections of 27-year-old Elena, but he explodes with passion and athleticism. He’s a man with unquenchable passion and belligerent rage at a life wasted. When he says he could’ve been an equal to Schopenhauer or Dostoevsky, it’s without the usual pathos of the role; the claim doesn’t appear extravagant. Next to Lavy, the rest of the cast seems cardboard, still fumbling toward the contours of their characters’ individual miseries. The one exception is Carter Rodriquez, who plays the drunken country doctor Astrov with a lucid nonchalance that perfectly counters Lavy’s intensity. When the two tangle in drunken revelry, it’s a delightful moment of lightness before the eventual darkness descends. Mark Baumgarten