UW’s Loot Let Me Down

Entertainment Review, play review, Theatre Review

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I don’t know if it’s the fact that the last few shows I’ve seen at UW were spectacular; I don’t know if it’s that I’ve been so impressed with the acting chops of the current grad students at UW; but either my expectations were too high for this show or I caught the cast on a bad night, because I was absolutely underwhelmed by the opening night performance of Loot at the University of Washington.

Given that two of my current favorite young actors, Skye Edwards and Zack Virden, both of whom I have raved about in my reviews of Bus Stop and Pippin, I was so excited to see them back on stage together again, and in a farce, no less!

I’m a big fan of British Farce, and of the Playwright, Joe Orton, so to me, this was a match made in heaven, given the chameleon-esque quality of the current talent within the PATP at UW.  But sadly, the night I saw the show, it was flop after flop.

For those of you who don’t know Loot, it’s a whimsical, albeit dark farce set in the home of Mr. McLeavy, who has just lost his wife, and is a pillar in the Catholic community.  The play opens between the time of viewing the body of the late Mrs. McLeavy, and getting her to the burial site.  While this should be a time of mourning, Orton throws his audience into a whirlwind of over the top ridiculousness by way of Hal (son of Mr. & Mrs. McLeavy) and Dennis (Hal’s friend/lover) who have recently robbed a bank, and have to find a way to hide their loot, all while under the skeptical/investigative gaze of Nurse Fay (former nurse of Mrs. McLeavy, hoping to become the next Mrs. McLeavy) and Inspector Truscott (claims to be from the water board, but is clearly a police detective from, I think, Scotland?).  Let the mayhem ensue.

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While there was mayhem, the direction was so spazzy, the blocking so unnecessary in so many places, and the poor actors trying to commit so fully to it, there was very little entertainment.  I was completely bored out of my mind, actually.  I also reviewed Director, Sean Ryan’s work on Bus Stop, and was less than thrilled by his work there.  I had hoped he had improved since then, but I found the same faults with his concept of this show as I did with Bus Stop:  strange blocking, awkward character choices, laughable/unrealistic fight scenes, and overall weak concept. For all his love of farce called out in the director’s notes in the program, the superficial-one-note characters that I watched awkwardly move around that stage told me doesn’t truly understand farce.  To like farce is not enough to successfully bring one to life, and Mr. Ryan did not successfully pull one off, in my opinion, the night I saw Loot.

My biggest complaint is twofold: character development and accents.  I didn’t believe one relationship on that stage, it was so bizarre!  And with the awkward blocking, there were many times where it felt like the actors 1) didn’t know where they were supposed to be and 2) were not even remotely connected to what they were saying, let alone each other.  And for the latter, I’m wondering if it’s because they were all focusing on their accents, only one of which felt natural.

Mr. McLeavy, played by John Murray had a very convincing easy British accent.  Nurse Fay’s (played by Jess Moss) and Hal McLeavy’s (played by Zach Virden) accents went in and out quite a bit, and shifted from different versions of British (cockney one moment, high brow London the next, etc.), and it was quite tough to listen throughout the first act.  And Inspector Truscott (played by Skye Edwards) was, I think, supposed to be Scottish, although at times he sounded Russian and then would slide up into Irish now and again.  And unfortunately for Mr. Edwards, I’ve been watching a lot of Outlander lately, so I have Scottish accents burned into my brain right now, and his was nowhere near consistently correct.

Character development also left me disappointed, especially for the roles of Hal and Nurse Fay.  Ms. Moss was Maria in Twelfth Night, and was brilliant!  And we all know Mr. Virden was my favorite thing in Pippin!  So I know these two actors are phenomenal at character development and commitment, but they both left me underwhelmed in this show.  Mr. Virden’s Hal was clearly a gay character, and he was playing him sporadically over the top.  So, there were flouncing moments that looked forced and fake, which puzzled me, because trust me, Mr. Virden is a brilliant physical actor!  But this role did not showcase his talent well at all.  Ms. Moss’s Nurse Fay, who is supposed to be the object of desire of a few men in this show had the most one note performance I’ve seen in a while, which again, goes seriously against the layers of depth I know Ms. Moss is capable of as an actor.  Based on what I know of the talent of these two young actors, I can only lay the blame at the feet of their director.  Were they under rehearsed?  Were they not clear on the characters?  Did they not dig deep into these relationships during rehearsal?  I don’t know, it just didn’t work. And it was quite telling by the very few laughs the audience dolled out during this show, the most obvious and awkward of which was a scene where Ms. Moss is undressing the corpse of Mrs. McLeavy behind a screen, tossing her clothes over to Mr. Virden who is doing a ridiculously long monologue while holding up the female garments to himself and acting effeminate in a completely unrealistic way that just left the audience silent because it was so odd.

I will give major kudos to the designers on this show, however, as the set and costumes were fantastic!  I also really enjoyed the lighting, although the tech was a bit wonky, what with lights coming on prior to the actor’s actually getting to the light switch.  I’m guessing a newbie board op had an itchy go-button finger on opening night.

I was so bored and irritated, that I left at intermission.  However, I’ve seen that some folks are raving about the show, so perhaps I just caught Loot on a bad night.

I give this a blah, underwhelmed sigh that would have had me leaving in a blackout, had there been one at all in the first act. Since there wasn’t I suffered until intermission.

Loot plays for one more weekend, and show times and ticket information can be found on the UW School of Drama’s website.

Ciao for now,

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Photos from UW School of Drama Website

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UW PATP Brilliantly Found Their Corner of the Sky!

Entertainment Review, Musical Theatre Review

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It’s no secret I am a very proud alumni of the University of Washington School of Drama, and my favorite thing about moving back to Seattle is that I get to go back to my alma mater and watch outstanding productions.  Whether it’s a MainStage show put on by the UW Professional Actors Training Program students or a black box production in the Cab by the Undergraduate Theatre Society, it just warms my heart with pride to see the latest generation of actors holding it down for all of us old folks who haven’t stepped on stage in years!  And my latest experience, Pippin, is my favorite so far!

It all started with an email letting me know that the UW PATP were taking on one of my favorite shows, that often comes with a complicated design, and a challenging vocal score.  I mean, the current broadway version is set in a circus tent, for god’s sake.  So, when the email said the kids were going to produce this show in Hutch 201, I was like Whaaaaaaa?  But then I saw a few names involved in the project that I had seen, and gushed about before, so I knew I had to check this out!

I’m not going to lie, I hadn’t been in Hutch 201 since my final as an advanced acting student in Mark Jenkins’ class, so stepping into that room brought back so many wonderful memories.  And imagine my surprise to see Mark, and a few of my other former teachers in the audience, along with as many students as the room could hold!  A very good sign for the performers when the director is frantically carrying in chairs to create new rows based on the line of people outside the room hoping to get a seat.  There was a full pit, back up singers (as it said in the email that this show had a much smaller cast than usual) and an empty stage with only two floor lights ready to illuminate the stage.  There was an electricity humming through the room in the form of anticipation from the audience.  And when the lights went down, the company took their places and got set for a bit of magic to do.  And oh, how magical it was.

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Aaron Cammack as Pippin and the ensemble behind him.                           Photo by: Mike Hipple

 

While Pippin is the title character, this show truly is an ensemble piece, where the push and pull of the relationships are essential to the success of the production, and this cast of actors worked together beautifully!  I first saw many of these actors in Twelfth Night last year at UW, and then again in Bus Stop last spring, so my expectations of their performance level was extremely high, and none of them disappointed.

cammackLet’s start with Pippin, shall we?  Played by the ridiculously handsome Aaron Cammack, this Pippin quickly became my favorite that I’ve ever seen for one reason:  Mr. Cammack found so much truth within Pippin’s journey, devoid of any judgment or prejudice, and instead just sunk into this character’s need to find his purpose in life, no matter the cost.  With every new experience, the hope that Mr. Cammack brought to Prince Pippin, expecting it to finally be his purpose, only to find disappointment when he didn’t find it, and then moving forward to continue his search was phenomenally played.  Clear intentions, outstanding actions, and so perfectly present in each moment, I believed every moment Mr. Cammack created.  He took me on his journey so brilliantly, that I was moved to tears at the final scene and the final notes because Mr. Cammack touched my actor’s heart with his performance.  A stunning voice, impeccable acting chops, and mesmerizing presence on stage, Mr. Cammack is a true chameleon, and I have no doubt has a very bright career ahead of him.  Bravo!

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Skye Edwards as the Lead Player and Aaron Cammack as Pippin                      Photo by: Mike Hipple

Pippin’s antagonist, well the main one anyway, the Lead Player, was played by the equally mesmerizing Skye Edwards.  This cat, I can’t even with him!  Tall drink of strawberry blonde water, a chameleon in his own right, I swear, the kid can play anything.  I first saw Mr. Edwards as Sir Andrew in Twelfth Night, and his performance was deliciously hysterical!  Then, in Bus Stop, well, the second half anyway, his portrayal of Beau wasedwards absolutely brilliant!  And now, as the Lead Player, people, he was fantastic!  Charismatic, ornery, and fiery all at once.  He expertly rolled this play
along and set the tone for the show, creating a clash of historic, medieval times with a modern twist.  Doing double duty as Lead Player and Choreographer, Mr. Edwards had the flash of Ben Vereen with the subtle stylings and moves of Justin Timberlake.  The level of acting and truth that this young man brings to every role I’ve seen him play is something to behold, and I look forward to seeing many more performances from Mr. Edwards.

virden_zach_screen_resRounding out the trio of men who anchored this show was King Charlemagne, played by Zach Virden.  Holy mother of the baby jesus, this kid, this freaking talented, brave actor, brought a whole new level to Pippin’s dad that I have never seen done before and it was glorious to experience.  A little good, a little evil, a lot dirty, this King is everything you want in a monarch role in a musical.  Mr. Virden’s performance was just on a whole other level of bravery with the sheer physicality of the King.  They took the role southern, using a simple black cowboy hat as the crown, and Mr. Virden wore it well!  The physicality on this actor, the amazing centered movement, flourished with silliness and a bit of deviance was mind blowing.  He cracked me up throughout this entire show, I can’t even tell you!  He committed to the character that they created for Charlemagne so fully, that I was friggin bummed when the King’s role was done in the play.  A fantastic voice, a comedic timing like no other, and acting chops for days, I think the world better brace itself for Mr. Virden, because the last time I saw an actor with this level of comedic genius perform in Hutch 201, yeah, it was Joel McHale, and we all know how the turned out!  Thank you for bringing this version of Charlemagne to life, Mr. Virden!  I am so much the better for having seen it!

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Zach Varden as King Charlemagne and Rebekah Patti as Festrata               Photo by: Mike Hipple

The women in the cast were equally as wonderful.  Rebekah Patti was sinfully seductive as Festrata, Claire Fort was wonderfully whimsical as Pippin’s grandmother, and Hazel Lozano was lovely as Catherine.  These women rolled in and out of named characters to blend into the chorus, and did so seamlessly.  Strong actors with stronger voices, the entire ensemble as a whole was full of outstanding performers, and they rounded out this production beautifully.

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And speaking of the production, this show was stripped down to its barest bones, shining a strong light on the script and score of this epic, timeless tale.  Directed by a UW PATP actor, Moises Castro, his concept and execution were a powerful, albeit simplistic, combination.  Stripping away all the flash and complicated design elements that are usually present in Pippin, Mr. Castro allowed the light to shine brightly on the story, which elevated the message to a refreshing level.  The ensemble acted as the crew, utilizing ladders and rolling platforms to create a simple world for Pippin to roam through searching for his corner of the sky, and it was the perfect backdrop for these outstanding actors to be allowed to do their jobs, and they did them well.  This simplistic world and magnificent acting had the lesson of the story of Pippin hitting me harder than it ever has before, and I thank the entire production team, creative team, musicians, actors, and crew for this wonderful night of theatre.

This stunning production only had two weeks of rehearsal and one week of tech, so there are definitely places where the show could be tighter (this was mostly musically, as you could hear the exhaustion on a few of the performers as they got to the end of the show) and some wonky props that  weren’t as effective as I’ve no doubt they will be as this show continues to evolve and grow.  And I look forward to future iterations of this version of Pippin.

I am one proud alumni to know that UW is still impeccably training actors, cultivating talent, and supporting projects that their students want to pursue. It restores my faith in my training and the art form that I love with all my heart to see this level of acting on not just a few members of a cast, but on each and every actor on that stage!  Thank you, UW PATP Classes of 2016, 2017 and 2018 for continuing the legacy of well trained, wonderfully talented actors!  GO DAWGS!

Sadly, this show only had three performances, and has already closed.  But trust me, if there’s another run, I will be the first to let you all know!  In the meantime, UW has quite the season planned this year, and if you want to see good acting, and I mean really good acting, then get thee to the UW Campus, and go see a show and support these young actors and let them perform for you.

I give this a thunderous applause and standing ovation!  Bravo!

Ciao for now,

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Headshot from UW School of Drama PATP Website