Saturday, October 25, 2003

Play: Seinfeld and the Lesser Horribles

Misalliance by George Bernard Shaw, Seattle Repertory Theatre

Kate and I discussed whether this play could succeed as an Americanized version. Kate feels that Modern Americans have as much a sense of class distinction as any turn-of-the-previous century Brit, but there’s another thing entirely involved that would make such a transposition difficult to my mind. The British sense of humor involves with dealing with people you would never, even under mistaken identity, invite into your circle of friends. These are the Horribles, probably best known to Yanks by Harry Potter’s muggle Aunt & Uncle. The characters in this play are almost exclusively Lesser Horribles, and they leave you with the uneasy feeling that you might be one as well.

This particular Horrible collection is more upper class than we. Patrician papa is a self-made man in the Underwear Business with a country home, an understanding wife, a wandering eye, an unimaginative son and a coltish, willful daughter. Daughter is engaged to marry an Aristocratic Twit, who is the son of sage, titled Governmental Rajah. All (save perhaps the wife) are pretty vulgar individuals, a Monte Pythonish troupe but not as broad. So after a good patch of arguing in which it is agreed that the Aristocrat is a twit and the Son a dullard, and that the Rajah had once proposed offstage (a lot happens offstage here) to the coltish daughter who was marrying the twit, a plane flies overhead and crashes into the house.

End of Act One, and you hope for no survivors among the characters you have met.

Alas, no such luck. Instead we add two more characters, a handsome classmate of the Aristocratic Twit and a handsome, Polish, female acrobat (who also offstage had a relationship with the Gov. Raj). Coltish daughter makes a hard play for Classmate, all other males in the household make a play for the Polish Acrobat who, being a Shavian strong woman, cares for none of them. Add to that a lower-class interloper who seeks revenge on the Patrician but is quickly exposed as a socialist buffoon, and then, uh . . .

Well, not much happens at all. In fact, Shaw originally titled the play, truthfully, Just Exactly Nothing. We get a lot of discussion from the various social positions – Old Money, New Money, No Money. Importance and folly of education and all that. All characters save the mother and Polish acrobat are revealed as fools and hypocrites at least once, until the least likeable of the lot (the Twit, played to be hateable at first sight) seems the most redeemable. But redemption is not part of the package, unless you deal with a grudging, cross-generation acceptance by the Patrician for the Daughter. Daughter herself moves from one horrible, badly thought-out engagement to the Twit to one equally badly-thought-out (but honestly cynical, which I suppose counts for something with Shaw) relationship with the Classmate. There are no revelations or epiphanies here – only a few mild degrees of development if that. Its an Edwardian version of Seinfeld.

The cast manfully wrestles this one to ground (it was a headscratcher when it was first presented in London). The weakest presentation is that of the coltish daughter. She is supposed to be willfully independent, but instead projects all the gleeful, goggle-eyed evil of Hugh Laurie or Tim Curry. And even that feels unfair to the actress, in that her character is the closest thing to a protagonist demanded by the play. Shaw loves strong women, and recasting the female cast as mother, maiden, and crone might have made more sense. As written, though the women very rarely interact among themselves at all, instead acting as foils for the men, who across the board are, as noted, a pretty unredemptive bunch.

This one’s a split decision – Kate loves Shaw and Shaw loves strong women. I found it more than a bit tedious. It was not an afternoon wasted, but not one of the greats. Kate is threatening to make me watch Major Barbara. I have a nasty feeling that Shaw is an acquired taste, and one too much like British Cuisine.

Panos Kleftiko

So after the play, we headed for a Greek restaurant a friend recommended. All the friend gave was a name and a street – 5th Avenue, and a general location (“At the foot of Queen Anne hill”). Armed with this information, Kate and I marched almost to the sound, where we found that the 5th Avenue in that direction (labled South) was mostly residential. So we turned around, marched back to the OTHER 5th Avenue (labled North), almost despaired of finding it, then located the small restaurant a block north of Roy, up the street from the new Sushi Land. And found out it would not be open for another half-hour.

Which was OK, because the food was wonderful. I am not a big fan of Greek food (I’m more partial to the related Mideastern Cuisine), but this the best I have tasted in Seattle. The skordalia (garlic mashed potatoes) and humas (ground chick peas) were fantastic, and the lamb souvlaki was great, and the spinekopeta (spinach pie) was very tasty and perfectly done. The restaurant itself was a hole-in-the-wall, the first floor of a house, and could seat about 32, tops, with a tiny kitchen staffed by three workers who moved like acrobats themselves. We were among the first ones in, and the place was packed until we left, with people milling about outside waiting to get in. The staff was fast and friendly, and gave priority to diners who had to catch a later show.

Recommended. I left without getting a real address*, but you still have a better chance of finding it now than we did (and so I end the day well-fed, ethically confused, and with a knee still aching from last Wednesday).

[[*However, they have a web page, as all businesses seem to do these days. The address is 815 5th avenue NORTH]]

More later,