Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Bite Of Pinafore

So this past Sunday, I headed out to Seattle Center to catch this year's production by the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society - HMS Pinafore, with a performance of Cox and Box, which has music by Sullivan but is sans Gilbert. More on that in a moment, since the Center was also host for Bite of Seattle.

The Bite is a food-dominated fest, though there were a lot of booths ranging from corporate flag-wavers -  Comcast, Geico and Bicycle card decks, to the usual suspects of sunglasses, 1200-count linens, and tie-died wraps. I indulged in the Alley, where 10 dollars got a taste of seven very good restaurants, with part of the proceeds going to Food Lifeline, and the operation hosted by local chef Tom Douglas of the Dahlia Lounge (and was present, turning the whole ducks over the charcoal. Here's the lineup for Sunday noon.
 - Dahlia Lounge - Five-spice duck humbow - tasty grilled duckflesh tucked into a flat dumpling with hoisin and cilantro.
 - Seattle's Little Italy - Cold beet soup - a nice break - would have been more appreciated if it had been hotter.
 - Dragonfish - Green and yellow curry - I am not a curry person, but this was great. Saved it for right before desert since it had a strong kick.
 - Sport - listed as a chili but instead was a very pleasant salad with chicken and wontons - down side was that it ate up tray space so everything else had to fit around it.
 - Daily Grill - Carved steak sandwich - either barbeque sauce or horseradish. Melt in your mouth tender.
 - Volterra - Potato, spinach and goat cheese crostata - nice, a little wrapped package of delight.
 - Ten Mercer - Mini chocolate tower - perfect two-bite desert.

Add to that the fact that the wine tasting was right next door (5 tickets for 10 bucks). A double handful of local vinters, including Hoodsport, which is a favorite from when we go clamming (and does nice Rieslings, rhubarbs, and, I discovered, pear wines), and Stina's Cellars (who has a good Riesling). So I was fairly mellow by the time I waddled back to the Bagley Wright for Gilbert & Sullivan (with a slice of Sullivan, hold the Gilbert).

Cox & Box is, at heart, a trifle, something that in the modern age might equally belong in a sketch comedy show or as the pilot for half-hour comedy. Landlord Bouncer rents out the same room to Mr. Cox and Mr. Box, one who works the day shift and one who works the night, and they only meet on the stairs as one leaves and the other arrives. That in itself sets up the bit when one gets the day off and the two meet in the apartment that both think of as theirs. But then it goes into a surprising connection between the men that takes from confrontation to rivals to friends. It is a bit of fun and parts of it belong to that entire alternate-world-thinking that seems to belong to Light opera.

Pinafore is one of the old venerables of the G&S portfolio (stack it on top of Penzance and Mikado). Most people known the best songs, or at least portions of the best songs (Thank you, Sideshow Bob). The plot is pure Gilbertian logic twisted upon itself, with a couple plot holes you could send a dreadnought through. But before I get into that, let me talk about the performances:

Oliver Donaldson (lead tenor) and Jenny Shotwell (soprano) are amazing as the young lovers separated by class - their voices are strong and passionate and yes, playful. William J. Darkow provides the baritone gravitas as Corocoran, the Captain of the Pinafore, and I warmed to John Brookes as the Admiral. Of all the players, the one with the most difficult task was talk-show host, Dave Ross, whose villainous character had the unenviable task of singing counterpoint to the chorus (and being overwhelmed on occasion).

Ah, and the set itself was a wonder: the detailed foc'sle of the Pinafore turned into a maze of entrances and props. Oh, and the dancers that manifested in the closer of Act I were fantastic as well.

And the plot ... ah, the plot. I think Freud would go slightly mad if he dug too deeply into this (Spoiler warning, should something a hundred years old need a spoiler). Ralph (Donaldson) is in love with Josephine (Shotwell), who is the daughter of Captain Corcoran (Darkow). But the Captain wants her to wed the Admiral (Brookes), who comes aboard with a huge herd of female relatives (the female members of the chorus). Ralph seeks to sneak off with Josephine, but is caught, and Little Buttercup (Erin Wise, also very good) reveals that she was wet nurse to both Corcoran and Ralph, and swapped the babies accidentally, so that Ralph should be the Captain, Corcoran the lowborn seaman. Since Corcoron is now lowborn, daughter Josephine is unsuitable for the Admiral, so she can marry Ralph, and Corcoran can marry Buttercup.

Which of course creates some weirdnesses if you look at it too hard. If Ralph and Corcoran were both wet-nursed by the same woman, they are the same age, so Ralph is no ingenue, but is old enough to be Josephine's father. OK, we can deal with daddy issues there. But Buttercup wet-nursed Corcoran, so she had to be about 20 years (give or take) older than her new husband, who is marrying the woman who weaned him. Looking at that, the idea that the Admiral ends up marrying his First Cousin can pass without comment.

Of course, logic is never a strong point in Light Opera, and the presence of Cox and Box on the playbill underscores the idea that leaps of logic are not merely a Gilbertian indulgence, but rather part and parcel of the nature of comic opera. Pedants are asked to swallow entire camels, so that straining a gnats is considered  hardly appropriate.

One last this - the audience. Usually the Bagley-W is occupied by the sage, graying heads that are normally pointed at when theatre's imminent demise is anticipated. Yes, there were many of my generation and older present, but also a lot of families with children and teenagers. This is a good thing, and may lay more to the supposed imminent demise to the content as opposed to the building or the activity of theater itself.

HMS Pinafore/Cox& Box has but a single weekend of performance left. The entire performance is 3 hours plus, so it is a full afternoon or evening in the works, but a great deal of fun and definately worth it.

More later,