Monday, May 29, 2023

DC: The Week That Was

So, I spent the past week in Washington. The Other Washington, as we like to call it in our corner of the Lower 48. The DC version of Washington.

 We were there because the Lovely Bride was part of a group talking to the various offices of Senators and Representatives. The LB is an Enrolled Agent, a professional tax preparer who is certified and approved to deal with taxes and the IRS. She has been in the past a big wheel in local tax preparer organizations (former president for a couple), and she still is putting together conferences and teaching people about tax law. The National Association of Enrolled Agents were looking for people to come to Washington and talk to government leaders (well, their staffs) about professional tax preparers and why they are good things to have around.

Me? I tagged along as arm candy.

We flew out on Monday and got to the the conference motel, the Madison just off M Street, late in the evening. Tuesday the LB had a training session, and Wednesday they met with the government representatives. The LB's team was a mix of out-type-of-Washingtonians and South Carolingian. So they met with the offices of Patty Murphy, Kim Schrier, Ric Larsen, and Lindsey Graham. Only Ric Larsen was available to say hello, and then briefly. Lindsey's meeting was in a hallway.

What I can show you.

While the LB was hobnobbing with people who actually can see the levers of power (if not touch them), I used my Tuesday to take a trip up to Maryland to visit the offices of Zenimax Online Services, who are the makers of Elder Scrolls Online and my bosses. I took a tour of the facilities with my immediate superior, Bill Slavicsek, and had lunch with the other writers in the new cafe. It was a really nice cafe, and it was the first time all the writers were in the same room. After the tour, Bill and I watched Quantumania (which was pretty much a family adventure film), and went out with the talented Michelle Carter to dinner a local place (Tarks) which had excellent food (I had the duck). Long drive back to DC.

Teaching moment.
Wednesday the Lovely B visited lawmakers and I went to the National Galley of Art. The American rooms were closed for renovation and the Vermeers were in the Netherlands for a big Vermeer retrospective, but I had a good time taking in the museum at my leisure. Favorites were a hall filled with Rodins, a collection of Renoirs and Monets, and rooms full of Calders and Rothkos in the newer, weirder modern art annex. Joined the LB at a tax preparers' reception at the District Wharf, which is a new upscale office and restaurant district on the Potomac. As I said, I was the arm candy, fetching drinks and making small talk. Nice work if you can get it.

Thursday through Saturday the LB and I walked around Washington. Well, took a taxi down to the mall and walked about. Our hotel was a few blocks away from the metro, so we our aged legs relied on cabs and the occasional Lyft. And for once I had excellent luck with taxis - about 9 out of 10 times I found one easily. 

View from the
Botanical Gardens 
Anyway our agenda over the next three days included the Lincoln, Korea, WWI, and MLB memorials, with an attempt to visit the new African-American Arts and Culture museum, only to find it swarmed by school groups and individual tickets booked out to the next Wednesday. Instead we took in the Freer Museum with its Asian Art and Whistler's Peacock Room. That was the first day. The second day we slowed down a little, sleeping in and hitting smaller museums.  We did the Spy museum on Friday, a private museum that was recommended by at least five people, and was very good - we spent about four hours there. Saturday was the Botanical Gardens in the shadow of the Capitol Building, with a trip out to the  Kennelworth Aquatic Gardens, a marsh and former aquatic plant garden run by the National Park Service. Lots of photos of lilies. Sunday we were up way too early to return to our Washington.  

We feasted on hotel breakfasts in the morning, then one large meal in the early evening. Mandu on K Street was a intro for the LB for Korean cooking like mandu (dumplings) and  bulgogi. Nama was a sushi place nearby. Del Mar was a sumptuous and expensive restaurant at the District Wharf. and finally, 
Jaleo by Andre Jose, which had some excellent tapas. And sangia. Kool-Aide pitchers of sangria. The weather was great and we dined alfresco whenever we could manage it. Despite all the walking, I gained a couple pounds this trip. Go figure. 

So that was Washington. There was a great trip, and I would go back if the Lovely Bride chooses to go. We missed a bunch of stuff, but avoided getting that Thousand-Yard-Museum-State that hits when you try to do everything. Memorial Day was proved to be quiet (The former house-mates, Anne and Sig, looked after the cats while we were gone and did some serious yardwork), and I still feel a little exhausted, but ready to go back to work.

More later, 

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Play: Trolling for Talent

Lydia and the Troll - Book, Music & Lyrics by Justin Huertas, Additional Music and Music Production by Steven Tran, Co-Created and Directed by Ameenah Kaplan. The Freemont Troll (shown right) was designed and built in 1990 by Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead. 

This one had a lengthy journey to the stage. It was part of the Seattle Rep season about four years ago, then pushed back to the following season, then COVID, and finally is making its way back to the stage. And it was worth the wait. 

Sarah Russell is Lydia - songwriter, podcaster, lapsed alcoholic, and would-be producer, on the verge of her big break - a record deal and a tour. All she has to do is write one more original song for the Judges at an audition in 24 hours. And she's hit a writer's block. She meets Jane (Janet Krupin), who is a fan, supporter, and is absolutely sure of Lydia's talent. 

Jane is also a troll. A real troll. In her original monstrous form she will turn to stone in sunlight, so she achieves immortality in 20-year chunks by crawling inside the skin of talented targets and letting them pay the price while she exploits their creativity. And she's got a deadline as well - find a new host or revert to her monstrous nature. And Lydia is her target. 

Russel's Lydia is a jangle of self-doubt and insecurity, an easy target. Krupin's Jane is a manic pixie troll,  happy in her own devilishness and effective in her temptations. The third member of the group is Pete (Adam Standley), Lydia's nerdish, needy boyfriend (nerdy down to the Amazon ID tag on his belt) who thinks himself as the hero but instead is the sidekick (and sometimes collateral damage). All three are strong, dynamic actors and singers, and while overmiked in places, are more than up to the challenges of the musical. 

Yes, it's a musical. The book and music is by Justin Huertas, who has become a local theatre landmark, the up-and-coming creative whose works have been rooted in the Pacific Northwest. Lizard Boy, previously at the Rep, was Seattle mutant super-heroes. We've Battled Monsters Before at the ArtsWest dealt with Filipino legend but set in the Seattle area. The Last Octopus Wrestling Champion, also at the ArtsWest took its lead from a PNW sport of ages past. And yeah, the Lovely Bride and I like his stuff. He lives in the "True Musical" genre (an argument our local group of friends has had a number of times) in that his stories are told through song as opposed to being supplemented by song (The argument is kinda involved, and has spanned numerous dinners). And yeah, we know his tropes and how he puts a song together. And it remains really, really good. 

Oh, yeah, there are puppets. The Lovely Bride HATES puppets in stage productions, but even she had to admit these were very good. Puppeteers Guy Garrison and Sophia Franzella  do a fantastic job with the puppetry, mostly shadow puppets on movable screens to handle transformations, secret appearances, and chase scenes. Yeah, there's a climactic chase scene between troll and Volkwagon, which ends up beneath the Aurora Bridge. And if you're a Seattle native, you know why that's important. Garrisona nd Franzella also fill in with bit parts as well, but the heart remains with Lydia, Pete, and Jane the Troll.

Lydia and the Troll took a long time to get to the stage, and it was totally worth it. It is an excellent capstone for a Rep season that was mostly hits and only a few weak spots. It is good to see the Rep recovering from the COVID desert and building a strong season. But if you're a local, yeah, you should go see this one.

More later, 

Monday, May 15, 2023

Theatre: High School Crushed

 Zach by Cristian St. Croix, Directed by Sara Porkalob, ArtsWest through May 28

First, a cranky PSA - We use a vehicle to get to these venues, and I recognize that the folk that live near the theater need their space as well, so I have no prob in paying to park in established lots. But the continual changes in paying for parking is starting to wear on me. Twice now in the past month I've shown up at a regular parking lot to see that the methodology has changed. I've adapted to the whole you-need-a-credit-card-to-park thing, but now you need to have an account with a particular app that you've never heard of before and must download right now if you want to park (and curtain is in 15 minutes). The end result for ArtsWest was that the usual convenient parking slots behind the theater (previously credit-card based, now app-ish) was almost empty last Friday except for a few other people trying to figure out the new method, while the side streets (usually used by the local folk) were packed with people seeking out street parking to avoid the lots. Good going, West Seattle - keep that small-community feel by discouraging outsiders from actually patronizing your restaurants and theaters while making it difficult for your actual denizens.

Sigh. Anyway,

Zach is a satirical comedy based on a 90s teenage sitcom. Being thirty-three in 1990, I didn't get the specific reference at first, but it tickled the back of my brain as the type of after-school sitcom found on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon in all their cringeworthy glory. Later checking on the Wikipedia pins it down to One Particular teenage sitcom, right down to analogist names and Character Archtypes within the high school ecosystem.

But without such knowledge, you still know what you're getting into, as the play segues between sitcom and realist portrayals. In the sitcom domain, we have the overplayed characters, the bouncy commercial bumpers complete with dance moves, and laugh tracks, but then things change and become darker as we move into a more realistic portrayal of the same universe. Here we're dealing with loss of loved ones, stress, class, race, and gender issues. We switch back and forth between the two universes easily, and for a while I was concerned with how dark it would ultimately go (the 90s were also noted for comedy sketches that would end with someone picking up a chainsaw).

Anyway, our primary protagonists are PJ (kinda dorky but athletic Hispanic kid) and Gina (African-american fashionista), who have been friends forever . Suddenly Zack (white, cis, privileged) arrives on the scene and makes them and their friends into a clique that suddenly clicks, as well as making them his minions for mean-spirited pranks that get other groups in school in trouble. In the sitcom universe, Zach is the merry, beloved prankster. In the real world he's an absolute scumbag that uses his privilege as his carte-blanche to get away with everything. 

It is a play with two actors and over a dozen characters. Michael Nevarez is primarily PJ, and Amber Walker is primarily Gina. The other characters are split between them, with them switching off, playing each other's characters, sometimes passing a character from one actor to the other in a single scene. And they do it effortlessly and naturally, keeping the core of their characters solid so you know who they are (which is a problem I had with The Endless Shift). Both actors are fantastic, capturing both the high energy of the sitcom versions and the more nuanced nature of their real selves. 

The set design is clean and evokes the era of the nineties, with its strong off-primary colors and lightning-bolt shades. St. Croix is owed this because his last play at the ArtsWest, Monsters of the American Cinema, was sabotaged by its own set design. Here it looks like the set of Zoom (which is  a show of an era which I can remember). 

Zach flirts with its darkness, but its ultimate resolution splits the difference between the worlds and resolves them both. Is it worth seeing? Definitely. Even if you have to deal with new, alien parking? Still Definitely. Good actors, good performances, good script. Well done.

More later, 

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Evening At the Black Dog

 So, I was part of Playwright's Festival last Friday night at the Black Dog Cafe in Snoqualmie. And it went very well.

Backing up for a moment. Snoqualmie is a small town up in the foothills north and east of here. If you were a Twin Peaks fan, you recognized parts of it, especially the nearby lodge (now called the Salish Lodge) on top of the waterfall. The Black Dog Cafe is in the historic downtown of Snoqualmie, which is about a block long and faces the Railway Museum across the street (which has a lot of rolling stock from various eras). The downtown has a number of restaurants, cafes, a couple bars (wine and beer varieties), art galleries, and an antique shop or two. 

The Black Dog is a pleasant little cafe that specializes in vegan food and is the center for the Black Dog Arts Coalition.  Books by local authors are for sale, along with art from local artists. Rings made out of old spoon handles. There is space for a variety of events - bookbinding classes, crocheting groups, and performances. There's a small stage in the back of the main room. Wednesday is Open Mike night.

The Black Dog Arts Coalition put together the show/ We had seven plays presented, many of the playwrights part of the Iron Horse, a local Writer's group. A colleague with the Quills (my local writer's group) mentioned they were doing a Playwrights Festival up here and they were looking for submissions. So I sent them one of my done-in-one scenes, about 7 minutes long, and they accepted it. We did three nights of rehearsals, and I trekked up Rt 18 over Tiger Mountain to reach the Black Dog (and had dinner at a number of good restaurants up there in the process, and some really good ice cream from Snoqualmie Ice Cream.

And the performances were great. The actors for my reading were Ryan Hartwell and Kacie Lillejord (another playwright who was drafted into reading), and they had the pacing down perfect. I tracked from the side of the hall, and the laugh lines landed where they were supposed to. Our director, Bruce Stewart, did a wonderful job rounding up the cats and getting it all in a presentable order. The others plays, involving lesbian ballplayers, demonic fossils, and teenagers leaving home, were excellent as well. Great job by the actors and the playwrights.

I was definitely out of my comfort zone, playing the new kid at school, keeping my ears open and learning a few things. Would I do it again? Absolutely. It was a good time and a good venue and I endorse the Black Dog and its efforts to spread a bit of art and talent through the foothills.

More later,

Friday, May 05, 2023

Theatre: Mister Wilson's Neighborhood

 August Wilson's How I Learned What I Learned, Co-Conceived by Todd Kreidler, Direct by Tim Bond, Settle REP, through May14. 

The Theatre Desk has been quiet for a while, in part because of the transitory and ephemeral nature of live theater itself. You catch if for the moment, then it is gone. We had tickets to Between Two Knees at the REPbut has seen it at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival years before and were not impressed, and could not give the tickets away. Then, Arts West Theatre was staging a play called On the Spectrum, but canceled it for reasons unrevealed, other saying that it was not up to their quality standards. They stated this in an email that we did not notice, and so arrived at a dark theatre on a Friday night.

And even this particular performance is a stand-in. The play scheduled for this slot vanished (reasons unknown to me - scheduling conflict is the official word), and this is the fill in. A one-person play, originally performed by Wilson at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Wilson passed on in 2005. Steven Anthony Jones picks up the torch and does a great job as Wilson, channeling the playwright through his memories of growing up in Pittsburgh's Hill District. 

My own geographical journey oddly parallels Wilsons. I grew up in Pittsburgh, in one of the upper middle class suburbs south of the city. Wilson moved to the Midwest (Minnesota) and produced some of his best-known work. I moved to the Midwest (Wisconsin) and built a lot of worlds for TSR. I first encountered Wilson's plays at the Milwaukee Public Theatre. He moved out to Seattle, and years later, I did the same. As a result, the Lovely Bride and I have seen nine of the ten plays in his Century Cycle, also called the Pittsburgh Cycle, since nine of them are based out of the Hill District. 

And Jones/Wilson comes out like a firehose here, bouncing from subject to subject, memory, old friend to old friend. He is continually in motion as he talks about aggressions against him (micro- and macro-) for the color of his skin as well as the community (musical as well a suddenly violent) that he was a part of. He shift through his early life and settles mostly in the mid-sixties, where he has a girl (well, several), a job (well, also several) and an apartment (sometimes). We don't get the process by how he became the playwright that he is best known for (his goal at the time to was be a poet), but we do see the fertile ground from which his stories came from.

This is a monologue, and it holds the standard monologue tropes - There's a table with a glass of water on it in front of a brick wall. But Jones is never seated at that table - instead he stalks through the rest of the set, interacting with the debris piled up along the sides of the stage - dancing, swinging, and swaggering as well. And that brick wall is Pittsburgh yellow brick, a pale golden made dingy by the smoke from the steel works, and is flashed with subjects to talk about. Each one sets Jones off in a different direction, but he pulls them all together over the course of the performance.

Its a long monologue, but much to my surprise, it moved swiftly and effortlessly. Jones, code-switches and tone-switches through dialects and characters easily. You hear the eloquent phrases of the poet, the repetitive word-choice of the raconteur, and the heart of the street. Jones does a fantastic job keeping up with Wilson's words and bringing them to a large audience. 

Well done. Recommended.

More later,

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Coming Distractions: Playwrights Festival

A friend among the Quills told me about a Playwright's Festival up in Snoqualmie (Twin Peaks territory, for those who are not local). I submitted one of my done-in-one ten minute plays, and they accepted it. So we're going to have a reading. Here's the info:

      Black Dogs Arts Coalition

     Playwrights Festival

Friday, May 5th, 2023
7:30 PM

Black Dog Cafe

8062 Railroad Ave

(Across from the Railroad museum)

Snoqualmie, WA 

$  10 Recommended Donation.

More later,