February 1, 2012 in event reviews
The Seattle theater scene is not well. If it were a person, it could be found in the intensive care unit with amputated limbs, a feeding tube, and mounting medical bills. This is nothing new, it’s been in serious trouble since I was preparing to graduate from college in 2006. It needed to get healthier, lay off the fatty foods, exercise more, but it didn’t. Twenty years ago Seattle was the jewel of the North American theater scene, that was 1992. Now it needs a new heart flown in from Idaho.
Don’t mind the mixed metaphors, I have no idea what it’s suffering from, but neither does anyone else. I just know that the prognosis isn’t good. Let me carry out this medical metaphor just a little longer. If Seattle theater is a patient in the ICU, then the small independent theater companies are the IV bags, full of fluids. Life sustaining fluids. Without them, the scene might look like a series of five skyscrapers (one empty) in the middle of Wyoming.
Last night I had the pleasure of attending a performance by one the these IV bags. Thebes, written by Kristina Sutherland and directed by Alexis Holzer, is a Macha Monkey production. The story concerns a soldier who returns to her hometown (Thebes) after being at war for some time. A lot has happened while she’s been away, most notably her parents separation and her mother’s current bid for mayor of Thebes.
On the positive side the show is well acted and directed. The standout performance comes from Meaghan Halverson as Amelia, who really steals the show. That role could easily have been annoying or even boring but Halverson really adds dimension to the character, dimension that I’m not convinced was in the script. If for no other reason go see the show for her performance.
As you might have guessed Thebes is a play on the Greek classics, complete with a full chorus who narrates the passage of time. I was expecting something along the lines of Mary Zimmerman or Melissa James Gibson’s Current Nobody. Both use classic Greek literature in a modern setting with Greek themes and character archetypes. With Thebes the Greek origins were present in only the title and chorus.
When you get right down to it most of the play’s short comings are tied directly to its script. It just had too many themes and stories going on at once. It was a modern greek play, a political satire, a story about a mothers relationship with her daughters, it was about sisters at odds with one another, political intrigue, divorce, post traumatic stress disorder, I could go on. When you have so many themes going on you can’t really develop any of them fully.
What I found frustrating is that there is a really good story in there. A daughter with a rocky past is discharged from the military with a mysterious and nasty scar on her shoulder. Her mother is running for mayor of Thebes and seems so devoted to the campaign that she can’t see the turmoil within both her daughters. That is a great jumping off point, you don’t need anything beyond that to have a great story. Unfortunately the playwright continued to add to the script unnecessarily.
I was right there with the story, flaws and all, right up until intermission. Afterwards the dozens of subplots took over and the original story was pushed far into the background. Let me put it this way, our soldier with the scar on her shoulder never actually tells us what happened. Not why she was discharged, not what she saw, not how she got the scar. For me this was the mystery of the play and it’s never answered.
From everything I’ve read Kristina Sutherland has written some great and award winning plays. This one just badly needed a good dramaturge and a hatchet (there is a really good play inside). That said the director and cast do a great job with the material they were given.
I don’t want to sound like you shouldn’t see this show. I’ve seen bad plays written and directed by some of the best known modern theater artists, even when they get it wrong it’s still an experience worth having. This play really just falters in the story, but it’s still worth seeings the life blood of the Seattle theater scene.
The play runs through February 11th at the Theatre off Jackson. Tickets are $15 @ brownpapertickets.com, $18 @ the door, and $12 for TPS members, students, and seniors.