Published in The News Tribune
January 5th, 2007 01:00 AM
The new year in community theater opens up with a cornucopia of offerings ranging from madcap musical comedy (“Angry Housewives”) to a haunting memory play by Joseph Chaikin and Sam Shepard (“When the World Was Green”) to a one-man show about Leonardo da Vinci (“The Life and Times of Leonardo da Vinci”) to a standard Broadway hit (Neil Simon’s “They’re Playing Our Song”) to a toe-tapping salute to Cole Porter (“What is This Thing Called Love?”).
“The Life and Times of Leonardo da Vinci” opens at Harlequin Productions in Olympia on Jan. 18. This one-man show is the creation of Peter Donaldson, a teacher, writer, artist and performer from Mercer Island. Donaldson tours the Pacific Northwest every year with his two solo performances, “da Vinci” and “Salmon People” – both of which have enjoyed previously successful runs on the Harlequin stage.
“When I went to college, I took a degree in painting and learned how to put on and take away layers of meaning. But each painting, once completed, seemed too soon silent. My palette was not broad enough,” Donaldson said in a biographical statement on his Web site (www.peterdonaldson.net).
His plays have given him that broader palette. In “da Vinci,” Donaldson greets the audience as himself, shares a little background information on the great Italian artist and inventor. Then, with the addition of costumes and props, he becomes da Vinci and tells his life story in a kind of stream of consciousness manner he describes as “like a needle pulling a silver thread.” At the end, the actor/storyteller steps back out of character and engages the audiences in an open conversation about da Vinci’s life and ideas.
On a much lighter note, “What is This Thing Called Love?” at Tacoma Little Theater is sheer entertainment. It is a musical review celebrating the works of Cole Porter, one of America’s most celebrated and beloved composers. Noted for his clever rhymes and rhythms, Porter’s songs included such hummable classics as “Night and Day,” “Begin the Beguine,” “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” and “I Get a Kick Out of You.”
Also in the light and delightful category is Neil Simon’s “They’re Playing Our Song” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. This musical comedy offers a peek into the relationship between a composer and his lyricist. It was described by a New York Post reviewer as “another ‘Odd Couple.’” The music was composed by Marvin Hamlisch (“A Chorus Line”) with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager.
“When the World Was Green” at Olympia Little Theatre, is a two-person play by Joseph Chaikin and Sam Shepard. It tells the story of an old man who was once a great chef but who is now in jail for poisoning a man. A young woman comes to visit him in jail. The play consists of their conversations. Sketched out in their simple dialogue (interspersed with monologues by each character) are trips to exotic lands, sketches of lavish meals and a history involving a family vendetta that has gone on for seven generations.
Chaikin and Shepard epitomize avant-garde theater. They have collaborated off and on for 40 years, beginning shortly after Chaikin founded the Open Theater in New York in 1964. Their works are poetic and thought-provoking. They are not always easy to understand, and they may not be appropriate for young audiences.
On a totally different note, “Angry Housewives” at Gig Harbor’s Encore! Theater brings us back home to the Northwest for a zany parody of feminism Seattle-style. This musical comedy originated in Seattle. It tells the tale of four women who form a garage band called the Angry Housewives because they are bored with their lives.