Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Shakespeare meets café au lait and beignet

"Much Ado About Nothing" at Olympia Little Theatre
reviewed by
Michael Dresdner

Pictured: top, left to right: Brian Jansen as Benedick, Ken Luce as Claudio, Bobby Brown as Don Pedro

Brian Jansen as Benedick, Kathryn Philbrook as Beatrice

Leah Sitzes as Hero, Ken Luce as Claudio

Photos courtesy Olympia Little Theatre

You’ve heard it before; Shakespeare can be a challenge to the audience because the language he wrote is not even close to how we speak today. Still, the Olympia Little Theatre, a black box tucked away in the NE corner of our state capitol, took on the challenge, and the results were laudable.

If you are worried about getting lost in archaic prose, relax; they’ve got you covered. When Shakespeare is done well, the actors understand the Bard’s words so well that even without translating them into modern English they can, by their actions, expressions and delivery, convey exactly what he was saying to you, the audience. This cast did that superbly, from top to bottom.

To make the comedy more comedic, more familiar, and just plain more interesting, director Terence Artz chose to set the play in 1945 (remember, the story begins with the protagonists arriving home from war) and in, of all places, New Orleans. That gave him a passel of interesting choices for the characters. For instance, the host, Leonato (Marvin Young), becomes an elegant southern gentleman, while his brother Antonio morphs into a southern belle, a sister named Antonia (Maureen O’Neil).  

Much Ado About Nothing is a double love story. Claudio (Ken Luce) loves Hero (Leah Sitzes) and vice versa, but both manage to feel betrayed thanks to the lies and machinations of Don John (Jeff Hirschberg), the evil, deposed brother of the stalwart senior officer Don Pedro (Bobby Brown). Meanwhile, Hero’s cousin Beatrice (Kathryn Philbrook) and Claudio’s comrade in arms Benedick (Brian Jansen), carry on a love/hate relationship fueled by witty, acerbic puns, word play and insulting banter. But it’s a comedy, so everyone ends up happy and together by the end.

Traditionally, Beatrice and Benedick make or break Much Ado, since their interchange is at the heart of the verbal comedy. In this case, those two definitely made it.

From the second Philbrook’s Beatrice saunters on stage and opens her mouth you know exactly who she is; a smart, sassy, sexy, self-assured woman who would these days be called an upper hand feminist. She was absolutely endearing to watch and listen to, with facial and body English so clear it would have conveyed her message even without words. It was a flawless performance. Jansen as Benedick had me worried, playing the first scene a bit over the top, but he quickly settled in and turned in an equally outstanding and complex performance. Their chemistry and synergy made them a delight to watch together.

I won’t go into the whole cast, as it was a large one, other than to say the entire ensemble, to a person, was excellent. However, indulge me to highlight just a few more actors if you will.

Hirschberg created an unusually believable Don John with a dark, understated, but realistic mien that made him far better than the usual two-dimensional character most productions offer. Like a genuine con man, he made us believe his entreaties to Claudio and his brother Pedro even though we knew of his nefarious plan. Brown’s Don Pedro was an equally well crafted character, bringing excellent clarity (he’s saddled with a lot of the exposition, and did it superbly) along with a very military bearing. He was so likeable that you understood his men’s loyalty.

Perhaps the most unusual characterizations, and certainly the funniest shtick, belonged to the team of Dogberry (Alyssa McElfresh) and “his” sidekick Verges (Priscilla Zai). Dogberry is a cowardly, pompous constable whose constant malapropisms expose a need to seem more educated. In what may have been the most daring and successful director’s change, this Dogberry is played by a woman (McElfresh), playing a man, playing a Southern sheriff who is more spongy than tough and more comic than stern.

She arrives and leaves on the back of a tricycle driven by Verges, a hangdog, taciturn sidekick who spends her time focusing on crossword puzzles and occasionally interjecting very short, astute comments. Zai played Verges by physically and verbally channeling Tex Avery’s cartoon character Droopy Dog, right down to the voice, mannerisms and superior attitude of that beloved character. Both actors were absolutely delightful, entertaining, and quite funny. 

As for the production values, the lighting and set were both very adequate and nonintrusive, which in Shakespeare is a good thing. Costumes were uneven and less than stellar, but again, when good Shakespeare is before you, that’s a minor issue. The one thing I wish had been better was the blocking; several times lines of sight were obscured from where we sat, and I suspect from other seats as well.

If you go (and you definitely should) wear light clothing. The theater is actually as hot as New Orleans, and they know it. They are currently raising funds to add much needed air conditioning, and they’ll ask you to contribute. Come to think of it, maybe leaving the room that hot was a clever move.

Much Ado About Nothing
Feb. 24th through March 18th 2012
Olympia Little Theatre

Monday, February 20, 2012

Murder and laughter
TAO presents “A Bucket of Blood”

Olympia’s most outlandish theater troupe is at it again. Theater Artists Olympia is doing an adaptation of Roger Corman’s cult horror film “A Bucket of Blood.”
Sam Cori, Morgan Picton and Mark Alford as Walter Paisley 
in "A Bucket of Blood" - photo by Dave Beacham

Olympia’s ubiquitous theater superwoman Pug Bujeaud adapted it from the film (thanks, Molly Gilmore
 for the term “ubiquitous” in relation to this production). She — Bujeaud, not Gilmore — writes in the program notes about how it came to pass:

A little over a year ago I got a phone call. “Mom, I just watched this old Roger Corman movie, it’s really good… and it’s public domain.” I could hear the smile in her voice. “We need to do this.”
I love all kinds of films, but I have a special place in my heart for a B movie that rises above it’s constrictions and becomes something amazing. (Great analogy for TAO itself don’t ya think?) And on first viewing I knew I agreed with my daughter Sarah and there was a big plus, it was set in the ‘50s, and I just plain love the beats.

Adapting a film to the stage is not easy — especially when the stage show has to be done on an extremely limited budget — and this was director Bujeaud’s first attempt at writing a film adaptation. She did an admirable job, and so did her cast and crew. This play has a large set that “revolves” and moves, and elaborate props including life-size sculptures of animals and people. It begs for a big-budget production, even though the film was low-budget; and TAO, although professional level in their skills, money they have to spend on a show is extremely limited.
It is a bloody, creepy lampoon of a 1950s horror film. (Corman was famous for such B horror flicks as “Swamp Women” and House
 House of Usher,” and he lampooned his own work in “Bucket of Blood” and “The Little Shop of Horrors.”) Laughs are guaranteed.
The cast is large, with 16 actors. Mark Alford is the main character, Walter Paisley, a nerdy young busboy who longs to be a famous artist. He is outstanding. Alford directed TAO’s previous production, “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” This play marks the first time I’ve seen him act, and believe-you-me, he is a major talent. His comic timing is precise (you can also credit Bujeaud’s directing for some of this), and his ability to suddenly and believably change from a nervous kid to an obnoxiously proud artist to an insane stone cold killer is amazing.
Outstanding supporting actors include Ryan Holmberg, who recently wowed audiences in Harlequin’s “The Love List,” as Maxwell Brock/Frankie — the quintessential beat poet, Kerouac with an attitude problem; and Sam Cori as the artist-as-hero worshipping Carla. A recent Evergreen State College graduate, this is Cori’s first performance in a TAO production. Previously she’s been seen mostly in college productions and shows with children’s theaters. Cori is an actor to watch. She’s also a great singer. Her styling on “Fever” is wonderful. (This is not a musical, but it takes place in a coffee shop with a stage and there are two musical performances, the one by Cori and a folk song by Marko Bujeaud.)
Heather Christopher, Bonnie Vandver and Tom Sanders are fun to watch in brief but critical roles as, respectively, a beatnik sexpot, and frumpy landlady and a cop. Christine Goode and James Bass add color as spaced-out beats. Goode is especially fun to watch when she flirts outrageously with Walter, a scene reminiscent of her sexy comic antics as LiAnne the horse in “Cannibal! The Musical.”
Jodi Hooper has one great scene toward the end as Dorthea Popavich the art collector’s wife.
Seeing the plaster statues of animals and people is worth the price of admission. They are like sculptures by the great Pop artist George Segal. Kudos to Michael Christopher, Heather Cantrell and Chris Cantrell for outstanding work on these statues.

When: Thursday through Sundays through Feb. 25 and March 1-3 at 7:30 p.m., March 4 at 2 p.m.
Where: The Eagles Club Underground, 805 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
Tickets: $12

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Gauguin in Seattle

"Areavea No Varua ino (Reaclining Tahitian Women)": An 1894 work by Paul Gauguin. Courtesy Seattle Art Museum

Gauguin’s Polynesian art at Seattle Art Museum
The Weekly Volcano, February 16, 2012

It's the biggest thing since the Picasso show. It's Gauguin and Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise at Seattle Art Museum. If that can't make Tacomans head north for an afternoon nothing can.

Paul Gauguin is one of the greatest and most romanticized artists of the modern era. His story - abandoning family and a successful business career to find a primitive paradise in Tahiti - is as romantic and far-fetched, yet mostly true, as the story of his good friend Vincent Van Gogh cutting off his ear. And like Van Gogh, Gauguin made paintings that were as revolutionary and exciting as anything yet seen in Europe.

Gauguin said he was going to Tahiti to faithfully record in his paintings the culture and the landscape of the island, but what he painted was not an accurate recording. It was something much better. It was his highly romanticized version of the people and the island replete with symbolism and myth and lessons learned from the Impressionists and African and Polynesian sculpture. And it was stupendous.

SAM is the only United States stop for this landmark show highlighting the complex relationship between Gauguin's work and the art and culture of Polynesia. The exhibition includes about 60 of Gauguin's brilliantly hued paintings, sculptures and works on paper, which are displayed alongside 60 major examples of Polynesian sculpture that fueled his search for the exotic.

Much of the Polynesian wood carvings appear as exotic today as they did at the end of the 19th century, and the history as told in wall texts and in an available audio tour is fascinating. But what's truly amazing is Gauguin's paintings and woodcut prints; and what makes them amazing is something so simple it is astounding - his sensitivity to color and space and the beauty of the people and the landscape of the islands.

I could describe the way he value keys his colors and contrasts acidic blues and greens and reds and purples. I could talk about how the colors in many of the earlier paintings done in Brittney - the first gallery in the chronological exhibition - are subdued and chalky but with an inner fire as if the brilliant colors to show up later are just dying to burst loose, but to describe it means nothing. Neither does looking at reproductions. We've all seen many reproductions of Gauguin's paintings, but they are nothing like the living colors on his canvases.

In looking at these paintings the influence artists such as Van Gogh, Manet and Corot had on Gauguin is clearly evident, as is the influence he had on later artists such as Picasso and Matisse. In the later paintings in particular trees and sky become swaths of color with very little detail and figures are integrated so beautifully with the landscape that in places they almost disappear. In some of these paintings, such as "Reclining Tahitian Women," women are accompanied by totemic gods and it almost looks like the carved gods and the flesh and blood women are carved out of the same materials. Such paintings forecast early 20th century works by Matisse and even the current figurative work of Phillip Pearlstein.

This is beyond a doubt the biggest art exhibition to come to Washington since the great Picasso exhibit at SAM.

The museum has extended hours for the Gauguin exhibition. There are also many specials programs, lectures and tours. Visit the SAM website for more information. Expect large crowds.
Gauguin and Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise

Through April 29, Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thursday-Friday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
First Thursdays, March 1 and April 5, 10 a.m. to midnight
closed Feb. 24 at 6 p.m.
Seattle Art Museum, 1300 First Ave., Seattle
206.654.3100, seattleartmuseum.org

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Save The Sun!

Prodigal Sun Productions, which operates The Midnight Sun Performance Space, is seeking to raise money so that it can continue to provide an all-ages, low-cost, performance venue available to the Olympia community.

The Midnight Sun opened in 1991 and has been host to numerous performances over the years including: rock shows, theater productions, student plays, artwork, readings, vaudeville shows, storytelling concerts, dances and performance art.

On Sunday, Feb. 26, the Sun will kick off the first in a series of fundraisers featuring storyteller Elizabeth Lord and local bands:  Hey Girl, Morgan and the Organ Donors, Hungry Heart, Happy Noose, Mongo, plus a special guest to be announced.

In addition, Prodigal Sun is seeking interested parties who would like to join the organization and become a volunteer board member and help shape the future of the Sun. They are also seeking partnerships with other performance organizations who would benefit from having a home venue.

Save the Sun

When: Sunday February 26, 2012
Where: The Brotherhood Lounge, 119 N. Capital Way Olympia WA. 98501
Time: 8:00 PM
Cost: Sliding scale suggested donation: $5.00 - $500.00

Contact: Elizabeth Lord at elizabeth-lord@hotmail.com or by telephone at 360-250-2721 for more information or to learn how you can help.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

‘Suite' actors show off their chops

California Suite 
reviewed by Alec Clayton

Published in The News Tribune, Feb. 10, 2012

Top: Kathi Aleman and Paul Duke in Tacoma Little Theatre’s production “California Suite.”
Bottom: from left, Kathi Aleman, Elliot Weiner, Paul Duke and Dana Galagan 
Photos by Dean Lapin

Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2012/02/10/2020088/cast-generates-controlled-chaos.html#storylink=cpy
The cast of Neil Simon’s “California Suite” at Tacoma Little Theatre is better than the script. Five actors play 11 different characters in four scenes, each scene a different story related only in that each story takes place in rooms 203 and 204 of the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles in 1976.

The actors are Kathi Aleman, Paul Duke, Elliot Weiner, Heidi Walworth-Horn and Dana Galagan.

Walworth-Horn is, to my knowledge, a newcomer to the stage. She is on the TLT board of directors. I’ve never before seen her act and there are no acting credits for her listed in the program, but she does a fine job with a role with no speaking lines. Instead, she is drunk and passed out throughout the entire scene she is in. The other four actors are all seasoned veterans, and their acting chops are on full display as they play a variety of quite different characters.

Most of the jokes are fairly sophisticated and urbane, especially in the scenes with Aleman and Duke, whose characters try too hard to be droll. The various scenes go from witty banter that verges on boring; to slapstick insanity in the second scene; to more urbane wit in the third scene, which devolves into spiteful bickering before ending up in sweetness; and finally a big farce of a final scene with the two couples fighting each other in slapstick mayhem.

In the first scene, Aleman and Duke are a divorced couple arguing over who should have custody of their 17-year-old daughter. Aleman plays the wife as a big phony New Yorker, full of airs and haughtiness. She’s outstanding. Duke plays the husband as a more down-to-earth and honest person who is fed up with his ex’s pretensions.

The second scene opens with Weiner waking up in the hotel room with a hooker passed out in his bed, and his wife on the way up to the room after arriving in Los Angeles. He desperately tries to get the hooker out of bed, but can’t wake her, so he tries to hide her from his wife, carrying her from bed to closet and back like a comatose rag doll. I’ve admired Weiner in quite a few dramatic roles, but never seen him do such physical comedy. It’s like a scene out of a Marx Brothers movie.

The third scene bothered me. The couple from London, Aleman and Duke again, have come to L.A. for the Academy Awards. She’s an actor up for an Oscar. He’s a bisexual antique dealer. It’s never quite clear until the end of the story whether theirs is a marriage of convenience or if they truly love each other. Their sniping at each other is vicious, and I found this scene tedious, although the acting was good and there was some witty dialogue.

The final scene goes back to pure slapstick with the two couples fighting outlandishly. Credit fight coach Mark Peterson and all four actors for a brilliant job of creating controlled chaos.

If you’ve seen Simon’s “Plaza Suite” and liked it, you’ll like this one too. Both Simon plays use almost identical set-ups, and both are entertaining, but not great scripts.

When: 7:30 tonight and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma
Tickets: $15-$25
Information: 253-272-2281, tacomalittletheatre.com

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A really big show

Gold we have Spun from Straw at Olympia’s Washington Center for the Performing Arts

The Weekly Volcano, February 8, 2012

Pictured, top: "Field Trip"George Kurzman

bottom: "Stage of Life" by Max Wade

There's a really big show at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts, and it's not on the stage. It's called Art From Scrap and it stretches throughout the Washington Center lobby, mezzanine and the upper balcony. The place is full of art. Really big art.

Especially big is a piece by Bil Fleming and Christine Malek called "Polyethylene Fiend." It's a giant dragon made of used plastic bags and packing materials, bamboo, packing tape, thread, a bath exhaust fan and annealed wire. The piece is also referred to by Fleming in an email as a "Hydrocarbon Leviathan" or a "Petrochemical Problem."

The dragon is huge (45' x 20' x 4') and colorful. It looks like something that should be carried through the streets by a dozen people in costume at a Chinese New Year's celebration or at Olympia's Procession of the Species. The dragon fills the stairwell. Its tail wraps around the railing on the upper balcony and its face almost touches the floor of the ground-level lobby. It is so big that you cannot see the whole thing from any one point of view.

Making "Polyethylene Fiend" must have been a huge undertaking, and it is fun to look at; but sorry, folks, I just can't call it art.

In addition to the big dragon, this show features selected works from Matter Gallery artists. I'm tempted to say Matter owner Jo Gallaugher has picked the cream of the crop, but it may be more accurate to say she has selected the pure art and left out the craft and utilitarian art. No lamps or coat racks or any such, just paintings and sculptures made from, mostly, recycled materials.

It's too big a show to mention even half the works, so I'll comment on the very few that most excited me.

I'll start with George Kurzman's "Field Trip," is a painting of a boy riding a horse. Behind the horse is a bright green truck. The circular swirls on the horse's back resonate beautifully with similar patterning in the sky and the lower ground. This is a nicely executed painting. It reminds me a lot of paintings by Gaylen Hansen.

Max Wade's "Stage of Life" is a shadow box with cut-out figures from magazines posing on a stage made of what appears to be wood or cardboard. The figures are in black and white and look like they come from the 1950s and earlier. The stage setting is clean and stark. I like the nice asymmetrical balance and the way the figures look at each other. The whole piece is very elegant.

Nancy Thorne-Chambers' "Princess" is a cute and haughty little porcelain woman gold leaf with a crown made of found metal objects that look like some kind of nails and fasteners. It's a delightful piece.

"It's All Mine" by Roxanna Groves looks a lot like a Red Grooms painting. It's an assemblage made of found materials. There's a big, black dog wearing a neckerchief in front of two yellow chairs and a throw rug, with a shelf of found objects in front. The drawing and color are excellent and there is an intriguing play back and forth between illusionary space, flatness, and actual three-dimensionality.

This show is absolutely worth seeing.

Fridays 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and by appointment
Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE

Something big

"Hair" at Capital Playhouse

Pictured, clockwise from left: Jeff Barehand, Bruce Haasl, Jacob Hoff and Anjelica Wolf. Photo courtesy Capital Playhouse.

Something big happened in the last years of the 1960s. It wasn’t just sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and it wasn’t just the anti-war movement and civil rights. It was the gestalt of all that and more, an attitude shift that lives on today despite many reactionary set-backs and despite the realization that the dawning of the Age of Aquarius might have been an unattainable pipe dream.

It’s good to be reminded of those days, and nothing does that so effectively and joyfully as the rock musical “Hair,” which was revised on Broadway two years ago. It is now playing in Olympia at Capital Playhouse. “Hair” was groundbreaking in its day, the first ever rock musical and a forerunner to such plays as “The Who’s Tommy,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Rent.”

The Capital Playhouse production captures the feel of the era. From the moment you walk into the theater you are drawn back to 1968. Musical Director Troy Arnold Fisher, his hair grown long and wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt sits inside the front door with a couple of musicians playing, drumming, and singing songs from the time. Theater staff and some audience members are there in ’60s garb.

“Hair” is a joyful ode to optimism in the face of war and bigotry, and it does not shy away from some of the harsher aspects of the day such as the macho denigration of women which was still rife at the time and which is exemplified when Berger slaps his girlfriend, Sheila, who takes it in stride because that was what many women did back then.

In traditional theatrical terms the play is weak. The story line is almost non-existent. But it’s not really about the story. It’s about the rebellious and celebratory spirit of the day, band it’s about the music. Oh, and what music it is — beautiful, touching ballads, hand-clapping rock and roll, and lyrics that range from clever and funny to heart-wrenching.

The young cast — none of whom were even alive when “Hair” first burst upon the scene — is excellent. Jacob Hoff is manically intense and energetic as Berger. Bruce Haasl portrays Claude as Christ-like but with a wicked sense of humor and conflicted emotions. Jeff Barehand, an east coast transplant and newcomer to Capital Playhouse, is thoroughly engaging as Woof. Bailey Boyd dances with the energy of a whirling dervish and sings angelically. Anjelica Wolf plays Sheila with sincerity. Her singing on the haunting ballad “Easy to Be Hard” and the beautiful and rousing “Good Morning Starshine” is wonderful. Her voice is clear and mellow. Rochelle Morris sets the tone when she takes the lead on the opening tune, “Aquarius” with a voice like a whole brass section. And Matt Flores is wonderfully funny in drag in a lampoon of Margaret Meade. 

The songs in “Hair” have been called a laundry list, and it is true that they contain many lists. “Sodomy” is a list of sexual acts from cunnilingus and fellatio to pederasty, the latter of which should never be included in a song celebrating sexual acts. “Initials” is a list of initials such as LBJ and LSD. And “I Got Life” is a list of body parts: “I got my hair, I got my head, I got my brains, I got my ears…” 

The Margaret Meade skit is one of two comical interruptions to the main action. It is entertaining, and Flores does a great job of acting and singing. The other comical interruption is a slog. It’s a very regrettable series of comic skits involving famous historical characters and stick ponies and masks that an overdone psychedelic hallucination scene that is clichéd and overdone. This interlude drags on through numerous songs with Claude, all the while, striking dramatic poses in the background. It’s not funny or particularly entertaining, and I wish it could have been drastically cut or even left out completely, but there’s such a thing as copyright law; you have to play the play the way it was written, with the exception of works in the public domain.

On the up side, each of these comic interludes sets up marvelous songs. The Margaret Meade bit ends with her asking Claude why he’s such a hairy guy, which leads into Haasl’s terrific rendition of the title song, and that other strangely psychedelic interlude sets up the brilliantly written anti-war anthems “Three-Five-Zero-Zero” and “What A Piece of Work is Man.” 

Director Heidi Fredericks reminds us in her program essay that many of the lyrics were inspired by great works of literature. The writers and original stars of the show, James Rado and Gerome Ragni, drew from “Hamlet” for “What a Piece of Work is Man,” and “Three-Five-Zero-Zero” is based on an Allen Ginsberg poem. (The number represents the number of North Vietnamese killed each month during the war).

The themes of the show are drugs, sex, love, rebellion against outmoded morality, and perhaps surprisingly, it is very religious and patriotic. All of these themes are handled explicitly and unapologetically. 

Parts of “Hair” may be dated and some of the pop culture and political references may be lost on today’s younger generation, but the spirit is intact, the energy is infectious, and the singing is great.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 18
Where: Capital Playhouse: 612 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia
Tickets: $28-35
More information: 360-943-2744, capitalplayhouse.com

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

And the award for best drama goes to...

Jason Haws as Sharky, Christian Doyle as Nicky and Dennis Rolly as Mr. Lockhart

 Jason Haws, David Wright as Richard, and Daniel Guttenberg as Ivan.
Daniel Guttenberg, Jason Haws and David Wright. 
Photos by Scot Whitney

The Seafarer at Harlequin

“The Seafarer” by Conor McPherson at Harlequin Productions is the best drama I’ve seen so far this year and one of the top two or three I’ve seen since I started reviewing plays nine years ago. If you’re curious, other shows on my top list are August Wilson’s “Radio Golf” at Seattle Rep and Israel Horovitz’s “Sins of the Mother” at Harlequin.

This is top-notch theater. The script is outstanding. McPherson, an Irish playwright, nails the lives of working class Irish drunks, and he reveals through well-scripted dialogue and action the best and the worst in humankind. His characters delve into the depths of remorse and depression and hopelessness but come out rejuvenated and redeemed.

The acting by the ensemble cast of David Wright, Daniel Guttenberg, Jason Haws, Christian Doyle and Dennis Rolly is as good as any troupe of actors anywhere. You’d have to go to Broadway or Hollywood to find comparable actors, and they gel in magical fashion under the direction of Scot Whitney.

The five men in “The Seafarer” are slovenly drunkards, and they can be mean, and they are perhaps not too awfully bright. But in the end most of them are likeable in their own ways.

Richard Harken (Wright) is a crotchety old man who thinks he may not have too long to live. He recently lost his eyesight in a bizarre accident and now he depends on his little brother, Sharky (Haws), to help him out. He treats Sharky more like a slave than like a brother, and Sharky puts up with it. Sharky, who has been away but has come home to take care of Richard, has a troubled past that included time in jail.

The entire play takes place in Richard’s apartment in a community near Dublin. It opens on the morning of Christmas Eve. The place is a mess. There are beer cans everywhere, remnants of the previous evening’s drunkenness. Sharky comes downstairs and starts picking up the beer cans. He startles Richard, who is sleeping on the floor, having been unable to make it upstairs to his bedroom the previous evening. Soon Ivan (Guttenberg) emerges from an upstairs room, groggy and disoriented. He also slept on the floor, and he has lost his glasses and misplaced his car.

It’s not long before the guys start drinking again, and a prodigious amount of beer and whiskey is consumed in the course of the day. But not by Sharky. He has sworn off drinking and has two whole days sober.

Another friend arrives, Nicky (Doyle), who is Richard’s friend but definitely no friend of Sharky’s. And Nicky brings a stranger with him, the very neatly dressed and polite but odd Mr. Lockhart.

There is more than one underlying mystery to this story, and there are supernatural elements that I can’t write about without spoiling the plot. The only other thing I can reveal without spoiling it is that there is a very high stakes poker game. There is mystery and high drama, and a lot of humor. And I can’t praise the acting enough.

Wright is outstanding as Richard. He’s believable as a newly blind man, and his emotional outbursts and sudden changes of mood can be as hilarious as they are painful. We laugh with him and at him. He also provides a lot of physical comedy when he flails about with his walking stick and all the others have to duck out of his way. Doyle in particular does the physical bits with perfect timing. He has taught stage fighting and has choreographed big fight scenes for many area theaters, and he makes it seem easy.

Haws plays Sharky with intense quiet. You can tell that he hates being there, and he hates having to wait on Richard hand and foot, but he doesn’t complain. He holds it all in, and the audience can sense he’s about to explode, which of course he does. Haws’s intensity, bottle-up restraint and range of emotions is evident throughout.

Guttenberg, the only one of the actors who is not a Harlequin veteran, is a natural as the slow-witted, besotted and perpetually confused Ivan. He talks slowly and doesn’t seem to be able to focus, and he does it so naturally that it’s hard to believe he’s really an actor and not some drunken stumblebum they found on the street and told to just be himself.

It’s impossible to describe Rolly’s acting without giving too much away. Suffice it to say he’s been in more plays than most people have ever even watched, and if this is not his best role ever it’s awfully close.

The set by Linda Whitney is marvelous -- wonderfully simple but well designed with two flights of stairs and translucent windows lighted from behind, great textured wall treatments and open-ended ceiling beams. The props are nicely chosen – a light-up Jesus sacred heart, a ratty old couch and easy chair, a woodburning stove, and all those empty bottles and cans. It’s particularly nice that the action never has to be interrupted to change sets and props.

Kudos also to David Nail for excellently subdued lighting design, and to Darren Mills for costumes so perfect they look uncostumed.

The language is earthy and filled with Irish slang. To help the audience along there is a glossary of slang expressions in the printed program. It’s not really needed because everything is clear in context, but it is fun to read. They use a lot of words that would give a movie an R rating. They say fuck a lot – or, considering the brogue, fock. To Richard they’re all focking eejits.

If you only see one play this season this should be the one.

WHEN: Thursdays through Saturdays, 8p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. through Feb. 18
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: prices vary, call for details
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151; http://www.harlequinproductions.org/