Short reviews

The Sizemore Interviews

Annex Theatre ends March 10

An early morning phone call from an aggressive NBC news exec awakened Indianapolis resident Brian Seifert in 1989. Groggy and thinking the fateful wrong number a prank, Seifert listened while the caller coached him through a phony bit of improv reportage, asking him to play a frightened eyewitness to the American invasion of Panama. Seifert's subsequent live phone stint as "Roger Sizemore" had him conversing with Tom Brokaw and, later that morning, confusing The Today Show audience. Glen Merzer's The Sizemore Interviews, based on that ominous and, as yet, unreported real-life fraud, is a canny idea for a play—and it pretty much stays that way. Merzer isn't cunning enough to work far beyond the television transcripts, and the Annex production, directed by Bruce Hall, can't make a lot from not enough. Merzer remains too content with clever ironies about truth and tritely wastes focus on Seifert's domestic ruin. (His wife, overplayed by Corey Quigley, says things like "You're lost in all your fantasies.") Tim Gouran, as Brian, has a wryly relaxed charm in the funny broadcast bits (Ben Laurance does a great Brokaw); elsewhere he's reduced to fidgeting and announcing his emotional state. Roberta Plonski is sharp in the thankless role of Brian's news liaison. But like its hero, the production can't begin to convey the dread of what it has stumbled upon. When we finally get to see a video of the actual Today fiasco, featuring a stolid Brokaw and an understandably perplexed Bryant Gumbel, it merely sparks our curiosity; it should have been chilling.

The Merchant of Venice

Seattle Shakespeare Company ends March 4

One of my eyebrows raises involuntarily whenever I hear that a theater troupe is, say, setting The Mikado on the moon. I can't help it—I'm just that kind of guy. So my heart did not leap, I'll concede, at the prospect of a Wild West version of the The Merchant of Venice, plopped by the solid Seattle Shakespeare Co. into "Venice City, CA, 1879." Director Paul T. Mitri has put some imagination behind all this—nods to Sergio Leone, cinematic closing credits, and an overall comic orneriness—but it doesn't quite stick as anything more than colorful dressing. The new milieu further explodes the play's anti-Semitism without fully dealing with the fallout (though David S. Klein makes a cagey, righteous Shylock). Mitri also has focus problems; much of his rip-roarin' business serves only to draw attention to the dead air surrounding it. The show's energy starts to lag by the last third (a few more textual cuts wouldn't hurt), but high spirits keep it brightly diverting. Even if it wasn't the best idea, for instance, to turn Portia and her maidens into Mexican debs, leading lady Olga Sanchez has clarity and conviction. Ryan Spickard, as one of her suitors, comes on with goofy good-ol'-boy bravado, inventive but true to the source. This production shoots sharpest when such folks pop out from the facade, digging their spurs into the dirt that the Bard has already provided.

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