SEATTLE PLAYRIGHT Melissa Grinley explains the sociopolitics of Deli! The Musical.
Seattle Weekly: Looking at the history of American musicals, theres a clear lack of>"/>
SEATTLE PLAYRIGHT Melissa Grinley explains the sociopolitics of Deli! The Musical.
The Seattle Fringe Theatre Festival Wed., Sept. 17Wed., Oct. 1 At various venues on Capitol Hill. Call 206-322-2018 or visit www.seattlefringe.org for more information and complete listings.
Seattle Weekly: Looking at the history of American musicals, theres a clear lack of food- service themes. Is that a void that needed filling?
Oh, definitely. I think its something a lot of people, especially in my generationsort of the twenty- and thirtysomethingscan relate to. I mean, most of the people Ive encountered in my life have worked a job like that, and we really wanted to accurately get at the sort of emotions that go with working a job where people treat you like a second-class citizen, and where youre, you know, basically acting as someones psychiatrist as well as making their food. So I think it has a wide appeal in that way.
How realistic is the show?
We have an artist doing the set who does more caricature-type art, so its somewhat realistic, but because its a musical, the whole play is not realistic. There are fantasy sequences that spring up out of nowhere, and people burst into song.
The people that are playing the customers actually are very talented improv actors, so a lot of the light part comes from just the customer interactions and the cartoonlike caricatures of people. At the same time, there is sort of a heavier story line going on, yet its not dealt with in a really heavy way. We have one character whos dealing with his partner, who is HIVpositive and sick, and we dont really know very much about whether hes OK, because the character is living in denial. Hes very light and very animated about his life, yet at the same time we know that this dark thing is going on. And he does come to terms with it, in his way.
Local 4-F writer/producer/director J.D. Lloyd has created a punk musical about dodging the draft in 1969.
Why a punk musical?
The person I collaborated with is an old punk rocker, and the story behind 4-F is based on his experiences back in 1969 in getting drafted and trying to get out of the draft. It leans towards the satiric. It certainly has some moments of seriousness and pathos, but I think what we tried to do is to be historically accurate, but we also want to comment on whats happening now, without it being obvious, of course. Four actors are inductees, and two of us are playing authority figures and other roles and doubling up that way. The music comes from a punk basis, but there are certain songs that try to quote the music of the timesone has a Beatles kind of flavor, one has a touch of Ravi Shankar. But for the most part, the beat and the way the songs are delivered are in a basic, three-piece punk combo.
Seattles Kristina Sutherland directs GameGirl, the story of three women who work in a medical office and are totally obsessed with video games.
Do you have to be an expert in video games to relate to this show?
Its pretty accessible. Theres no tech-heavy language. Its sort of like listening in on a couple of geeky people talking about their games, which I always find very funnyintense gamers talking about gaming. Theres a lot of dark humor in it: The opening is [actress/writer] Jennifer [Pratt] talking about how she cant control anything in her life and why these games are a salvation for her [as] one of the working poor because she can kill people. Theres a lunch date in the middle of the play, and the date also becomes a gamethey pause the date, which will start it over again.
So theres no political stance here?
No, its mostly very fun. Were not taking a use these games to empower yourself kind of a stance. Its more just about the fact that women play them, and that its not just a male-dominated genre, and that there are women who like to pretend to crawl under things and jump over stuff. Its a fun play to watchits really fast-paced, they do a lot of fight choreography, theres dance in it. Its just a roller-coaster ride.
Simon Neale directs the Fremont Players through a traditional English pantomime in Jack and the Beanstalk.
What do we get at an English pantomime?
Audience interactionit is unlike a normal play where people are expected to be quiet. We encourage people to respond to the actors, to scream out, Look behind you! We want them to boo at the bad guy and cheer for the good guy.
What kind of special effects do you have in the show?
We have a growing beanstalk. Its made up of rubberized latex leaves, and they get bigger as the beanstalk grows. The stalks for the leaves are made from fishing wire. The whole thing goes on a set of rollers and actually grows while Jack is climbing it, and then the scenery behind it changes into the clouds as he climbs. Its the only piece of scenery Ive ever heard get a round of applause. And we have a giant puppet. Hes a 10-foot giant, and he has individually moving fingers, he has moving eyes, a mouth, cheeks, eyebrowsthats really something to see.
Jerome Saibil and Eli Batalion of Montreal co-wrote and perform JOB: The Hip-Hop Musical.
A biblical hip-hop musical? Were skeptical.
Well, we ourselves were skeptical. When it came to opening night, right before the first show, we thought to ourselves, Oh, this is gonna bomb. No ones gonna dig it. But, in the end, a lot of people seemed to really like the show, and I think its partially based on the mixing of categories and, I guess, the attempt of fusing certain genres. Its not totally hip-hop, its not totally Bible, its not totally theater. We have these two characters, MC Cain and MC Abel, and theyre tag-team rapping their way through the whole story.
Why Job in particular?
We both went to a Jewish high school and learned the story. And it obviously resonated with both of us. And I guess one of the reasons that we wanted to do that story now was because its particularly relevantwhat with Enron and all the sorts of disillusionment with corporations and corporate views. And another thing about taking an old narrative and putting a new spin on it is that its kind of like what [Moulin Rouge director] Baz Luhrmann doeshes attempting a conceptually new way of telling the story, so the focus can not be so much on the narrative. So the primary focus is then shifted to the way youre telling the story, and the fresh, innovative way youre telling it.
Local writer/actor Jeff Gardner contemplates the boob tube in Kill Your Television.
Why should we kill our televisions? Television lets us watch Elimidate.
I love television, to be honest with you. I love Elimidate, I love Blind Date, I watch Jerry Springer. I watch all those shows, so when I did this project, I wanted everybody to see thatwe all know the shows, we all watch the Joe Millionaires and The Bachelors and all that stuff, all the crappy reality shows. But you know, theyre a kick. And you know, its amusing, its entertaining, what you get from it is what you get from it. Its what you decide, and when I put all of the sound bites from the various television shows in [this show], I had that in mind. I wanted people to recognize instantly what they were hearing. And whatever image they create in their head is up to them. Im just throwing it out there for what you will. Theres some really significant benefits from television, and Im happy to be able to comment on it in my show. For both the pros and the cons. Like I said, the title is kind of . . .
It is, and when people come see the show, theyll realize it really is giving homage to TV as well as saying, as my character does at the end of the show: Kill your television. He actually gets rid of it altogether. Itll definitely be very amusing and entertaining. Thats my dream, thats my hope.
Co-writer/actor Mark Siano, member of the Seattle-born but now L.A.based comedy troupe the Habit, pokes fun at Southern California ways in L.A. Nasty: Jesus, What Were We Thinking?
Why are you and [co-writer/ actor] Ryan Dobosh in L.A.?
I think it was based on our desire to reach the national stage. Wed definitely like a television show, perhaps HBO, Comedy Central, something of that sort. And we didnt think wed be able to pull that off from Seattle. We come at it from perhaps the lowest rent possible. Were extremely poor, and were struggling just to stay alive. A lot of L.A. Nasty isnt so much about trying to make it in the industry, but just trying not to get killed. We both have these tiny little cars that hardly even work, and we nearly get run over every single day by giant SUVs.
So how long have you guys been there?
We left just a year ago, and the show is basically to kind of give our friends and some old fans, if they still exist, a chance to hear what happened to the Habit. This shows probably not straight sketch comedy, which you would see with the Habit. This is more dramatic storytelling, with bits of comedy thrown in.
Local Teri Mathews directs Last Respects, a comedy about a group of men faced with a challenge at the funeral of a difficult friend.
Whats so funny about a funeral?
I remember when my brother Vinnie and I went to our favorite aunts funeral. It was the first funeral Id ever been to, and it was terrifying; and we were walking along, and all of a sudden he loses it and just starts laughing at everybody in the ties, and the uptightness, and the pretending. And people were like, This is inappropriate. And we said, Not for us. This is how were dealing. Leave us alone. And [this show] is a story of these guys and how theyre dealing with it. The big joke from this playwright is that [the guy who dies] was an asshole, and his family cant even give the eulogy, so these guys have to come up with something. Its kind of like going to a really bad play and your really good friend is in it and you find something nice to say[the show] is about how these guys come about being honest without saying anything nasty.
Veteran doo-wopper Movin Melvin Brown of Austin goes solo in A Man, A Magic, A Music.
What kind of moving goes on in your show?
Basically, what I do is take you on a trip through black music history. I was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I was around when people like B.B. King and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles were starting out. I had a doo-wop group that got to open these shows. So I carry people through three parallels: my life, growing up from 1950 up until 1990; the life of the country and the things that were going on in the music industry; and, of course, the people around meI do characters like a black preacher, a James Brown character, some clogging, some Bill Robinson Bojangles tap-dancing numbers.
The Nazi Nearest You, by local playwright/ actor Robert Radcliffe, uses flashbacks to explore the aftermath of the Third Reich.
How has the show evolved from the version staged last January at Freehold?
Its a conflict between a teenage girl in the 1930s in Germanyshe is being drawn into Nazism, and her father is opposing that. The play that you saw in January was a sketch of two different scenes. One of them is still pretty fully realized in the final versionthe contemporary bakery scene is similar, but its done very differently now. Now we have an FBI agent who is involved in investigating what has happened at the bakery, and I think one of the things weve learned from the January performance was that our central character, Gerda, the older woman, was actually so unlikable nobody had any interest in why she was doing anything. And that gets us outside the purpose of actually having the play. So weve tried very hard to humanize her, because I think the root purpose of this play is that what happened then under some circumstances could happen anywhere, including here. And thats not done to excuse the people who went through it then. Its meant more as a cautionary tale about what could happen to us if were not careful.
How is this show treating the Holocaust theme in a way that other shows, films, and books havent already?
Well, what its doing is looking at the personal consequences to the people who are the perpetrators and, in this case, somebody who is a young, naive, somewhat unwitting perpetrator. But she still gets nailed with consequences it takes 50 years, and the consequences are not being tried by international tribunal or being thrown in jail, but theyre still very real. Whats exciting is bringing out the contradictions that are in people. And so I think simultaneously we see her as a teenager being a fascist and we see her as an American being liberaland the climax of the play is when those parts of herself kind of erupt and go after each other.
One thing that surprised me is that weve had some reaction to our posters. We had one up at Freehold where somebody actually tore the poster. They carefully tore out the swastikathat seemed, like, very Seattle: Well tear out the part we dont like, but well leave the rest of the poster up there.
A bunch of gay, bush-league pro wrestlers in 1979 are challenged by a straight renegade in PileDriver!, which is being produced by Ian Bell and his local Bald Faced Lie comedy troupe.
How politically incorrect will this be?
I think therell be some moments that might make people squirm a bit. Its not always a feel-good gay comedy. It does take place in the 70s, so there is that influence of what was going on [then] with the gay communitythe same sort of general attitudes that produced things like Boys in the Band and other sorts of shame-driven things. And, you know, theres fake sex and violence, and sometimes those go hand in hand: Sometimes the fake sex and fake violence are happening at the same time.
Its an active, visceral experience, as well as a heady one. And, frankly, Id go see men in spandex wrestling each other.
Portlands Michael Kelly, Simon the Magus writer/actor, discusses the search for God, magic, and redemption.
What prompted you to make this material into a one-man show?
It started out not being a one-man show. It started out being a play that included not only Simon but Simon [as] a younger man [who] lived with his mother in an urban apartment building. So his mom was there, and there was a kind of dorky young woman who loved Simon, but Simon didnt have much interest. But Simon had always, from the start, opened with a bit of magic: some flash paper over a bucket, which brings the lights up, and then [he] claims to have created the audience. And the more I worked on it, the more Simons relationship with the audience became the primary focus and the less those other things seemed to matter, and it became just Simon and the audience.
So is Simon kind of a modern wizard figure without the pointy hat and magic wand?
I would say Simon is more of a Faust figure. [His] driving focus throughout the piece is to establish a direct, unmediated connection with God. Thats what hes after. Hes a man who is very smart but has been very ineffectual in his life, and in particular, there are issues surrounding his daughter that he wants answers to.
Is there anything that sort of adds levity to the mix?
It depends on the sorts of things you laugh at. His proof that God is actually an engineering concept known as the Model is kind of funny in its ridiculousness, and at the same time, the heresy involved in his conclusions are probably going to be disturbing to some.
Seattles Sara Edwards directs a horny king, a confused Guinevere, and a sleazy Lancelot in the spoofy, original Camelot tunefest, Unsheathed: Arthur the Musical.
How irreverently are you treating the source material [Thomas Malorys version of Camelot]?
Oh, very irreverently. Its actually kind of turned a little bit naughty, but its done with an air of innocenceits kind of overblown. There are some really strange references in it. Lancelot is kind of a Jack Blacktype character. Lancelot has kind of this soft-rock ballad that he sings to Guinevere. And Guinevere sings this hysterical opera song about being so [sexually] frustrated: Arthur, youre so noble/You took the sword from stone/But how noble is it Arthur/Not to give the dog a bone? And then there are a couple of more traditional, almost like Gilbert & Sullivan pieces in it. It has about five musical numbers, all original. So its really gone far, far from the source material. Theres no profound meaningits very silly.