Opening Nights: O Lovely Glowworm

A goat fantasia from New Century Theatre Company.

Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you, as the song suggests. For an amnesiac goat living on a trash heap during World War I, that might mean being the emcee of a dramedy by one of the writers behind Spider-Man's Broadway flop. For me, it was my insistence that I'd watch one of my favorite Seattle actors, MJ Sieber, read the phone book. Both fantasies are nearly fulfilled in O Lovely Glowworm, or Scenes of Great Beauty. It's easy to understand why the adventurous artists at New Century Theatre Company were drawn to Glen Berger's 2005 play—it's gorgeous in language, vivid in conjuring alternate realities, and wildly theatrical. What they didn't grasp is that it's also interminable and repeats its few ideas ad nauseam. Worse, Berger's text is a drama without a heart and a comedy that finds humor in inhumanity—that selfsame vein mined to great profit by the likes of Larry David, Sarah Silverman, and Ricky Gervais. Although the sets evoke a slowly moving dreamscape, the setting is Ireland circa 1918, where our goat tries vainly to recall what he is in life. A tram conductor? A mother? A dog? And through his reveries, we meet the odd assortment of characters: his owners, a mother (Gretchen Krich) entering another decade on her deathbed and her ne'er-do-well son (Brian Claudio Smith), an inventor whose holy grail is the flushable toilet. Running parallel is a tale of two childhood friends now fighting in the war (Sieber and Peter Dylan O'Connor), who vie for the affections of a capricious mermaid (Jennifer Lee Taylor) dreamed into life from the logo of a soap bar by the dyspeptic goat. At the goat's whim, characters roam down blind alleys of possible endings, recouplings, deaths, and resurrections, until the whole affair staggers not so much to a conclusion as an end. Glowworm may be too long by a third, but director Roger Benington has an exquisite touch in rendering each of the goat's visions like living, intricately executed origami. I only wish he'd have taken a pair of scissors to the text, to make Berger's play as lean as it is loquacious. Truth be told, I left the show much more in Benington's thrall than under the spell Berger hoped to cast through his goat tableaux. Everything splendid and delightful about this show belongs to the director—who designed the sets, spectacular in their simplicity—and the cast, which is completely without flaw. Yes, Sieber is once again terrific as the lovesick soldier, but so is every single performance—including Michael Patten, who voices the goat and several incidental characters besides. So be warned: Glowworm is going to make you crazy, because you'll likely hate the play, but as a showcase for Seattle's best theaterfolk working at the top of their craft, you dare not miss it.

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