The Weekly Wire: The Week's Recommended Events

FRIDAY 7/29 Stage: Great Buzz In the Next Room, or the vibrator play may cause some prudes to wriggle in their seats. Great—that makes for good theater. Sarah Ruhl is a playwright still on the rise, and ACT has done well by her before with The Clean House (2004) and, particularly, 2008's production of Eurydice. While the latter considered the gossamer-like intricacies of grief, In the Next Room explores the demands of desire and (shock!) its inextricable relationship to love. While a late 19th-century doctor (Jeff Cummings) clinically administers electric sex toys to female patients as treatment for so-called "hysteria," his neglected wife is dying to know what the buzz is about. Consider it a good sign that director Kurt Beattie cast the ever-fetching Jennifer Sue Johnson as the doctor's wife: Her performance as another frustrated female, in Book-It's 2001 staging of Lady Chatterley's Lover, was both erotic and heartbreaking. In the Next Room is thoughtful and funny—though Ruhl doesn't laugh at these late Victorians. She's smart enough to know that, even in our technologically and sexually advanced new age, we're all still searching for the truth behind a turn-on. (Previews begin tonight, opens Aug. 4, runs through Aug. 28.) ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., 292-7676, $37.50 and up. 8 p.m. STEVE WIECKING Books: Sharks and Jets Forever The opening-night audience went nuts. The reviews covered the spectrum from ecstatic to huffy. The initial run was 732 performances—a success, if not a blockbuster. And the Tony for Best Musical that year, 1957, went to . . . The Music Man. But West Side Story got the last laugh. Its pioneering combination of a tragic story told in vernacular terms, with the emphasis on supercharged, highly physical dance, shot through with Leonard Bernstein's sizzling Latin score, lifted it into the top rank of American musicals—heck, American theater—a position it's not likely to relinquish. (Vindication came with the 1961 film version, which swept up 10 Oscars out of 11 nominations.) The Seattle Times' Misha Berson explores the show's origins, context, and legacy in Something's Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination (Applause, $19.99), from the Romeo and Juliet parallels to the panicky juvenile-delinquency news stories of the day. More than just a period piece, this show thrives on renewal (a bilingual version hits the Paramount in January). And as long as ethnic or ideological clashes end in tragedy—i.e., as long as human nature remains human nature—West Side Story will never go stale. Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way N.E., Lake Forest Park, 366-3333, Free. 6:30 p.m. GAVIN BORCHERT SATURDAY 7/30 Seafair: Team Pirate: A Salute Seattle is a port city, which is why—during tonight's 62nd annual Torchlight Parade—I will be rooting for the Seafair Pirates. Their advantages over clowns are well-documented: a fondness for rum, cutlass-wielding support in bar fights, celestial navigation, the homeopathic treatment of scurvy (using limes), parrots, and the inflation-resistant value of gold doubloons (a wise investment strategy in these uncertain economic times). But pirates have their practical side, too. Let's say the ferry is delayed again—pirates will be happy to sail you over to Bainbridge (where they can also dig for buried treasure beneath those immaculate lawns). Or, why pay extra for professional inking at a tattoo parlor? Pirates will do it for free (though a rum-and-Coke would be swell). And lastly, here's a little-known fact about pirates: They love children and make excellent babysitters. Just make sure your kid is wearing a life jacket. (Today's Seafair activities begin with the 2 p.m. Taste of Torchlight at Seattle Center, followed by the 6:30 p.m. Torchlight Run, after which the parade commences, led by Drew Carey—who is, ahem, a clown. Fourth Avenue between Seattle Center and Westlake Plaza, Free–$37 (bleachers). 7:30 p.m. BRIAN MILLER Seafair: Team Clown: A Rebuttal Pirates might carry weapons and grow copious facial hair, but they boast nowhere near the emotional and psychological depth of the Seafair Clowns. Outwardly, as they march tonight, they're family-friendly entertainers. But as the movie Shakes the Clown proved (scientifically!), behind every smiling face lurks a complex, melancholy clown. Which is to say: While stereotypes might suggest otherwise, clowns can drink pirates under the table. And at its core, Seafair harkens back to an older, more eccentric Seattle that was more accepting of multiple viewpoints and lifestyles than the lockstep liberalism of today. Perhaps such revelry might get in the way of their ability to properly tie the knot on a balloon doberman, but rest assured that—unlike pirates—marauding and pillaging aren't part of the clown's shtick. MIKE SEELY Opera: On Catfish Row Once in a while, if singers can be found who can handle spoken dialogue, an opera company will tackle a Candide or a Little Night Music, but the sole work that really lives in both the Broadway and operatic worlds is Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. ("Summertime," it's claimed, is the most-recorded song ever, captivating musicians from Jascha Heifetz to Janis Joplin.) Its performance history, consequently, is highly complicated, and it's a shame Seattle Opera couldn't have accompanied its upcoming run with a symposium like the ones they throw for their quadrennial Rings. The issues the show raises are ripe for discussion—not only its hybrid identity but the charges of racism leveled at the show since its 1935 premiere and the racial politics of opera itself: In an age when no one would dare balk at an Asian Almaviva or a black Butterfly, is casting non-blacks in Porgy and Bess still unthinkable (even if the Gershwin estate allowed it)? Familiar SO faces Lisa Daltirus and Gordon Hawkins take the title roles; I'm also eager for the return of Mary Elizabeth Williams (here singing Serena), whose powerful Donna Elvira in a Young Artists Program Don Giovanni a decade ago is still vivid in my mind. (Through Aug. 20.) McCaw Hall, Seattle Center, 389-7676, $25–$209. 6:30 p.m. GAVIN BORCHERT Books: The Finch Chorus Chicago cartoonist Anders Nilsen fills each panel with delicate ornithological wonderment. Most of the characters in his massive new collection are talking birds. Big Questions (Drawn & Quarterly, $44.95) represents 15 years of feathered inquiry, as his flock peers down at the strange doings on the ground, commenting upon and trying to explain them in bird terms. Below are talking snakes, enchanted swans, murderous crows, an egg that turns out to be a bomb, a crash-landed aviator, and a wandering retarded boy whom the birds feed worms, like their own featherless offspring. There's a melancholy Brothers Grimm quality to Nilsen's proceedings—gentle, yet infused with death and destruction. Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, 1201 S. Vale St., 658-0110, Free. 6–8 p.m. BRIAN MILLER

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