Lucky us: Bellingham TheatreWorks has roosted in the Fairhaven Arts and Events Center this July. Here’s hoping that their summer repertory theatre blossoms annually.
Six nights a week, through July 28, superb community theatre, fueled by staff and students from Western Washington University and their alumni and friends, perform plays: “Wit,” by Margaret Edson; “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” by Tennessee Williams; and “The Clean House”, by Sarah Ruhl. Two won Pulitzers and Ruhl’s was a finalist.
Death is a theme in each, most obviously in “Wit.” Vivian (Beth Wallace, in a stupendous performance that may be the role of the year regionally) comes onto a stage that is medical examining rooms, pushing a wheeled medicine pole. “How are you,” she asks rhetorically and starts a recitation of “fine” while informing us she has stage four ovarian cancer. No spoiler alert: there cannot be a happy ending here.
But wit there is, in the subtle, intellectual, hidden meaning verses of the 17th century English poet John Donne. His poetry was neither straightforward nor obvious, but oh so clever he was. Vivian is now the world’s preeminent Donne scholar; her work is the pride and love and center of her life. And none of that means a thing as she moves – sometimes in a wheel chair through the simple but complete set, primarily curtains, with the necessary chair, straight back or examining table, as appropriate – from one examining room to another, where she learns that support staff first mistake, then don’t care that her title “Dr.” is for a professor.
Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. Vivian’s life cannot be more self-examined and plays out with flashbacks: to when she discovered her love for words at five at her father’s knee. By play’s end she will share her failure to be considerate with her undergraduates (a scene wonderfully developed by the supporting cast, who subtlety and playfully fill out the ensemble roles). She also has bookend visits with her mentor professor Linnea (Suzie Monahan, versatilely strict and tender), who models the parsimonious scholar Vivian will grow into.
Jason (Teague Parker, offering an enthusiastic intenseness), the research intern, pursuing cancer’s mysteries as Vivian does Donne, offers a medical version of an obsessed person.
Director Kayla Adams, a Western alum, came back from Chicago to join the production.
“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” revolves around Brick (Zach Harrison as a sullen Nordic god), but while he is the hub of the play the central roles are filled by Maggie (Heather Dudenbostel, who keeps her accent and her essence as a strong calculating southern woman every second) and Big Daddy (John Para, also looking and living his part). Brick is a former football hero, but his star has been dulled by his homosexuality that no one in the 1950s South can name and by the at least 13 glasses of whiskey he consumes by the play’s end.
Lies, primarily hidden, are in plain sight for the audience. Big Daddy’s birthday and his clean bill of health is celebrated by his family, but he is the only one who doesn’t know the full report. Maggie is castigated for being barren, but Brick’s brother and his wife know that Brick sleeps on the wicker sofa. Big Daddy might be loved as well as respected, but it is primarily the “28,000 acres of the most fertile soil this side of the Valley Nile” that holds his family’s attention.
Tennessee Williams gave the stage great literature as well as theatre. This troupe, and the production crew behind it, uphold that tradition. Artistic Director Mark Kuntz, a Western theatre faculty, directed.
“The Clean Room” has not yet been reviewed.
Go see all three plays. Get close to live performances. In this intimate theater you can be in the third row and be ten feet from the stage.
Ticketing and
Separately, through August at the Sylvia Center for the Arts four productions based on the plays of Ancient Greece. Two of them are free and performed outdoors. Information:
Enjoy your Bellingham sojourns.