Trio of one-act plays at Theatre Off Jackson is a hit-and-miss affair


They're currently playing farce in three distinct fashions at the Theatre Off Jackson: bright and perky ("The Importance of Being Earnest"), dark and twisty ("The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year") and oblique and loony ("The Bald Soprano").

The writing varies in quality as well as tone. "Earnest" is by Oscar Wilde, the 19th-century master who contrasts decadent frivolity against Victorian propriety. Director David Hsieh has deftly condensed Wilde's four acts into two brisk episodes.

"Afternoon" by contemporary writer John Guare, is neither plausible nor absurd. Its essential silliness is redeemed by bizarre horror: Sister's arm is bitten off "at the breast" by a polar bear; father is scalded to death by calliope steam.

And "Soprano" is Eugene Ionesco's 1950 exercise in illogical logic, sometimes absurdly funny, sometimes merely absurd (and tiresome).

The most interesting thing about the Repertory Actors Workshop production, taken as a whole, is the acting. As a semi-sweet young thing in "Earnest," Caroline Leigh Blakeslee chirps and twitters engagingly. ("I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in a train.")

And Hsieh's abbreviation of Wilde's script cuts out much of the twaddle and mechanical paradoxes that can become irksome.

Actor Gordon Hendrickson is a master of disaster in "Afternoon." The play isn't much, but he conveys the essence of a person who could ask without self-pity, "Why me? Why does everything have to happen to me?"

"Soprano" is a wordy piece of work. The seemingly endless bit about how Mr. and Mrs. Martin came from Manchester to London is a tedious ordeal. But Deniece Bleha as a perpetually distressed English matron is very funny - always brittle but never breaking. And Seanjohn Walsh as a visiting fire chief is the refreshing opposite. Walsh is Mr. Flexibility, able to ingratiate himself even with the wary Bleha.

"Soprano" director Robert Sindelar adopts an "accents optional" policy, which deflates Ionesco's not-very-buoyant farce. Bleha bubbles and burbles along in genteel London tones. But other cast members chime in with any old clunky diction.

One-act plays, in general, are dearer to writers and performers than they are to audiences. An evening of one-acts creates opportunites for lots of artists. from an audience perspective, however, the current show at the Theatre Off Jackson isn't so attractive. A few good laughs, a few good performances; that's about it.

November 20, 1995


Three one-act plays: "The Importance of Being Earnest," by Oscar Wilde, condensed by David Hsieh; "The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year," by John Guare; "The Bald Soprano," by Eugene Ionesco. Repertory Actors Workshop production at the Theatre Off Jackson, 409 Seventh Ave. S. Through Saturday. Tickets $6-$12, $1 off with food bank donation; 364-3283.

© 1995 Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Reprinted with permission by ReAct.

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