The Core Ensemble and the Williams Project are young companies ablaze with the talent of local playwrights, directors, and actors. To see their work is to re-imagine theatre as the absolute epicenter of artistic engagement with the world as it is, the essential crucible of storytelling, the place where we know, again and again, what it is to be human.
The Core Ensemble current production re-imagines Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni in the #MeToo moment, with direction by Julia Holden-Hunkins and music direction by Yuly Kopkin. It’s playing at 12th Avenue Arts through August 29. Six actors and six opera singers weave together to tell the tale of exploitation and revenge, with computers, cell phones, and 2018 street dress mixing it up with 18th century opera finery. The actors, freed from the necessity of singing, engage in much more intriguing choreography than opera singers can usually manage, while the singers soar. It works well as both drama and as music. Particularly engaging is Jimmi Cooke as a compelling, charismatic, and simultaneously revolting Don Giovanni, who both sings and acts, and Spencer Funk’s inspired and endearing physical comedy as Don Giovanni’s servant Leporello. The company’s high-energy and imaginative production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s the Pirates of Penzance in 2017 knocked the dust off that musty 19th century comic opera, with sly interpretation, astonishing acrobatics, and gender-bending roles that upended audience expectations. Their occasional The Coaster Show at Capitol Cider is a zany delight of up-to-the-minute skits and spoofs written by company members.
Seattle native and The Williams Project artistic director Ryan Guzzo Purcell presented James Baldwin’s Blues for Mr. Charlie in a traditionally African-American church, a small Episcopal church, and a high school in south Seattle in 2016 and 2017. With few props, no stage set, and in a space they’d seen for the first time a few hours before curtain, a handful of talented, passionate, and well-rehearsed actors and an inspired director transformed the small church into the tiny Mississippi town where 14-year-old Emmet Till was murdered in 1955. They riveted the audience, using the entire church, inside and out, to enact the drama. In an early scene, the cast began singing a joyful Gospel song outside the church; as they processed inside up the aisle to the sanctuary, clapping and shouting, the audience was suddenly inside the play, as the congregation. We stayed inside the play throughout, complicit as townspeople. When the play ended, we sat stunned and shaken before leaping to our feet to applaud. It was a commanding performance for this young company, whose mission is to “make theatrical excellence accessible to diverse and engaged audiences, while paying our artists a living wage.”
The company did it again with Federico Garcia Lorca’s mythic, poetic, and moody Blood Wedding, produced outdoors at Equinox Studios in Seattle’s industrial/artsy Georgetown neighborhood during the first weekend in August, and billed as a “developmental production.” The audience chose first one, then another foreboding opening scene at opposite ends of the street running through the studio complex of old factory buildings, then came together for the fantastical wedding amid heavy equipment and big trucks. The last act, set in an open area crowded with large metal containers, weeds, and gravel, and complete with fiery torches, had the standing audience moving to see the action. I felt that we too were in the midnight forest, stalked by fate. When the company presents this play again, don’t miss it. Can it be any more captivating than this developmental production? They knocked it out of the park after only two weeks of rehearsal.