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Best of Theater: 2018-2019

A look back at the 2018-19 theater season

Angela Parisotto as Irina and Joel Thomas as Konstantin in The Seagull. Photo courtesy New Muses Theatre Company

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Weekly Volcano theater critics choose the best plays in Tacoma and Olympia of the 2018-2019 season. Note: we did not see many of the same shows. If we had seen all of the same ones our choices might be different.

Rev. Adam McKinney

5. The Foreigner was a tonally wild show, stuffed with ideas and targets for its comedy, touching on racism, sexism, antisemitism and gaslighting. In a way, the most impressive aspect of the show was how frequently The Foreigner actually managed to nail its material, juggling very serious topics under the guise of farce. Produced by Tacoma Little Theatre and directed by Casi Pruitt, The Foreigner was a bit of a Trojan horse, smuggling big ideas in the form of a wild, very odd crowd-pleaser.

4. Sliding in under the wire was the New Muses Theatre Company's production of The Seagull. Anton Chekhov's classic tragedy dips its toes into the waters of comedy -- mostly when it comes to the pompous airs of creative types -- but I was mostly met with anxiety. A messy love story populated with desperate artists and fatuous jerks, The Seagull opens with a depiction of every writer's worst nightmare, and only descends further into a deep well of despair. Staged in the cozy confines of Dukesbay Theater, with direction by Niclas Olson, The Seagull presented a disarmingly upfront view of lives falling apart in the name of art and vanity.

3. Emotional, pointed, and strikingly personal, Yohen was the straight drama that has most stuck with me from this past season of theater. Again, this was a show that took place in the tiny black box of Dukesbay, and it's hard to picture it being staged anywhere else. A two-hander centered around James (Malcom J. West) and Sumi (Aya Hashiguchi), Yohen, directed by Randy Clark, played coy for much of its running time about exactly what their relationship is. The chemistry between the two leads was unmatched this year, and the deep sadness that runs underneath their relationship powered a tender story of love complicated by time and place.

2. The Producers is a whirling dervish of a show, possessed with mile-a-minute jokes and bombastic musical numbers. It was also one of many shows I saw this year that carry some unfortunately timely commentary (see: The Foreigner and Yohen). To see a whole cast of performers gamely wear Nazi armbands, and cavort in a blissfully silly dance, feels equally at home when The Producers was created (1969) as it does now. The Producers at Lakewood Playhouse hit a fever pitch as its central theater producers edge closer to bringing Broadway's worst play to fruition, and that energy is what made this bawdy musical satire something special.

1. Sometimes there's one moment -- a moment that can turn a good play into a great one, a play that sticks with you and makes everything around it rise with the tide. I was quite enjoying A Little Night Music at Tacoma Little Theatre, and then I got to the performance of "Send in the Clowns." When I think of how I've been affected by theater in the past year, nothing hit me quite so hard as the memory of Desiree (Casi Pruitt) and Fredrik (Jonathan Bill) sharing the stage for that beautifully heartbreaking number. It doesn't hurt that the rest of the show, directed by John Munn, was a floor-to-ceiling charmer.

Alec Clayton

5. Animal Fire Theatre's The Merry Wives of Winsor played outdoors in Priest Point Park, Olympia, is the most easily accessible of all Shakespeare's comedies, and Animal Fire Theatre played it beautifully and hilariously with stupendous performances by Dave Champagne as Sir John Falstaff, Paige Doyle and Shannon Agostinelli as, respectively, Mistresses Page and Ford, and Ryan Martin Holmberg as an unforgettable Dr. Caius, directed by Rachel Fitzgerald.

4. The best adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet I have yet to see was performed by New Muses Theatre Company. Director Niclas Olson, who also wrote this adaptation and played the leading role, downplayed the "Melancholy Dane's" histrionics in much of the play, portraying him as a brooding and more inward-looking young man -- not to mention a spoiled and arrogant rich kid -- so when he did give way to histrionics, it was explosive. The performance was presented in a contemporary setting on an almost empty stage. The small house and minimal costumes and sets brought out the drama more intensely.

3. One of the greatest musicals of all time and definitely the best in the South Sound this season, was Harlequin Productions' Man of La Mancha presented with a marvelous twist: the role of Aldonza was played by Monique Holt, who is deaf, and who "spoke" with Visual Gestural Communication -- gestures and expressions designed for the stage. When called upon to sing, Holt used American Sign Language while Cassi Q. Kohl (who plays the innkeeper's wife) sang her songs from the edge of the stage. Man of La Mancha was a magical production with outstanding sets, lighting, music and costumes.

2. Another musical topping my list is Fun Home at South Puget Sound Community College, directed by Lauren Love. Fun Home is based on the autobiographical graphic novel of the same name by cartoonist and lesbian feminist Alison Bechdel, famous for her long-running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. Alison was played by the triumvirate of Heather Matthews as the adult Alison, 10-year-old Lola May Havens as Alison as a child and Josie Derosier as Alison in her freshman year of college. The staging and acting were amazing, and the story was fierce, funny and heart-wrenching.

1. Angels in America at Lakewood Playhouse was by far the most ambitious theater production of the year. This epic play was presented in repertory with alternating performances totaling seven-and-a-half hours. It is a gritty, no-holds-barred look at the worst years of the AIDS epidemic with mesmerizing performances by W. Scott Pinkston as the complex, witty and ultimately evil Roy Cohen and Rachel Wilkie as the Angel.

Tacoma Little Theater, 210 North I St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281,

Harlequin Productions, at the State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia, 360.786.0151,

Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts, Main Stage, South Puget Sound Community College, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW, Olympia, 360.753.8586

Dukesbay Theater, Merlino Arts Center, 508 Sixth Ave. #10, Tacoma,

Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., L akewood, 253.588.0042,

Animal Fire Theatre,

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