What a pleasant surprise. Tucked away on Captiol Hill beneath Brocklind's tux rental and costume shop is a quirky little production stage - the home of Theater Schmeater.
While Peg and our granddaughter went to the 5th Avenue for the Broadway musical Memphis, my West Seattle buddy, Al Burrage and I went to the Schmee for fast-paced farce created by Mark Twain. "Is He Dead? addresses the burning issue of what constitutes art and, more to the point, how much do we pay for it. Down on his luck and starving, Jean-Francois Millet falls into debt to a nefarious art dealer and loan shark. Unable to marry his beloved Marie, Millet contemplates ending it all only to be stopped by his art student and fellow Bohemian Agamemnon Buckner, who reasons that a fake death would increase the value of Millet’s paintings, remove his debt, and shower him and his students with riches. Cross-dressing, mistaken identities, unrequited love and a wry skepticism all combine in this farce by America’s greatest humorist."
We entered the theater lobby via an old delivery ramp. The actual house and stage involved stepping up and over a smaller ramp. After stumbling on the little ramp a couple of times, most people learned to raise their step as they walked in. Most theaters have rows of chairs facing a stage at the end of a rectangular room, not so here. Perhaps, they change the look and feel of the house for each production. Is He Dead? had the stage running most of the length of the room, with three rows of chairs facing a long stage. Each row has about sixteen seats.
Most of the action was moved along by three characters: Dutchy, Chicago, and O’Shaughnessy played by Lantz Wagner, Zach Adair, and Thurman M. Kellogg. Mike Jones handled multiple parts. There were a ton of nationality jibes. With the long stage I sometimes missed dialog, but it didn't really matter. The whole thing played out like an old fashioned melodrama, with my favorite character, Snidely Whiplash, oops, I mean, Bastien André (my favorite character) played by J.D. Lloyd. I loved him dressed in a modified Zoot suit. Why was he wearing a 1940s Zoot suit? Who cares?
Brandon Felker, who actually looked a lot like John Cleese, played the artist. The whole production reminded me of Cleese's Faulty Towers. Slapstick reigned supreme with entrances, exits, slamming doors, sexy women and steamy situations played to the mock hilt.
Director Doug Staley did an excellent job of containing the mayhem and making the art of Jean-Francois Millet recognizable. Blank canvasses littered the floors and the walls, but when they were held up and shown as finished paintings, a slide of Millet's various works of art were projected onto the white surface.
If you like to laugh . . . a whole bunch, take in this production. Al and I laughed from the get-go. Is He Dead? runs through October 13th. Call the box office at 206-324-5801 for tickets or visit online at Theater Schmeater.