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Cross dressing, confused sexual identities and imperial greed
Review by Peg Doman
Last Friday we took three granddaughters and went to the Puyallup Rotary Crab Feed and then on up to the Silver Cloud - Eastgate in Bellevue . We’d stayed there before and thoroughly enjoyed it. We played Pictionary at the hotel and had a great time with our girls – of course, they are so smart and so beautiful that we had a hard time beating them!
The next morning we had the complementary breakfast in the Nine O restaurant with an additional guest, our granddaughter who’s a student at Seattle Pacific U. While I took a nap, Don took them swimming at the Bally’s right outside the hotel door and, again, they had a wonderful time. By then, they were hungry again and we had an appetizer in the restaurant for lunch and set off for the UW Bookstore. We were there the whole two hours of validated parking. Don took a nap; I paid for books and art supplies. The comments could be generalized as “The best bookstore, EVER!”
We went to dinner at the Bilbao tapas restaurant not far from the bookstore. Each chose an appetizer - chicken in garlic, meatballs, and garlic prawns - and Don and I chose a few favorites - oxtails, lamb chop, mushrooms and chirozo to increase the choices. They weren’t interested in eating any rabbit – “You eat bunnies?!?” - but did try a bite of several of the others. The big hits were the desserts – lemony Cremé Brulee and chocolate cake to share. I’d never had a brulee that was as good as that. The lemon really sparked and brightened up the custard. The girls almost scraped the design off the cake plate, they were enjoying it so much.
We had about an hour before the Seattle Musical Theatre even opened for the play, so we stopped at the Barnes and Noble just east and down the hill from the U District. When it was time to leave, I went to the service desk and requested a page, “Would the Doman granddaughters, please, return to the foot of the escalator. Your party is waiting for you.” They were ready to leave but came down amazed, “You paged us! The Doman granddaughters! Who would do that?” Your grandmother. It worked.
We set out for Seattle Musical Theatre in Magnuson Park just off Sand Point Way and arrived in plenty of time. The house was not full, in fact, Don was glad that there appeared to be 50 in the audience. Some tall people had come in and sat right in front of our petite girls, so there was no problem in them moving back a row for a better view.
The production opens with the ensemble singing the “Prologue Slash Back Story”, lead by Hank (Krista Gibbons), the king’s main flunky. The play is rife with confused sexual identities and cross dressing. Hank is soon executed and out-and-out peasant and simpleton-buffoon Guido (Brennan Buhl) is promoted to head lackey and threatened with execution, as well, unless he can bring Edgar’s plans to fruition. Guido’s guileless, sweet and unconniving nature helps him achieve his simple goals.
King Edgar, (Jacob Hutchion) immaculately clad in white pantaloons, shirt and vest and a royal (no duh) purple frock coat, complete with sparkly, gold epaulettes and Russian-general medals, begins singing about his plan. The plan is the accumulation of massive amounts of wealth and control of the whole country-side by marrying his daughter Princess Sylvia (Aryn Nimiroff) to Prince Basil (Nicholas Brownson), son of the neighboring kingdom’s Queen Virginia (Mary-Faith Givens). Edgar is abetted in this by QV’s rapacious sexual drive; she’s willing to sacrifice her gay son on the altar of gettin’ some.
A few other things to note, King Edgar has dispatched several, maybe five wives, in his quest for wealth and control. The ensemble presents them in a montage of musical mayhem.
Of course, the royal offspring are each in love with someone else: Sylvia with Daniel (Jonathan Wright) and Basil with Princess – don’t ask, another royal parent’s attempt to control the world - Roger (Bo Mellinger). Daniel is a poor wandering player, part of a troop with Peter (Chris Bange) and Bruce (Jessica Hendrickson) that wants to give a royal entertainment and become rich and famous. Naturally, Daniel and Sylvia are both requited in their love, and when Daniel’s troop is banished because Edgar finds out about their love, Sylvia runs away to find him in the forest.
Basil is in love with Princess Roger – another gay royal child sentenced to, God knows what, but at least Roger doesn’t cross dress. Basil and Roger giggle and flounce and dance across the stage in a frenzy of clichés.
Bruce, the most consistently funny part in “Princess Guido”, is played by Jessica Hendrickson. The humor arises while rehearsing their royal epic in the woods; Daniel runs Bruce through with a sword and Bruce dies. They need him/her for the epic. For the rest of the production Peter, the troop leader, a former farmer who wants to ACT!, arranges a harness for Bruce and manipulates him/her like a marionette in “Pinocchio.” Hendrickson does a masterful job flopping, hanging, responding to pulls, and still being funny. There are even a few moments later in the play when Bruce comforts Peter and Daniel, but without manipulation.
The play was presented here for the first time as a musical with music by Curtis Williams. It is a clever idea, written, directed and with lyrics by Michael Govier. However, I think Govier is too in love with the preciousness of his language to direct this effectively. The players are good, the music is good, the dancing is spirited and good, but the lyrics are tooooo long and the timing is toooo slow for farce. Farce has to snap along, one idiotic event bumping up against another in quick succession. The loving lingering over the cleverness of lyrics and the reverential pauses for laughter are too much. Add to that the high-pitched, obvious, continuous, and sometimes unwarranted support laughter from a few audience members, and the spell is broken.
Jenna Carino’s set is very workable, with stone walls and a macabre portrait of King Edgar and reversible parts with forest sceens, doors, windows and resting places for Bruce and Guido to indicate the location.
Costume designer John Allbritton does a good job, especially with King Edgar’s suits, Queen Virginia ’s shimmering gown and the peasants’ patched and ill-fitting costumes. They are suitable. Edgar is impeccable and the peasants are rough. My only real costume quibble was the polyester, lavender, A-line, empire waist, knee-length dress with one piece of off-the-rack lace around the high waist as the only ensemble for Princess Sylvia. I don’t know why only her costume had to be so plain and inexpensive looking. Surely, a princess of the realm, daughter of an impeccably dressed father, would have something a little more in line with Edgar’s aspirations to elegance, at least some interesting details, even though the plainness was probably to indicate innocence.
The follow spot operators Dave Dietzel and Karen Mosteller also merit mention. There are several spots when the use of the spots was a humor highlight.
I was disappointed in this production and I was disappointed that I was disappointed. We had come to see the previous production “The Drowsy Chaperone” and loved that farcial musical.
“The King’s Proposal, or the Marriage of Princess Guido” runs at the Seattle Musical Playhouse through April 10. For tickets and information, go to their website, and click on tickets to purchase online. The box office is available by phone at 206-363-2809. The next production is “Into the Woods”, a dark telling of the Little Red Riding Hood story from April 29 to May 21.