Full disclosure: I am in the Artist Collective of Intiman; I am a Seattle playwright who moved to New York but still does a lot of work in Seattle, because I love the city, and I love Intiman.
I was mildly intoxicated the night I showed up for Hedda Gabler. I had had drinks with an old friend (and Seattle theater reviewer) and eaten a hash brownie. I was ready to settle into the thick language of the frigid bard’s world.
My experience was bifurcated. Having neither seen nor read Hedda, I had my ear tuned to the mechanics of the script, paying attention to the verbal cues to anticipate the turns of the narrative. But then there was the production in front of me, which operated more on modern instinct and abstracted physicalizations to deliver the import of the play. These two modes pulled against one another; by the time Hedda was literally “dancing out” her interior state, I thought my brain was going to get sucked into the ceiling.
It was frustrating, but exciting, which meant that the production was doing the right thing. Marya Sea Kaminski – a powerhouse local actor – would seem to be the correct choice for the eponymous character. But to me, her performance was rendered austere by the production that surrounding her. I continued to have discussions with countless theatregoers, many of whom totally disagreed with me. I must have spent at least ten hours analyzing the production in conversation. Andrew Russell’s staging got me thinking about my own impulses as an artist, my own vision of the same text in front of me. The production has been in my thoughts for weeks afterward.
And then I was like: Fuck, I really got a lot out of that.
Part of the joy of going to the theatre is getting pissed off at the right productions. A smart audience breeds an appreciation for exciting failures. If the subscriber base cultivates an allowance for experimentation, the range of work will be more ambitious and adventurous. Think of local house On The Boards. Book tickets there and you run the risk of seeing something you might not like, but you will never be bored. And you’ll have something to talk about Monday morning.
This same thrilling feeling coursed through me while watching Intiman’s season. As I saw the other pieces – Allison Narver’s dazzling adaptation of Romeo & Juliet, Dan Savage’s must-see drag reboot of The Miracle Worker, and Val Curtis-Newton’s expert staging of John Patrick Shanley’s problematic Dirty Story – the performances started to speak to each other. Dirty contains some terrific verbal sparring between Shawn Law and Carol Roscoe. The second act pulls out the rug – Shanley’s narrative goes for symbols when it should be searching for signs, leaving the characters (and actors) struggling against the play to find identity beyond the idea they embody. Yet seeing the versatile Law play the doomed yin-yang of Tybalt and Paris in the same festival’s R & J – within a day of his whirlwind turn in Dirty — somehow compensated for the dramaturgical gaps in the Shanley character. As for Kaminski, she also appears as a shy stage manager in Miracle! and as the doting nurse in R & J – both magnetic performances that are standouts of their respective productions. These two roles frame Kaminski’s icy turn in Hedda – maybe for the first time, we were able to see the true talent of Seattle’s leading actress, individuated in the stark contrast between her choices in each role. Hedda, then, is an analog to the festival – an example of the furious ambition of the new Intiman to do something that no other theater in town would dare try: Create work that has the possibility to fail.