I am once again on the bandwagon of seeing shows their closing weekend. I hope to end this vicious cycle some day, but while there are so many shows happening in the area, it will be difficult.

Friday night, I finally got a chance to see one of Open Circle’s infamous H.P. Lovecraft adaptations, “Pickman’s Model.” OCT has been adapting Lovecraft for the stage for something like 8 years now, and it only took me 4 years of living in the area to get around to seeing one. The adapters chose to update the story to modern times and move the setting to Seattle. The changes seemed to work well, but I admit a tragic lack of knowledge about Lovecraft’s work so I honestly wouldn’t know the difference.

An interesting problem occurs with small theatre, in many towns. There’s an abundance of talented women struggling to find work, and a dearth of men. The decent male actors generally get swooped up the ranks into larger theatres simply because there are so few men for roles, and so many shows focused on men. “Pickman’s Model,” however, featured mainly women — an obvious solution when one is adapting something for a small theatre. This, for me, created some of the most dynamic female characters I’ve seen in a long time. The story relies heavily on human curiosity and how quickly this trait can get us into trouble, but I have rarely seen a show where a woman’s curiosity is directed at something other than sex, romance, romantic obsession, marriage, and/or children. This seems to be the role that women serve in our cultural imagination, but this show was a great exception. The women had careers, but were not “career gals”; they were curious, but not because they were in love with some guy, or potentially in love with some guy, and following his orders. Instead, they were human beings who found themselves in a very strange situation and chose to investigate — as most women I know in real life would. But think about how many times you’ve seen women in this light on stage, in movies, on TV, in music, in books. Hardly, right? The last great example I can think of is “Kill Bill,” and even that had something to do with marriage, romance, and children. So the overall effect of the casting was very, very interesting to me and I applaud OCT for making the obvious choice and just casting the best actors for the part, rather than totally sticking to gender roles.

What else do I think about the show? Overall the actors were good; the man who played Pickman was a little weak, trying too hard to be villainous without having a strong stage presence to begin with, but the stereotypical villainy he displayed isn’t outside the realm of Lovecraft’s story. The first act, with the gallery opening, involved a lot of audience interplay, assuming us as the audience for the gallery opening, and that was really interesting and I think the adapter did a wonderful job. I’m not sure how one might adapt the second act to be more interesting, but it seemed like a denouement. Perhaps cutting the intermission and shortening the show overall would have helped continue the thread of action into the weaker, talkier second half. And of course, there were plot-holes, but that’s to be expected with the scifi/horror genre — the actual reveal didn’t have much to do with the death and pain set up in the first act, but it was a nice shock-and-awe reveal and obviously not the fault of the production.

So yes, I will be making more of an effort to see the Lovecraft shows at OCT. It was a lot of fun for a scifi nerd like me, and the people involved are clearly passionate about the project.

Saturday night was a bit different. “Red Light Winter” is a heavy modern tragedy of a love triangle and, well, pretty much everything that can go wrong when those form. A playwright, lonely, socially awkward, and destitute, is dragged on holiday by his successful editor friend to Amsterdam. We begin the show watching the playwright try to kill himself, but the editor friend barges in with a prostitute as a present to cheer the poor playwright up. Playwright falls in love with prostitute, prostitute somehow manages to fall in love with asshole editor, asshole editor ignores the feelings of everyone. Act II: prostitute, now with AIDS, finds her way to NYC to find asshole editor and say goodbye to him. Accidentally ends up at playwright’s apartment, since asshole editor gave her the wrong address on purpose. Playwright thinks this is a stroke of good fortune, confesses his love. Prostitute is not moved to fall in love. Asshole editor of course makes his way into playwright’s apartment when playwright steps out, abuses and rapes prostitute, leaves. She grabs a bottle of pills to kill herself. Playwright comes back to empty apartment. End show.

This is not the kind of show I would direct, for one simple reason: the bits with the playwright were a little too meta-theatre for me. I don’t like meta-theatre, because its self-reference tends to exclude the audience, like an inside joke. Of course, this show wasn’t too meta, and I assume everyone in the audience was on board with the playwright possibly talking about himself and his own experiences. I hope, though, that he has never ever had an experience like this. While I’ve seen some plays that mentally took me out of the action because the actors were in danger (“Oh, that poor actor!”), this is the first time I was taken out of the action with pity for the playwright, Adam Rapp, not the fictional playwright on stage. That was a strange experience.

Also, I have seen this director’s work once before, and I wasn’t impressed at the time. But, I get what the hype is with her now. When she has the right tools, she does well. This is, of course, true for most of us, but this show was definitely a great display of her technical skill. The production itself was well-done, despite any qualms I have with the script, and I’m very glad I went to see it. Best wishes to Azeotrope Productions in the future, too; I look forward to more of their shows.

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