Regional Reviews: Seattle
In Flagrante Gothicto at the Empty Space
Also see David's recent review of Mamma Mia!
Former Seattle actresses Jillian Armenante & Alice Dodd had considerable success with their original spoof de jour, In Flagrante Gothicto, in L.A. Happily, the Empty Space's artistic director Allison Narver (who had worked with the pair during the golden age of The Annex Theatre in the '90s) has staged the lovingly zany work with admirable success. It may in fact be the most enjoyable show mounted by any Seattle based company this year.
Dodd and Armenante clearly love old movies at least as much as Carol Burnett did, for this amalgam of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Rebecca, The Snake Pit and a few lesser titles plays like a feature length version of the comedienne's classic movie send-ups. The trick here is sustaining the spoofery for about two hours and, under Narver's meticulous and loving direction and with an ideal cast, In Flagrante Gothicto is a steam engine of a frolic that hardly ever loses momentum.
As the nameless heroine (ala Rebecca's 2nd Mrs. De Winter), Annette Toutonghi provides an earnest dead-pan vocal delivery and hilariously stylized movement make her the production's anchor, and her earnestly over the top love interest (Wuthering's Heathcliff blended with Rebecca's Max deWinter and Jane Eyre's Rochester) is the dashingly amusing Jim Gall. But just as Vicki Lawrence stole many a Burnett show skit, Jayne Muirhead as the Mrs. Danverseque housekeeper Mrs. Bernley is the most memorably madcap creature onstage, with an impersonation so spot-on that I wondered if Dame Judith Anderson hadn't returned from the grave. Seattle composer/musical director Chris Jeffries is another belly-laugh purveyor, adroitly and absurdly cast as a little french Moppet ala Margaret O'Brien in the Orson Welles Eyre film, and Bhama Roget especially scores in her sourpuss turn as the heroine's Aunt.
The production team delivers the goods admirably as well. Gary Smoot's set is generic enough and specific enough to suit the locales of all the tales the authors have woven together, and it is adroitly lit by lighting designer Patti West. Shannon Moore's costumes are delicious, Nick Garrison's choreography is a hoot, and Nathan Anderson lifts all the right background music from old movie soundtracks to provide memorable underscoring.
While it would be swell to have Armenante and Dodd back onstage in the flesh here in Seattle (both have steady jobs acting on CBS' Judging Amy), I am indebted to the Empty Space for bringing their romp of a play to local audiences.
In Flagrante Gothicto runs Wednesday-Sundays through July 20 at Empty Space Theatre, 3509 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle. For more info call 206-547-7500, or visit the Empty Space Online at www.emptyspace.org.- David-Edward Hughes