Regional Reviews: Seattle
Twisted Olivia at The Empty Space
Anyone like myself who primarily knows Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist" via the Lionel Bart musical version Oliver! should find Everett Quinton's one-man tour de farce Twisted Olivia especially fascinating. In for a run through Christmas and into the New Year at the Empty Space, this campy yet oddly true to its source show is a perfect antidote to those besotted and bemused by exposure to countless variations on Dickens' A Christmas Carol on stage and screen during the holiday season.
Quinton, the veteran male actress who was such a key player in the late Charles Busch's immortal Ridiculous Theatre company classics such as The Mystery of Irma Vep and Camille was last seen in Seattle in a succulently subversive turn as the Wicked Stepmother in the national tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, in which he even upstaged Eartha Kitt. But Quinton has the stage to himself here, directed with gusto by another Ridiculous vet Eureka, in the role of a redoubtable drag queen named Olivia whose house is a veritable thrift shop of wonderful odds and ends. Preparing for a night with "the girls," Olivia becomes absorbed in a dusty copy of the Dickens classic and proceeds to enact some twenty characters from the tale. Everything in Olivia's ramshackle abode, from toilet to washing machine, becomes part of the action in humorous and inventive fashion, thanks to an absolutely wonderful scenic design by Heyd Fontenot. Costume designer Brian C. Hemesath, accomplished throughout, provides a final outfit for Olivia which is triumphantly and gaudily overstated.
Olivia herself is an engagingly chatty narrator/mistress of ceremonies, the kind of New York drag queen that was obviously there at Stonewall and is still here. And Quinton distinctly delineates all the Dickens characters with relish, detail and compassion. One particularly intriguing baddie is Oliver's scheming half-brother (totally absent from the musical version) who schemes with Fagin and Sykes against Oliver, and Quinton's Nancy is a brave and pitiable creation, even without a big torch song to sing (though you just know Quinton would have socked "As Long As He Needs Me" across the footlights with great zeal). Everything works in this show, even a gag about a cell phone going off in the audience (it turns out to be Olivia's) works far better than you might expect.
If you are eyeing theatre tickets as a holiday gift for someone special, Twisted Olivia would be my recommendation. It is the most unique, invigorating and heartfelt offering to hit a Seattle stage in some time, and simply demands to be seen.Twisted Olivia plays at the Empty Space Theatre, 3509 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle, through January 10, 2004. For more info call 206-547-7500, or visit the Empty Space Online at www.emptyspace.org. - David-Edward Hughes