Waxwings Flies High
Also see David's review of Bunnicula
Though Book It-Repertory Theatre has often adapted classic and more familiar literary works than Jonathan Rabin's Seattle-centric 2003 social satire Waxwings, they could hardly do better than this rousingly successful production, directed with brio by Mary Machala, and adapted with judicious skill by Julie Beckman. Skewing the dot.com era, it may be a show that has its ideal audience here in Seattle, but is so well crafted that it would probably score big anywhere.
Waxwings juxtaposes and intertwines, as its two primary narrative threads, the stories of two immigrants: Tom Janeway, a Hungarian born Englishman in his forties, and Chick, an illegal Chinese immigrant. Janeway, a tweedy, University of WA professor and NPR commentator is the devoted father of rambunctious five-year-old Finn, and about to be ex-husband of Beth, who slips away as she becomes caught up in the allure of her dot.com career. Chick escapes INS detection on his arrival into the Port of Seattle, and manages to obtain work and fake identity papers, ultimately leading to a job restoring decaying portions of Tom's property. The end of act one twists the tale from a wry and observant contemporary comedy to a deeper, darker piece in act two, as Tom Janeway becomes a prime suspect in the disappearance of a little girl and find his life and career turned topsy turvy, while Chick continues to stay one step ahead of the immigration police and has a battle of wits with an unsavory former employer. Both stories take a positive turn in the end, while Janeway's wife watches the dissolution of her dot.com's dreams of dynasty as an ironic sidebar.
Terry Edward Moore is delicious and ever so ingratiating as protagonist Tom Janeway. Moore etches a character who, for numerous failings, is appealing, droll and a devoted parent to his kindergarten age son. Sam Lai is equally engaging as the sly yet likable huckster Chick, and the two actors make a wonderfully odd couple as their relationship evolves. Jason Woodbury, an adult actor, plays adorable little Finn subtly and simply and is utterly believable, especially in a scene where he stands up for his Dad's good name against an annoying little classmate. Teri Lazzara is successful in depicting Beth as a modern career woman who loses sight of the good thing she has going with her ex and their son, and Kelly Kitchens is a good study in urban self-absorption as Beth's annoying confidante Deborah. James Dean offers nicely contrasting turns at the Chick's adversary, the slimy Mr. Don, and as Tom's protégé Ian, Kathy Hsieh scores as Finn's unctuous school principal, and Brandon Whitehead is funny as Finn's whiny little school chum Spencer. Only George Mount as Nagel, the attorney from the prosecutor's office who all but convicts the innocent Tom Janeway, gives a performance that reeks of bad TV cop show clichés, rather than the naturalistic style which his co-stars bring to their portrayals.
Scenic designer Jeffrey Cook creates a handsome microcosm of contemporary Seattle locales, with subtly effective lighting by Brian Healy, and complimentary and period perfect costumes by Carisa Bush.
With Waxwings, Book-It takes up semi-resident status in Seattle Rep's always inviting and intimate Leo. K. Theatre (alternating with productions to be staged at the nearby Seattle Center House).
This most unique Seattle Theatre company deserves a home of its own, but for the time being, this arrangement not only works well for Book-It, but also keeps the wonderful Leo K. from being dark so much of the time. For this we can all be grateful.
Waxwings at Seattle Rep's Leo K. Theatre, 155 Mercer St. in Seattle Center, runs through October 31, 2004. For further information visit Book-It Repertory Theatre on-line at www.book-it.org.