Book-It's The Awakening
Also see David's review of Miss Angie's Blues!
Kate Chopin's daringly ahead of it's time turn-of-the-century novel The Awakening was a real wow of a show for Book-It Repertory Theatre when first presented by the company in Seattle Rep's black box space in 2000. In revival, housed at Seattle Rep's larger and higher tech Leo K. stage, it is still good theatre, yet somehow, despite a bigger budget and a few cast changes it doesn't pack as much of a wallop.
Chopin's tale, adapted for the stage by Rebecca Chace, revolves around an increasingly liberated, self-absorbed New Orleans wife and mother, Edna Pontellier, who starts a slow but deliberate drift away from home and hearth after a summer vacation on Grand Isle. Much to her loving but rigid husband's dismay, she begins defying the social conventions of the day, takes up an artistic lifestyle, and ultimately deserts her husband and young sons, embarking on an extra-marital affair. The call of the sea is central to the story, as Edna learns to swim during her summer of transformation, and ultimately surrenders to it in the plays climactic moments.
Jane Jones' detailed direction, staging and skill at honing her acting company into a seamless ensemble is impressive, but a certain laxness of pacing in act one, combined with less action taking place in the tale itself, is detrimental to the show overall, which feels a good 15 to 20 minutes too long.
Reprising her triumphant central role as Edna, Jones' co-artistic director Myra Platt is engagingly enigmatic enough to carry us into the more dramatic second act. Kevin McKeon is stuffy yet sympathetic as her ultimately abandoned husband Leonce. Lori Larsen engagingly revisits the role of the quirky Mademoiselle Reisz with eccentric flair characteristic of her work in Seattle's theatres. Hans Altweiss is appealing, if a shade too simple as Robert, the younger man in Edna's life, and there are also fine turns by Mark Chamberlain, Melinda Deane, Marty Mukhalian, and the rest of the polished ensemble.
Much of the show's unique appeal is, while not turning the show into a proper musical, the clever setting of dialogue to beguiling music by Platt and Edd Key. Key (who also delivers a nice cameo performance as the crusty Alphonse Ratignole) is adroitly paired with veteran Northern Exposure actress Cynthia Geary as the Male and Female Voice of the Sea, besides playing the accordion, trumpet, guitar and percussion, with fellow musicians Ken Young at the piano, Monique Kleinhans (clarinet/bass), and Theresa Holmes (guitar/bass/drums).
Greg Carter's suggestive yet rich scenic design, especially in the scenes set on Grand Isle are a marvel of economy, limpidly lit by lighting designer Brian Healy. Harmony Arnold's period perfect costumes are strength of the production. If this is one's first exposure to The Awakening it may well sweep over you like a cool breeze on a hot day at the seashore. If you, like me, saw it's earlier incarnation, you may be a bit disappointed, but will still come away with a feeling of having been in good company, who just overstay their welcome a bit.
Book-It's The Awakening runs through June 26 at the Seattle Rep's Leo K. Theatre in Seattle Center. For more information visit Book-It on-line at www.book-it.org.