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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

A First Class Star Outshines the Script
at ACT Theatre

First Class
John Aylward
When veteran Seattle actor John Aylward left Seattle over a decade ago to play Dr. Anspaugh on a new NBC series ER, it was just the beginning of a long line of roles in TV land that have kept the distinguished thespian's Puget Sound stage appearances few and far between. Happily, he is back for a month and in top form in the new one-man play First Class at ACT Theatre. Unhappily, the play about noted Northwest poet and educator Theodore Roethke by David Waggoner (himself a student of Roethke) is a good deal less successful than Aylward's performance.

Waggoner's text seems to pre-suppose that just because Roethke was something of a legend during his tenure at University of Washington, an audience will come into this play with a fair amount of familiarity, and that just isn't the case. You don't leave ACT with a great deal more information about Roethke than you go in with, despite Aylward's bravura performance, ably directed by Kurt Beattie. The play captivates most when the audience is a surrogate for a roomful of Roethke's students. Aylward conveys Roethke's passion for poetry, devilish wit and mastery as a teacher, though, curiously, we are never privy to even a tidbit of the man's own poetry. When the play leaves the classroom and Roethke is confronting his personal demons, stemming from his bi-polar disorder, the production loses its footing.

Yet, much like my experience a few months back watching Angela Lansbury and Marian Seldes triumph through sheer skill and charisma over Terrence McNally's regrettably weak play Deuce on Broadway, I was never bored during First Class.  Aylward gives his considerable all to the cause, and it is enough to make me recommend the play. I just hope the next time this actor's actor returns to Seattle he chooses a project worthier of his abilities.

First Class runs through August 26 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union Street in downtown Seattle. For more information go to the ACT website at

Photo: Chris Bennion

- David-Edward Hughes

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