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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 www.acttheatre.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion



- David-Edward Hughes



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