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Seattle by Jonathan Frank


New Patagonia

It has been remarked that if you remember the '60s, you must not have been there. Perhaps that is why that era is constantly being revisited via every media imaginable: on TV through miniseries like The 60s, the re-mixing and re-releasing of every album into CD format, and on film in movies ranging from Austin Powers to A Walk on the Moon and JFK. Heck, here in Seattle we just built the Experience Music Project; a building (as hideous as it may be) which is essentially a shrine to that era and Jimi Hendrix. The Seattle Repertory Theatre has joined in this nostalgia craze with a world premier play, New Patagonia, written by local playwright Elizabeth Heffron.

It really isn't all that surprising that the sixties has such a fascinating hold on our collective psyches: after all, it was an era which reshaped, redefined and revolutionized (or at least attempted to) every societal norm and art form, thus making it prime fodder for drama. Toss in the fact that a large portion of theatergoers today would have grown up during those tumultuous years (and thus may need some mental prodding in order to recollect them) and you instead should wonder why there aren't more plays examining that being produced.

New Patagonia
John Seitz and Cynthia Jones
Photo by Chris Bennion
Elizabeth Heffron has set New Patagonia not in the '60s, but in 1997, where '60s author/guru Karl Kroeger is planning an "Orgasmic Mass of the Belated Undead" as an attempt to give him one last chance at immortality. Karl (John Seitz), a cross between Timothy Leary and Jerry Garcia, is dying of cancer, just as his psychedelic pro-sex writings have been rediscovered by a new generation of followers. To add to the drama, Karl has tracked down his estranged son Jesse (Quentin Mare) to film the mass for posterity (and to be shown on cable TV).

The show starts off strong, with a well-paced and enjoyable first act. The characters, no matter how '60s archetypical they may be, are grounded in a believable reality and raise many intriguing issues concerning the aftermath of the herbal and sexual freedoms of the late '60s/early '70s. While John Seitz as the guru, Karl, provides the highly effective center of New Patagonia, it is the supporting characters who are the most entertaining and memorable. Charles Dean is hysterical as Tank, the follower/stage manager of the event who, as a result of a bad acid trip, has had Patton on his shoulder for a couple of decades. Cynthia Jones is winning as Karl's nurse/lover, Angel, who provides the voice of reason and joy for the show. The highlight of New Patagonia is Lori Larson's portrayal of Roxie, an oversexed ex-lover of Karl's, who brings a winning manic comic energy to the show.

Unfortunately New Patagonia, much like the era it reflects upon, does not fulfill its promise and sputters out like a spent lava lamp. The issues and conflicts of the first act get glossed over in the second, which is too full of Oprah-esque psychobabble and self-help resolutions to be believable or satisfying. Elizabeth Heffron shows great promise as a playwright, however, and has a talent for dialogue and creating vibrant characters with the barest sketching of her pen and I look forward to future offerings.

New Patagonia runs at the Seattle Repertory Theatre through December 23rd. For tickets call (206) 443-2222.




- Jonathan Frank



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