Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

An Engaging Romance Blossoms By the Waters of Babylon at Seattle Repertory Theatre

Also see David's review of Mame

Suzanne Bouchard and Armando Durán
Seattle playwright Robert Schenkkan, best known for The Kentucky Cycle, has created in his new work By the Waters of Babylon a richly romantic two-character play that harkens back to works created for the Broadway stage about 40 years ago, and even makes us yearn for them. Moreover, you can picture Julie Harris or Geraldine Page and Hal Holbrook in their prime embodying the roles of the isolated Texas widow Catherine and her Cuban exile gardener turned lover. Suzanne Bouchard as Catherine and Armando Durán as Arturo (the actor created the role in its 2005 Oregon Shakespeare festival premiere), through their vivid and deeply felt portrayals, render any such comparisons unnecessary.

The particularly dazzling first act takes place in Catherine's garden, long untended and overgrown with weeds, vividly and masterfully realized by scenic designer Michael Ganio and exquisitely lit by lighting designer York Kennedy. Catherine's odd humors and Arturo's Latino swagger give way (with a little help from some mojitos) to an opening up of their hearts and sharing of secrets, which lead to her bedroom for a romantic tryst. This bedroom, long unused even before the violent demise of Catherine's husband took place there, is the setting for the darker-hued second act, which slowly moves to a powerfully beautiful and inspiring closing in which Arturo takes Catherine on a vivid journey through their imaginations.

Director Richard Seyd finds exactly the right languid yet not lugubrious pace for the play, and guides his actors into a stage courtship that feels as honest as it is delicate. Durán is hypnotic, inscrutable and utterly mesmerizing as his Arturo uncovers the fertile soil that lies beneath the overgrowth of fear, self-defense and anger that has covered Catherine's heart. Bouchard, a masterful high comic leading lady in everything from Shakespeare to Luce to Ayckbourn, stuns in her dramatic scenes and displays of fragility underneath the surface, and as a pair the actors create as potent a coupling as you will likely see onstage at any Seattle Playhouse.

Schenkkan's play could do with a bit more cutting and pruning, but it is a rich and vivid testament to the redemptive power of love, and it provides two skilled actors with as potent a showcase of their craft as I can imagine.

By the Waters of Babylon runs through March 2 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, in Seattle Center. For more information go online at

Photo: Photo by Chris Bennion

- David Edward Hughes

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