(Brendan Kiley’s article appeared in TheStranger; Kevin Phinney’s in Seattle Weekly—both on May 12. )
Maria/Stuart: Cheese Balls, Comic Books, and Cousin Sex (a Comedy)
Maria/Stuart, by Brooklyn-based playwright Jason Grote, is a cleverly built, well-concealed pit trap. At first, the play seems like a pleasant stroll through a family of comical, middle-class eccentrics—in just a few steps, it plunges into a dark subterranean maze.
The story begins innocently, with an awkward, lovable nerd named Stuart talking on the phone, pitching his ideas for comic books. He fiddles with his pen and excitedly describes Russian gangster capitalists fighting Chekhovian superheroes: the Three Sisters (who communicate telepathically), the Seagull (has big wings), and Uncle Vanya ("a jolly, fat guy who's ex-KGB and doesn't have any superpowers at all"). Brandon Ryan plays Stuart as anxious and squirmy, but not at all repulsive. He's the kind of guy for whom you hope life pitches softballs. Life doesn't, of course, and Stuart erupts into a storm of squeaks and tics when he's uneasy—which is pretty much always . . .
Family secrets and a wild and crazy meeting of minds.
Theater Schmeater, 1500 Summit Ave., 324-5801,www.schmeater.org. $15–$21. 8 p.m. Thurs.–Sat. Ends June 6.
Theater Schmeater takes seriously the idea of challenging its audiences, and in so doing makes Maria/Stuart one of the more audacious productions of the season.
What will audiences make of a play that tries to fit comic-book superheroes, handless train-wreck victims, and changelings into a story that's supposedly modeled scene for scene on a German romantic tragedy written in 1800 revolving around Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots? Hard to say. I found it frustrating, engaging, fascinating, and the very kind of thing that keeps live theater a viable art form. Oh, you could film something like this, but Maria/Stuart needs a live audience to work its alchemy.
Jason Grote's text is newly minted, fresh from a debut last fall at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in D.C. It's funny, but not the kind of piece with great one-liners you'll be quoting over drinks after the show. It's provocative, but not particularly enlightening. You won't emerge changed or a better person for having seen it. What it will do, if it works for you, is broaden your live-performance palate . . .
Visit Jason Grote's Web site and blog: http://jasongrote.com/
(Jason Grote's work is included in One On One: The Best Women's Monologues for the 21st Century from Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.)