Theater is happening in and around Tacoma. In addition to the established community theaters: Tacoma Little Theatre, Lakewood Playhouse and Tacoma Musical Playhouse, there is Paradise Theatre across the water, in Gig Harbor and – slightly to the north – there is Centerstage! In Federal Way. The theater departments of PLU and UPS produce some great live shows. There are also a number of smaller theatrical groups that are making things happen here on a regular basis. Toy Boat, Dukesbay, New Muses, Working Class Theatre Northwest, Assemblage Theater and Tacoma Actors Repertory Theater all operate in town, putting on shows in intimate little theater spaces. There is also a wonderful group called The Changing Scene Theatre Northwest. Originally based in Bremerton, the theatrical company lost its permanent home in 2009 and has since become a roving troupe, putting on shows at varied venues around the South Sound. Changing Scene is dedicated to bringing new, original or innovative works to the stage.
Changing Scene’s latest production, “Talking With…” by the mysterious Jane Martin, is being shown at “the Spire,” TMP’s second space, which is located in a church building at 710 S. Anderson St. (just off 6th Avenue.)
“Talking With…” is indeed an innovative piece of theater. It consists of 11, 10-minute monologues delivered by eleven different women. The subject matter of each varies wildly. The show moves along at a steady pace since none of the monologues have enough time to get bogged down (though some veer off into strange territory.) The monologues can be philosophical, political, haunting, poetic or frightening, even. All are absorbing. A strand of humor runs throughout. Director and Founding Manager of Changing Scene Pavlina Morris brings together a talented cast of local actresses for this idiosyncratic theatrical assemblage.
Mary L. McDowell gets the whole shebang rolling with “15 Minutes,” a monologue delivered by an actress in a dressing room who discloses her anxiety in the moments before she takes the stage. The piece bounces back and forth between humor and poignancy.
Next is Ashley Roy’s rich portrait of a fading rodeo star that laments the ways in which commercialization corrupted what was originally something that was a small-scale, earnest and enjoyable endeavor.
Aya Hashigouchi’s rendition of “Scraps,” about a housewife who secretly dresses herself as characters from the Land of Ox, is truly spooky.
Curtis High School student Madalyn Banouvong captures the magic of the baton twirler – making the audience see that this archetypal fixture of high school and college sporting events is practitioner of an art form (perhaps a dying one) that can have a mystical aspect. (This was one of my favorites.)
Jill Heinecke – known in Tacoma for numerous roles in community theater including that of Jimmy Deeanne in TLT’s “Second Samuel” – is mesmerizing as a character that tells of the death of her mother. The telling is punctuated by the sound of marbles tossed to the floor and rolling across the wooden stage.
Director Morris brings the first act to a close with the silly and slightly sinister “Audition” monologue in which a manic actress tries to blackmail her way into a part.
The second act begins with Karen Hauser’s suave and poetic tour of a collection of lamps. This is followed by one of the high points of the show: Sky Gibbs’ well-crafted portrayal of a young, evangelical snake handler who gives an insider’s angle on the peculiar Christian sect of people who handle poisonous snakes as a demonstration of their spirituality.
Elizabeth Favreau gives an edge-of-the-seat portrait of a woman in labor who is about to give birth to a “non-normal” child.
Mary Sheehan’s “French Fries” is a memorable tale of a shopping cart lady who is infatuated with McDonalds to the extent that she elevates the fast food restaurant to the status of a cathedral.
The show closes with “Marks,” in which Shawna Fancher recounts the tale of how an unremarkable woman, jolted by a divorce, went on to live an eventful, unique life; picking up souvenirs along the way.
“Talking With…” has been around since 1982. The true identity of the playwright is a mystery. Jane Martin is a pseudonym for someone that desires to keep their true identity hidden.
This is a delightful piece of theater: it bounces along so swiftly that the audience is left a little bit hungry for more. “The Spire” is also fun to see: a secret hidey hole; an actor’s lair where the alchemy of the stage is conjured before our eyes.
“Talking With…” runs through May 27. For schedule and ticket information visit www.tmp.org or call (253) 565-6867.