One word: Phew. After teetering on the brink of financial collapse—forced to cancel the remainder of its 2011 season and run a $1 million fundraising blitz this winter—Tony-winning Intiman Theatre is back in rehearsal. But no one’s exhaling yet. This is only the first read-through, and who knows if the public—or more importantly, the subscribers—will welcome the resurrected Intiman. Gone is the big-spending regional theater, once known for its grand world-premiere performances of The Light in the Piazza and The Kentucky Cycle; in its place is a new repertory company of 12 local actors and a crew of interns staging a four-play summer festival of Ibsen and Shakespeare, John Patrick Shanley and Dan Savage. Yes, Seattle’s Savage, the Stranger sex columnist and It Gets Better Project apostle. He was busy touring the country taping an MTV show, so he didn’t attend the first meet-and-greet in late April.
People milled around the Ninth Avenue rehearsal space, hopped up on doughnuts and nervous energy. Some of the city’s top actors and directors—Marya Sea Kaminski, Allison Narver, Valerie Curtis-Newton—mingled with flanneled and fauxhawked Cornish students. And making a circuit, doling out hugs, were first-time artistic director Andrew Russell and first-time managing director Keri Kellerman. For a 40-year-old institution, Intiman is looking younger than ever. Russell himself is 29, and several of the company members split their time with fresh-faced fringe theater WET.
With this new look comes a new touch. While the “old” Intiman Theatre built its foundation on classics, the new Intiman is taking classics and turning them on their heads. Hedda Gabler with modern dance. Helen Keller in drag. Russell even hired Jerick Hoffer, known by many as his rather fabulous alter ego Jinkx Monsoon, as the company’s drag coach for Miracle!
“It’s not a stretch that people who enjoyed A Doctor in Spite of Himself or Angels in America or the American classics that we’ve done—if we put all those in a blender—it’s not a stretch that our audiences will like it,” Russell told me recently. “We feel resourceful, capitalizing on the talents of everybody involved to produce one explosion in the summer.”
Intiman still has the pedigree—in addition to the top talent recruited, Russell is a protege of former artistic director Kate Whoriskey, having worked as her associate producer, and Kellerman has been development director for UW World Series and On the Boards. Collaborating with local writers, composers, choreographers, and set designers, they’ve developed adventurous programming that has energized many and spurned a few. But only time will tell if the “make a dolla’ holla” approach will keep audiences coming every summer—and eliminate the company’s lingering debt.
Here’s what to expect from the new Intiman this July and August.
Intiman Summer Festival
July 5–Aug 26, $30, Intiman Playhouse, 201 Mercer St, Seattle Center, 800-982-2787; intiman.org
Romeo and Juliet
After a recent trip abroad, director Allison Narver couldn’t get the images of the West Bank out of her head: the daily violence, the depth of hatred, the “moments of great beauty amid all the pain and chaos.” This is Romeo and Juliet, she told the Intiman repertory. She considered staging the Shakespearean tragedy within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but struggled with, among other things, how to cast it authentically. Instead, the Montagues and Capulets will face off in a dirty, claustrophobic version of Verona, rumbling in marketplaces to a multicultural soundscape composed by Rob Witmer.
Marya Sea Kaminski, one of the most in-demand actresses in Seattle, had already received raves as an emotionally haywire Electra for Seattle Shakespeare Company, and got polite Seattle to guffaw at her deaf pregnant lady in Seattle Rep comedy Clybourne Park. How do you follow that? By taking on Henrik Ibsen’s most famous antiheroine: a narcissist, an early feminist, a gun-toting housewife. For this production, former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal and Whim W’Him director Olivier Wevers will explore the subtext of Ibsen’s work—and get at Hedda’s primal side—through all-new choreography.
“This play is intended to upset us—to entertain and upset us,” director Valerie Curtis-Newton said during rehearsal. Written by John Patrick Shanley (Doubt, Moonstruck ), Dirty Story seems, at first, to be your average story of a dysfunctional sadomasochist couple working through its problems. By act two, it’s a geopolitical debate. Stanley’s brainy satire will be the first show staged in Intiman’s new studio space, though it wasn’t always Curtis-Newton’s first choice. Rights issues prompted a last-minute swap. “Right now we’re all a little bit terrified,” she said. “That’s exactly where we’re supposed to be.”
No one really knows what to expect from Dan Savage’s parody of The Miracle Worker. Last we heard, it’s an epic mashing of the Helen Keller story with the drag scene of 1990s Seattle to create Helen Stellar, a wanna-be drag star who can’t quite find her voice and relies on an out-of-town tutor and troupe of divas to become the king of queens. Savage is both creator and director, with boylesque star Waxie Moon tasked as choreographer and Jerick Hoffer/Jinkx Monsoon keeping the drag extravaganza in line. Literally. There may be a kick line in our future.