You’ll Have A Rollicking Good Time At Breeders Theater’s “Withering Heights”
Story and photos by Michael Brunk
Now going into its second weekend at the E.B. Foote Winery is “Withering Heights,” the latest production from Burien’s Breeders Theater. The new show is the theater company’s eighteenth production at the winery and is another humorous and entertaining story from the mind of local playwright T.M. Sell.
The lights have barely come up when poor Clarity Fugue (Adrienne Grieco) is faced with the dying gasps of her dear father (Martin Mackenzie). A series of gasps in fact. Not to worry though, he’s left a legacy behind for Miss Clarity. The down side? There are bankers involved, two of them. Kneckerbreaker (Eric Hartley) and Sponge (Doug Knoop). And the inheritance isn’t exactly what Clarity had in mind.
Those are just the opening minutes of “Withering Heights.” From here the story sends Clarity careening madly into a society scene populated by off-kilter characters, with her loyal friend Darcy (Amber Rack) at her side.
Together with the hopeless Fedora (Laura Smith) the three young women will dance and spar with the dashing Dashwood (Steven Schenck), the dour Janeway (David Roby) and Eustace (Brenan Grant), who can never get a word in edgewise. Sparks will fly, but they may not land where you expect.
Did I mention the all too brief side trip to meet Clarity’s inbred cousins, Mansfield (Martin Mackenzie) and Emma (Melissa Malloy) and their serving girl Abby (Megan Krogstadt)?
Back at the helm for “Withering Heights” is veteran J Howard Boyd, who ably directs the cast through this rollicking Victorian parody with a deft touch.
Breeders Theater fans will be happy to know that the musical numbers return for this show, courtesy of the talented Nancy Warren. Besides playing the piano she’s joined onstage by J Howard Boyd, Doug Knoop and Megan Krogstadt for several a capella performances as the “Jane Austen City Limits Quartet.” The show also features dance numbers choreographed by Teresa Widner.
Of special note in “Withering Heights” is the costuming by Melissa Sell. In a period piece like this, the costuming can make or break a show and her achievements here deliver the goods without going overboard.
The cast does such a fine job that it’s really hard to pick out highlights; there really isn’t a weak performance among them. Still, I greatly enjoyed Adrienne Grieco as the spunky and persistent Clarity and new-comer David Roby who really sold me on the character Janeway.
It was also very entertaining seeing long-time Breeders Theater players Eric Hartley and Doug Knoop together as Kneckerbreaker and Sponge. I imagine they had as much fun playing the roles as I did watching.
Finally, kudos to Brenan Grant as the long-suffering Eustace. Verbally cut off and stepped on by the other characters for most of the show, he still plays the role to the hilt through his expressions and body language. When he finally got a chance to say what was on his mind, we in the audience were thoroughly ready to hear it!
A last note here about the material. Audiences sometimes have to warm up to humor but the crowd at the performance I attended was busy laughing within minutes of the show opening. I think that’s a testament to T.M. Sell’s writing in “Withering Heights.” It’s easily one of the funniest things I’ve watched in quite some time.Part of the reason for that, I think, is that the dialogue is richly layered. There’s plenty of surface humor that most audience members will get, but the attentive listener is rewarded with puns and inside jokes as well. It’s a formula that proves to keep the audience engaged and laughing. Sell may have a hard time topping himself after this!
Oh, and can I just say that the introduction to Act II is brilliant. We’re talking a wildly hilarious bit of sketch comedy that could stand well all on its own. You won’t regret for one moment that the intermission is over, trust me on this!
“Withering Heights” runs through August 1. Show times are 7:00 PM on Fridays and Saturdays with 2:00 PM matinées on Sunday July 25 and August 1. Additional evening shows are at 7:00 PM on July 28 and 29. Tickets are still available for all shows.
Performances are at the E.B. Foote Winery, 127B SW 153rd Street, Burien. The show includes hors d’oeuvres and several tastings of E.B. Foote’s award-winning wines, all for only $20! Tickets are available at the winery, 206-242-3852 and at Corky Cellars, 22511 Marine View Drive, Des Moines, 206-824-9462.