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Mike's adventures in art: Sweeney Todd, Drug Lord, BAIT

caption: The cast of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
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The cast of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Tracy Martin

If you're looking for tips on how to experience art in the Seattle area, you're in the right place. In this weekly post, KUOW arts reporter Mike Davis has suggestions for what to do around Seattle over the weekend so you can have your own adventures in arts and culture.


"Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street," is showing at the 5th Ave Theatre. Visually, this production is stunning. Scenic designer, Lex Marcos, stole the show. The set is three levels. It's metallic, sharp, and gloomy. The third level puts characters in a position to loom over the audience in such a bold and at times creepy way. The center piece, which contains Mrs. Lovett's pie shop on the first story and Sweeney Todd's barbershop on the second story, is placed on a rotating panel. With a half turn, we see a grungy brick wall that puts us in London, where the huge ensemble created the feeling of actually being on the busy streets of London. There were moments where up to 15 actors shared the stage. The full rotation of the platform revealed the bakeshop in the back of the meat pie shop where human bodies were turned into pies. The brilliance of the set design came in moments where characters entered and exited the meat pie shop while it rotated seamlessly changing the perspective of the audience and allowing for flawless movement of actors. The pace of the play was breathtaking.

But enough about the technical components! Yes, the set was amazing, and yes, costume designer Danielle Nieves is responsible for my favorite scene — a masked ball where the costumes were immaculate. The shimmering glitter of the wardrobes as they danced was incredible. But the story itself is worth mentioning. A tale of revenge, greed, violence, and cannibalism that was presented with just enough comedy to not make the audience flinch when a neck was cut, but maintaining enough eeriness to keep us intrigued.

This is my pick of the week, and everywhere I go people are mentioning this show to me. The bold stage design, the creepy costumes, the use of lighting to create blood, the chilling narration from the ensemble, and the classic story and songs audiences have loved for years. This play has something for everyone.

"Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is showing April 24 – May 15 at the 5th Ave Theatre

Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, presented by Washington Ensemble Theatre is showing at 12th Avenue Arts. This is a change of pace from the previous show, and that is a big part of why I'm putting it here. There something special about the intimacy an audience gets from a performance in a black-box theater. And I left this show feeling like I get to know each of the four actors in the cast.

The play takes place in the tree house of Pipe, the president of the Dead Leaders Club. On its face, this production is the journey of the club as they fight to be reinstated as an official club at the members high school so that they can use the extracurricular activity on college applications. But the heart of the story is so much more.

Somehow, in a 90-minute sprint, this production tackles themes including the recent suicide of a parent, self-harm, abortion, gender identity, political affiliation, sex, race, and class. And to be clear, I'm sure there are a few I missed. With no intermission, it was a whirlwind.

The highlight of the play, was the ability to cover this ground without ever making the audience feel lectured. All of these complexes issues were folded into the dialogue and action of the play seamlessly. We met these teens, and immediately witnessed them confront obstacles as if they were part of their everyday lives. This was both refreshing, from the standpoint of not wanting to be preached at by a play, and crushing as a parent with two elementary age children who watched these youth, who seem like everyday American teens, go through the toughest situations as if they were a normal part of their daily lives.

My reflection of this experience is the need for more — 20 more minutes, maybe even an intermission to break the tension. With so much ground to cover, with a little longer runtime, the audience could have had more time to sit with the despair. The lows would have felt lower if we had a breath to experience them, but oftentimes we moved on before the weight of the blows could fully land. When we face the reveal of the death of a sibling, or learn that a father recently took his own life, or see an abortion, we need time to feel the gravity of those moments.

But all that being said, this was a unique experience and a very refreshing take on teenage life in modern-day America. While this play is set in Florida while Obama was campaigning for election, the themes are all current today and were presented in a way that was authentic to the voices of our youth.

"Our Dear Dead Drug Lord," showing April 28 – May 15 at 12th Avenue Arts

Visual Art

BAIT (Beyond An Inconvenient Truth), at the JR Harris Gallery in Belltown. This exhibit opened on Earth Day and is presented by the local nonprofit Earth Creative. The exhibit features the work of 22 artists and combines poetry, interpretive dance, short documentaries, visual art, sculptures, and immersive installments that encourage viewers to "be the change" in the fight against climate change.

BAIT, is open through May 13 at 99 Blanchard St.

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