Although much has been written about Seattle playwright Wayne Rawley, if we’re lucky, it is more than a little reasonable to expect that there will be much more to say in the years ahead. Not because there is a dearth of playwrighting talent in the Emerald City; on the contrary, our city is fortunate enough to have a multitude of distinctive voices residing here, both celebrated (Kelleen Conway Blanchard, Keri Healy, Paul Mullin, Yussef Al Gasseir, Scot Augustson, Vince Delaney, et al.) and those who have yet to be discovered by the majority (Brendan Healy, Joy McCullough-Carranza, Darian Lindle, Nick Stokes, Dan Tarker, and the recently celebrated Holly Arsenault, et al.). Instead, the reason more will be written about Rawley is because after displaying some early promise in his writing career (the Money and Run and adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull), and being gone for over half a decade, the work that he has presented since his return display an increasing confidence in his ability, and an assertiveness to match.
A similar statement could be made of the Radial Theater Project, though they are still a new entity in Seattle. In their short existence, however, there is enough evidence to suggest that their raison d’etre is a worthy one. In a theatrical culture where the generative process is relegated to an endless workshop loop or left to experimental troupes, a theater company that is dedicated to the creation of a new play from the ground up and then producing it is a welcome one. Their production record (which began with Karaoke Suicide is Painless at the 2011 Solo Performance Festival, and includes last year’s acclaimed 99 Layoffs by Vincent Delaney, before this production) shows a lot of potential for decent to great work in their future, should they continue to pursue it.
Not much is known about BASH Theater, though it’s not for a lack of history. Formerly known as The Community Theater Company, BASH has been around for almost a decade; they are a genuine ensemble theater company, a rare breed in the current Seattle theater landscape. Rarer still, they are a company that is not interested in becoming the “next big thing” in the eyes of the media, or their fellow theatrical artists. Their energy is spent on making theater, and working with their colleagues in the company—this puts them in league with the more experimental companies in town, the Satoris and the BOOM!s, though their productions run toward the more conventional theater.
These two companies have combined in order to produce Rawley’s Beating Up Bachman, a collaboration that ends up highlighting all three entities, but especially Rawley’s gifts as a writer. The finished product is the result of improvisational workshops the BASH troupe conducted (under the supervision of Rawley and director David Gassner), the transcripts of which Rawley used as a drawing board for his play.
The Bachman production bears many of the defining characteristics of Rawley’s work, a classic rock soundtrack, a small Northwest town milieu, a predilection toward the small day-to-day details of that small town family life. Bachman also continues Rawley’s ongoing fascination with updating the works of Anton Chekhov—it is more a tribute than it is an outright plagiarization, a way to illustrate that the Russian master’s tropes do not have to be treated as “classics” in order to resonate with a modern audience. First came the adaptation of The Seagull, then came Live from the Last Night of My Life which mixed elements of Ivanov with more mundane and magical flights of fancy; this time, Bachman uses Three Sisters (along with other sources) as a launching point into the lives of one blue-collar family.
In Bachman, we meet the Trucker sisters (played by Lisa Every, Jenn Ruzumna and Elizabeth Deutsch), three women who have arrived at individual crossroads in their lives. Elizabeth (Deutsch) has just had a particularly violent argument with her on-again-off-again ex, the titular Bachman. It wasn’t physically violent, but the fact that it happened reminds everyone in her family, including in-laws and family friends, just how much of an asshole Bachman (who has fortuitously disappeared and who the audience doesn’t get a chance to meet) is. He is “a real son of a bitch” as Sarah (Sara Thiessen), the mother Trucker, would put it, and everyone save Elizabeth has had enough of it. As fortune would have it, the same night this altercation happens, Jennifer’s husband Jeff winds up in the hospital due to a health scare, which he does not recover from. This leaves Jennifer (Ruzumna) with his daughter, whom she has adopted and feels bonded to—she is preparing to adjust to this new responsibility when the little girl’s mother (Lori Stein) arrives with the intent of taking her daughter home.
Which leaves us with Lisa (Every), who seems to be built of sterner stuff than either off her sisters. She also comes across as the most bitter of the three women, but that is largely due to the sacrifices she’s had to make in order to keep her extended family functioning and in one piece. These sacrifices continue to the present day, from as small as letting her brother-in-law Cris (Cristopher Berns) enter unannounced at any given moment, to as large as letting her youngest sister move in with her while she recovers from her last encounter with Bachman.
Soon, events conspire to make their lives increasingly complicated: Lisa’s husband Ryan (Ryan Sanders) finds himself in legal trouble and their family home is suddenly in peril; Jennifer has many reservations about giving up custody on her adopted daughter, not least of which is Lori’s spotty personal history as a mother, and with the Trucker family. Meanwhile, everyone in town is plotting to harm Bachman, should he ever reappear, which is making Elizabeth a little overwrought with worry. Not least among the plotters is Chris (Chris MacDonald), who clearly has feelings for Elizabeth, but is such an unimposing figure in everyday life that she does not notice him.
The Trucker sisters band together in the face of these complications, reminiscing about old times and reminding each other, “don’t fuck with the Truck,” a phrase that was said about them in high school that they have since adopted as a de facto family motto. They fitfully gather strength from this bond, though it seems foolhardy to do so. The family seems woefully unprepared for the damaging blows that are coming at them from different directions; this feeling of doom grows stronger as the family turns to extralegal means to deal with their various problems. This portentous mood hangs over them until the lights come down on a fitting and bleakly humorous tableau.
All of the above takes place amid a typically sparkling script by Rawley, whose unerring sense of observational humor is greatly served by the chemistry shared within the ensemble. These relationships feel true, several moments that would have been treated as opportunities for actor mugging (i.e. – a rant about the virtues of being pussy-whipped) in other productions, instead come across as natural extensions of the characters in question. This is also a testament to the skill Gassner uses in guiding these performers.
Bachman is yet another superlative outing from the playwright, that fact alone is enough to make seeing this production mandatory. Besides, it may be a while before we get another full length character exploration like this one from him. His next major project is the coming Attack of the Killer Murder…Of Death at Theater Schmeater, which looks to be a return to the genre smashing larks he first engineered with Money and Run all those years ago. In the meantime, your correspondent will wait and wonder what Rawley could do with The Cherry Orchard should he put his mind to it.
Through Saturday at 7:30p.m. // West of Lenin, 203 North 36th St // $15 on Thursday, $20 Friday-Saturday; tickets available at Brown Paper Tickets