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Tails of Wasps: One political sex scandal you'll want to watch again

Creative staging, whip-smart dialogue, formidable acting.

Three words: political sex scandal. That’s the descriptor that lured me into seeing New Century Theatre Company's Tails of Wasps in the first place. That’s how I described the play to my journalist husband (who has become suspicious of some of my theatrical choices of late). And it’s how I tried to persuade a couple of reporter friends to come with: It’s inspired by Eliot Spitzer! Nothing gets reporter folk faster into a theater than a play inspired by actual events.

Alas, my reporter friends couldn’t make it. But my husband and I not only stayed for the post-show talk back, we each said something afterward that we don’t typically say: We would totally see that again!

That’s because Tails of Wasps has it all — whip-smart dialogue, emotionally nuanced characters, formidable acting. And it’s about sex. The story here is about a handsome politician named Frank (Paul Morgan Stetler), who gets caught with his pants down. But before said pants get unzipped, we’re with Frank in a hotel room, witnessing his desires and the power of attraction, both the physical and emotional kind.  

Sylvie Davidson and Paul Morgan Stetler in "Tails of Wasps" by Stephanie Timm. Photo: Chris Bennion

In fact, we never leave the hotel room. The entire play is set here; the one constant is Frank, sometimes virile, other times completely distraught. Over the course of four scenes, four different women (Brenda Joyner, Sylvie Davidson, Betsy Schwartz and Hannah Mootz) enter the hotel room and propel Frank’s sad but oh-so-very-familiar story forward.

Part of the fun here is figuring out who each of these women represent, so I won’t tell you who these characters are. But I will say the wife (Schwartz) is tremendous and when she and Frank have it out, the sparring is brutal, hilarious and stirring — so much so that you actually feel for Frank and get some sense for why he ends up doing what he does.

At right: Betsy Schwartz and Paul Morgan Stetler in "Tails of Wasps". Photo: Chris Bennion

Stephanie Timm, a local, wrote the play in the wake of the Spitzer scandal (this is its world premiere). She read a story arguing that men have a biological need for sexual variety. And when she couldn’t quite wrap her head around that, she created a drama about needs and wants and musts.

The twist here is that it’s not always the politician who holds the power. And the genius of this production, directed by Darragh Kennan, is how it’s presented at ACT. We’re in a portion of an upstairs lobby that is partitioned off. With the help of some curtains and a very friendly bellman, the audience is escorted into a “hotel room;” the theatrical experience actually begins earlier, upon arrival when you’re asked to sign a hotel register.

The intimacy of the set underscores the intimacy of the story. And once the stage production begins, because we’re sitting in such close proximity to the actors, we’re able to be both voyeur and judge. Whether we’re staring or squirming, we’re absorbed more and more. It’s intoxicating and satisfying and leads you to pondering your own (real or imagined) indiscretions. In other words, it stays with you until you decide: Damn, I really want to go see that again. 

Crosscut's arts coverage is made possible through the generous support of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.


Florangela Davila is Contributing Arts Editor at Crosscut. A freelance journalist, she is also a regular contributor to NPR-affiliate KPLU-FM. She's a former faculty member at the University of Washington and a former reporter at The Seattle Times. You can follow her arts-centric Twitter feed @florangela or email her at florangela.davila@crosscut.com.

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