The Weekend List: The arts and culture guide to Seattle's good life

A charmer from Seattle Children's Theatre, genre-bending blues, an Olmstedt (& parks) film tribute & Seattle Rep does August Wilson's 'The Piano Lesson'.
A charmer from Seattle Children's Theatre, genre-bending blues, an Olmstedt (& parks) film tribute & Seattle Rep does August Wilson's 'The Piano Lesson'.

* Denotes events that are $15 or less

Mwindo

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This is a world premiere for Seattle Children's Theatre and it’s a charmer, the story of an African fable about friendship, revenge and acceptance. Cheryl L. West (“Pullman Porter Blues”) has adapted the oral tale from the Congo, which begins with a father (William Hall) rejecting the birth of his son (Tyler Trerise), who emerges fully grown. (And that’s just one part of the otherworldliness found here.)

At right: Tracy Michelle Hughes as Aunt Iyan in "Mwindo." Photo: Chris Bennion

Mwindo, the boy, must make his way through the jungle where he encounters a big-hearted hedgehog (Reginald Andre Jackson) and a determined Spider Cricket. (She’s a hybrid species with big hopes of flying one day and, as played by Felicia V. Loud, she ups the delightfulness of this play. Try not to laugh whenever she says the words “Baby man.”)

Part of the fun here is to sit alongside children and be just as caught up in the costumes, the scenery and the puppets (the cephalopodesque and magnificent Kuti, creature of the Underworld). Tracy Michelle Hughes (“Pretty Fire”) plays both the mother and an aunt and she wears a costume that geniusly displays both her hope and her despair. For a feel-good experience and to witness tons of artistry, this is a sure bet.

If you go: Mwindo, Seattle Children’s Theatre, Now through Feb. 15. (Tickets start at $20) — F.D.

The Piano Lesson

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The late August Wilson won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for this drama, set in 1930s Pittsburgh, that pits Boy Willie (Stephen Tyrone Williams) against his sister, Berniece (Erika LaVonn), as they fight over what to do with a piano.

At right: Stephen Tyrone Williams and Erika LaVonn in "The Piano Lesson," now at Seattle Rep. Photo: Michael Davis, Syracuse Stage

Selling the piano could mean purchasing land and starting a new life for Boy Willie. But it would also mean parting with an instrument carved with the images of their ancestors, engraved when their great-grandfather was a slave. And though it haunts Berniece, she cannot imagine a living room — or her life — without it.

It’s a profound story, particularly moving in the wake of the impassioned #BlackLivesMatter movement that’s fueled by a desire to be seen, recognized and understood. Wilson wanted all of us, no matter our race, to better understand Black America. Here, then, is “entertainment” of the most powerful and relevant kind.

If you go: The Piano Lesson, The Seattle Rep, Now through Feb. 8 (Tickets start at $17) — F.D.

Jessika Kenney’s “Anchor Zero”

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Not to be entirely antisocial, but this is one of those exhibits best experienced by oneself. Sit in one of the three galleries and let the videos and sounds wash over you.

At right: A still from Jessika Kenney's Anchor Zero, 2014. Digital video with audio. Videography by Claudia Maerzendorfer. Painting by Faith Coloccia. Design by Kyle Hanson.

It’s hypnotic. It’s trippy. It’s meditative. What am I looking at? It looks like tree branches, yes, but also close-ups of slabs of meat or currents of water or one giant black-and-white kaleidoscope.

In one video, I watched the artist walk slowly from left to right across the screen, like a moving Robert Longo image, uttering and emitting those guttural, transportive sounds. And then, in a second gallery, a security guard walked across the projection from right to left, head down and it all seemed perfect.

If you go: Jessika Kenney’s “Anchor Zero,” Frye Art Museum, Through Feb. 1 (FREE) — F.D.

Oscar-Nominated Short Films: Animated and Live Action *

It’s that time of year again: We have the opportunity and excuse to see short films on the big screen. Each program, both live action as well as animated, includes this year’s five Oscar-nominated short films, spanning genres, countries and style.

In the span of an hour (in the case of the animated) or two (in the case of the live action), you’re bound to feel your heart break and then soar, and regardless, be overwhelmingly inspired by the innovative work happening in short film today.

If you go: Oscar-Nominated Short Films, Seven Gables Theatre, Starting Jan. 30 ($10.50) — N.C.

The Staxx Brothers *

Any true music fan must respect bands that bend genres. This is how established genres are created; the seeds are created when lines are blurred. It so happens that a group of bands in Seattle are busily bending the hip-hop genre into an exciting new shape.

Groups like Ayron Jones and The Way, Theoretics, Ayo Dot and The Staxx Brothers — the latter of which plays Nectar this week — blend funk, blues and hip-hop. The results are splendidly heavy and emphasize live instruments (guitar, bass, drums). The dramatic results make sense; these groups are blending the best kinds of original American party music, except jazz, of course. Nectar Lounge is a hub of sorts for this musical fusion reaction, so keep an eye on their calendar if this piques your interest.

If you go: The Staxx Brothers, Nectar Lounge, Jan. 30. ($10). 21+ — J.S.H.

G. Love and Special Sauce

While The Staxx Brothers and other Seattle groups are blending hip-hop with other genres in titillating new ways, it’s important to acknowledge they are not the first when it comes to being innovative. G Love and Special Sauce has been mixing blues rock, alt rock and a laid-back spoken word rapping style since the early ’90s.

It has a noticeable ska influence that brings Sublime’s lead singer Bradley Nowell’s delivery style to mind, as well as the heartfelt stoner drawl of Citizen Cope. This is groovy, whimsical and summery stuff, usually performed with a traditional guitar/drum/bass rock setup. The delivery, however, is unabashedly informed by hip-hop.

If you go: G. Love and Special Sauce, The Showbox Jan. 30. ($27.50). 21+ — J.S.H.

Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America *

Film producer and (perfectly named) historian Laurence Cotton presents the new PBS film, Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America, driven by stunning nature cinematography. Olmsted’s name is hopefully a familiar one; he’s the landscape architect behind Seattle’s park system (among others) as well as designer of the U.S. Capitol Grounds, head of the first Yosemite Commission, and co-designer of Central Park. This film is a biography of the man who, luckily for us, prioritized parks as an essential part of city life starting in the mid-19th century, merging art, functionality and the environment way ahead of his time.

If you go: Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America, Central Library 2 p.m. Jan.  31. All Ages (FREE) — N.C.

Patton Oswalt, in conversation with George Meyer

Patton Oswalt, perhaps best known as Remy the rat from Ratatouille, is also an actor, writer and brilliant stand-up comedian. I know his 2007 stand-up album Werewolves and Lollipops nearly by heart, and I have looked forward to each of his subsequent endeavors overzealously, never to be disappointed. Like most artists I like, Oswalt tends toward being depressive (and isn’t afraid to talk about it).

He is also rarely seen or heard from; constantly busy, hilariously and astutely engaging with issues happening in the world around him. His latest work, Silver Screen Fiend, is, according to Oswalt, “the dorkiest addiction memoir ever,” chronicling his early years as a stand-up comedian and cinema-obsessed nerd. All advance tickets are (sadly) sold out; however, there will be a small number of stand-by tickets available beginning at 7:25 p.m. He’s worth it.

Here’s a classic Patton Oswalt bit.

If you go: Patton Oswalt, Town Hall, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 31 ($35, which includes a copy of his new book Silver Screen Fiend)  — N.C.

Vapor Trails and Hana & the Goose *

A good album opener, when constructed properly, can function as a sonic Venus flytrap. That is, it can ostensibly appear sedate and slow, drawing the listener in before dropping an earth-shaking jam or crescendo. Dub step producers overuse this bolt-from-the-blue effect; LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy perfected it in “Dance Yourself Clean” on his group’s swansong album This is Happening.

Hana & the Goose, fronted by siblings John and Hanna Broback, crafted such an intro song for their 2014 LP The Slime that Never Dies. The track is “Droplets,” and it morphs into a funky shred fest on par with the classic transition in Pink Floyd’s “Shine on you Crazy Diamond" (Parts I-V). John is a consummate guitarist, inspired mostly, it seems, by funk, jazz and classic psychedelic rock. He probably built the guitar he’ll use at this show himself. His sister Hanna is an enchanting violinist and singer, acting as an essential counter balance.

This is the final show for high-octane “bluegaze” (yea, that’s blues and shoegaze) band Vapor Trails. Come celebrate the passing of one excellent band, and as a bonus catch a show by a great group still alive and kicking.

If you go: Vapor Trails and Hana & the Goose, The Josephine, Jan. 31. ($8). All ages — J.S.H.

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About the Authors & Contributors

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Joseph Sutton-Holcomb

Joseph is a full-time landscaper, part-time journalist and full time culture junkie discovering the hidden joys of life as a UW graduate in Seattle. When not taking care of plants or writing, he spends his time in the company of good friends enjoying film, music and the great outdoors.