Things to do in Seattle: Sept: 19 - 25

Seattle Symphony's new music director Thomas Dausgaard started off with a bang, and conducts another masterwork this weekend. (Photo by James Holt/Seattle Symphony Orchestra)

Thomas Dausgaard conducts Mahler’s Symphony No.1

Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s new music director, Thomas Dausgaard, made his debut last weekend with a spectacular concert that included the iconic orchestral piece in 2001: A Space Odyssey (“Also Sprach Zarathustra,” by Richard Strauss). In the 1968 film, the music is heard when Neanderthals first learn to use tools. Having this piece on the program probably wasn’t a nod to the symphony’s own evolution, but Dausgaard did wield his baton with incredible skill. He employs his full body when conducting, always staying loose in his knees, so he can bend and sway and make effusive gestures — one resembling a scientist raising his fist and shouting “Eureka!,” another suggesting a conspiratorial whisper. He’s a blast to watch, and the musicians seem thoroughly entranced as well. Because of other engagements, Dausgaard will be in Seattle only for 12 weeks total, so catch him when you can — such as this weekend, when he’ll conduct Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, with bobbing and weaving and verve. –B.D.

If you go: Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall, Sept. 19-21 ($24-$134)

Ligia Lewis: Water Will (in Melody)

Advance word on this third installment of a trilogy by avant-garde choreographer Ligia Lewis is that the piece, based on a Grimms' fairy tale, is wet, hazy, set in a dark, cavernous space, and sets out to destabilize traditional notions of race and gender. Which makes it pretty much the perfect match for Seattle in the fall. What we can make out from the trailer — which repeatedly fades to black just as you’re getting a visual grip on what’s happening — are four women, dressed in black or white costumes that seem to reference surgery gowns or S&M or Chicago (the musical) or sudden downpours. There is definitely something plastic and hyper-performative happening, something like painted dolls coming alive (or breaking apart) in a haunted house. Whatever the exact nature of this damp and dystopian landscape, it feels like we’d better pay attention. –B.D.

If you go: On the Boards, Sept. 19-22, times vary. ($16-$75)

Author Kira Jane Buxton
Seattle writer Kira Jane Buxton writes as the crow flies, in ‘Hollow Kingdom.’ (Photo by Laura Zimmerman)

Kira Jane Buxton: Hollow Kingdom

Who knew humanity’s salvation would come in the form of a foulmouthed, Cheetos-obsessed crow? In local writer Kira Jane Buxton’s debut novel, Hollow Kingdom, a domesticated crow named S.T. discovers that humans (which he calls “MoFos”) have suddenly started losing body parts and bleeding from the eyes. The fast-talking, feathered punster embarks on a quest with his doddering bloodhound pal Dennis through the swiftly crumbling streets of Seattle — Ravenna, the Waterfront, Jose Rizal Park, Phinney Ridge and Lynnwood — to try and gather forces with other “domestics” (aka pets) and find an uninfected human who can serve as hope for the future. Along the way the beasts encounter many horsemen (and a gorilla and a hippo) of the apocalypse, and discover that even as walking dead, humans are still obsessed with high-tech screens. It’s a strange, funny, thoroughly original book that is also super gross, like all good zombie stories. But flying above all the gory details are tender insights about the human-animal connection, and how it might just save us all. (Read our full story.) For this reading, Buxton will be joined by Douglas Wacker, University of Washington biologist and crow communication expert. Caw! –B.D.

If you go: Elliott Bay Bookstore, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. (Free)

Flying Karamazov Brothers juggling pins
The Flying Karamazov Brothers doing what they do best. (Photo by David Conklin)

The Flying Karamazov Brothers: Club Sandwich

They’re back, with juggling pins blazing! The Flying Karamazov Brothers, those clowning hoisters with stage names swiped from a Dostoevsky novel, began defying gravity and making funny in various configurations in the streets of Santa Cruz, California, in the early 1970s. The troupe went on to tour the world, perform in “legit” plays and insert their brash and buoyant humor into the movie The Jewel of the Nile. Though his original faux-Russian comrades have moved on to other pursuits, original member and Seattle native Paul Magid (now a spry 65-year old) has rounded up several younger, light-fingered zanies (members of local “ninja” acrobatic team, NANDA) for a new show that’s expanded from an earlier Karamazov skit. Club Sandwich has a noir theme, a juggling-with-marimbas bit and plenty of other stunts and shticks — and likely, if the spirit moves them, some rowdy audience participation. –M.B.

If you go: Broadway Performance Hall, Sept. 19-Oct. 6, times vary. (Tickets start at $25)

Bill Gates
Bill Gates (Image from the Netflix documentary trailer)

Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates

“I don’t want my brain to stop working,” says Bill Gates, reporting his greatest fear. It’s a statement most of us would agree with, though most of us don’t have a brain like his. The Microsoft co-founder’s mind is the focus of a new three-episode streaming series on Netflix, Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates. Created by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth, He Named Me Malala), the documentary traces Gates’ brainy history, from young nerd to corporate megalord to humanitarian visionary. While Variety says the series goes too easy on Gates’ competitive streak and controversies (such as the U.S. government’s antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft), it’s still required viewing for Northwesterners, who will get to know their famous neighbor a little better while allowed some intriguing glimpses inside his home on Lake Washington. –B.D.

If you watch: Netflix, streaming starting Sept. 20.

Local Sightings Film Festival

This vibrant and proudly eclectic festival — now in its 22nd year — celebrates all manner of independent filmmaking in the Northwest with a curated array of new feature films, shorts, animation, VR and documentaries. Several Seattle docs stand out this year, including Where the House Stood, about the demolition of beloved writing center Richard Hugo House; My Mother Was Here, a son’s unflinching portrait of his estranged, isolated and aging mother; and Patrinell: The Total Experience, about Seattle’s “First Lady of Gospel,” the Rev. Patrinell Wright. Also compelling: a showcase of Indigenous films, and a special offsite presentation of “Living History,” featuring short films about African American freedom fighters, including members of the Seattle Black Panther Party (this showcase only: Sept. 29, 6:30 p.m. at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center). 

If you go: Local Sightings at Northwest Film Forum, Sept. 20-29, times and prices vary. 

DjangoFest NW

Call it swing, hot club or gypsy jazz: the music cooked up by guitarist Jean “Django” Reinhardt and others in 1930s Paris boîtes is still an aperitif of infectious delight and romance, and tres merveilleux. The tradition is kept alive by modern acolytes through events like the popular DjangoFest NW, featuring five days of concerts and workshops by musicians from near and afar. The Puget Sound region’s best-known participant is Pearl Django, the Tacoma combo inspired by Reinhardt and his legendary collaborations with violinist Stephane Grappelli and others. Also appearing at the fest: the all-female, Montreal-based group Christine Tassan et Les Imposteures (see video above); Alsatian violinist Aurore Voilqué; jazz accordion wizard Dallas Vietty; and the Hot Club of San Francisco, among other acts. Many of the performers will be offering workshops in various techniques, such as guitar-picking styles and gypsy jazz vocalizing. All concerts and events take place in Langley, on Whidbey Island, which every year around this time does its best to impersonate Paris. –M.B.

If you go: DjangoFest NW in Langley on Whidbey Island, through Sept. 22, times, locations and prices vary.

Three martial artists rehearse for Paper Tigers
Cast members (left to right) Brian Le, Andy Le and Phillip Dang rehearse a fight scene for ‘The Paper Tigers’ set at an empty pool. (Photo by Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

Bao Tran: On making The Paper Tigers

Making an independent film is an unwieldy, expensive and exhausting endeavor — even more so when you’re working against Hollywood’s bias against movies featuring minority leading casts. But that hasn’t stopped local filmmaker Bao Tran, who for eight years has persisted in his vision of making a new kind of kung fu comedy. In The Paper Tigers, three former martial artists reunite to avenge the mysterious death of their old master. Now middle-aged, the estranged friends (two Asian American, one African American) are out of shape and in the throes of parenthood, divorce and career woes. Tran and producer Al’n Duong, both sons of Vietnamese refugees who landed in Olympia, grew up entranced by Bruce Lee movies, and made many martial arts home movies in their backyards. Over the past month, they’ve returned to this youthful pastime with a lot more nuance, skill and technical equipment, shooting scenes all over Seattle. (Read our story.) The movie still has a ways to go (post-production, submissions to film festivals), but this weekend, as part of Northwest Film Forum’s Local Sightings festival, Tran will share his experience of making a lifelong dream come true. Read our story below. –B.D.

If you go: Northwest Film Forum, Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. ($5-$15)

Is God Is

Imagine a cross between a Quentin Tarantino flick, a Greek tragedy and a satirical Afro-punk sitcom. And still you won’t quite get a handle on Is God Is, an award-winning play by Aleshea Harris that takes no prisoners in its portrayal of a dysfunctional family apocalypse. Slamming between bloody horror and absurdist comedy, this minisaga (produced by Washington Ensemble Theatre and the Lorraine Hansberry Project) about beleaguered, damaged female twins on a bloody revenge mission is a messy tale — literally and figuratively — that for all its clear reference points feels feverishly original.

Cast of Is God Is
In ‘Is God Is,’ two sisters receive a mission from the mother they thought was dead. (Photo by Chris Bennion)

Black sisters Anaia (which in Hebrew, incidentally, means “God’s answer”) and Racine (after the playwright of “Phaedra”?) have had a rough life — no parents around, little money, only each other to rely on. Then, suddenly, the mother they thought was dead (but who they soon believe is God) summons them to her actual deathbed with a tall order: find your horrible father, who set the whole family on fire when you were little, and kill him. And, by the way, bring me some evidence.With one of them wielding a sock full of rocks (David vs. Goliath?), the sisters track down their now comfortably upper-middle-class, Marlboro Man-attired father and his privileged second family. And the murder spree that follows is both horrifying and ridiculously comical.

The play’s Seattle debut has a spectacular, petrified rubbish heap set by Lex Marcos (the girls have been both scarred and discarded), but some of the acting and Lava Alapai’s staging has a tentative, uncertain quality that can’t entirely mine, yet doesn’t obscure, the weird bravado of the script. Rage of the female underclass is as potent here as the rage of ancient queens cursed by the gods. And it’s apt, somehow, that you don’t know whether to laugh or cry about it. Is God Is will also be made into a movie, with Harris expanding her one-act script into a screenplay. See it here, live and lurid, first. –M.B.

If you go: Washington Ensemble Theatre at 12th Avenue Arts through Sept. 23 ($15-$25)

Two oil paintings of nudes
Franz von Lenbach's 'Voluptas' (left) and Franz Winterhalter's 'Susanna and the Elders' (Photos by Spike Mafford/Frye Art Museum)

Unsettling Femininity

Ever innovative, the Frye Art Museum is making another radical move: dismantling its hugely popular Frye Salon, where gold-framed paintings from the founders’ original collection hang cheek by jowl, floor to ceiling. Selected paintings from the salon will be displayed anew in special exhibits that pursue a theme, such as Unsettling Femininity. For this show, Naomi Hume (associate professor at Seattle University) gathered 19th century paintings of women (goddesses, biblical figures, actresses, peasants) in poses intended to evoke some essence of “ideal womanhood” — conveyed by submissive nudity, coy glances or defiant sexuality. Hume’s intention: to encourage viewers to “be more self-conscious about our ease in viewing these women.” When I spoke with her during the installation, Hume told me her students inspired the show. Whenever she brought them to discuss these paintings in the salon, she was surprised by what they saw. “They were seeing certain images as empowering, as self-expression,” she said. “But they weren’t thinking about the painter’s intention — which was to reach a male viewer.” Is the selfie-fluent generation’s intention much different? “These poses are still so familiar,” Hume says, and reinforce how the female gender has been perceived and performed for centuries. –B.D.

If you go: Frye Art Museum, Sept. 21-Aug. 23, 2020. (Free)

Author Jacqueline Woodson and her new book Red at the Bone
Esteemed author Jacqueline Woodson visits Seattle with her new book, ‘Red at the Bone.’ (Photo courtesy of Seattle Public Library)

Jacqueline Woodson: Red at the Bone

If book awards came in the form of Olympic gold medals, Jacqueline Woodson would be bowed over with the weight of them. The writer (of adult novels and many books for young readers) has amassed a remarkable collection of accolades, including multiple Coretta Scott King Awards, as well as a National Book Award. This won’t surprise readers of her memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, which traced her childhood in South Carolina and New York with immersive insight and emotion. Her new book, Red at the Bone, is about a Black teenager who becomes pregnant in high school and decides to have the baby, despite her long-held assumption that she will attend college. As she approaches graduation, her determination to leave home grows even stronger — and though she loves her daughter and has all the support in the world from her parents and her baby’s father, she knows that being only a mother isn’t enough for her. Does pursuing her dream make her a monster? Hear Woodson speak at the Downtown Public Library about the book, which The New York Times calls “profoundly moving.” –B.D.

If you go: Downtown Seattle Public Library, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. (Free)

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About the Authors & Contributors

Misha Berson

Misha Berson

Misha Berson was the chief theatre critic for The Seattle Times for 25 years, now working as a freelance writer and teacher.