Olympia has fantastic theater. Picking the best is nearly impossible, but after much deliberation, I landed on playwright Bryan Willis' riveting play, Seven Ways to Get There, as performed by Theater Artists Olympia (TAO). My reasons are many. First, to acknowledge Willis, a home-grown playwriting genius who is the founder and playwright-in-residence for the Northwest Playwrights Alliance at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Second, to honor an ensemble cast comprised of some of the best actors in the South Sound: Christian Carvajal, Robert McConkey, Brian Hatcher, Scott Douglas, Gabriel McClelland, Brian Wayne Jansen, Michael Christopher, and Heather Christopher; and one of the area's best directors, Pug Bujeaud. And finally, to celebrate TAO, one of the most innovative and hard-working theater companies south of Seattle.
Seven Ways is an intense drama with a surprising amount of humor. It is about a female therapist (Heather Christopher) and her all-male therapy group. Most of it takes place during the therapy sessions as the men confront each other and their therapist with ever-evolving love, hate and fear; and while the therapist struggles to keep some kind of order and avoid letting her personal feelings for the volatile men get in the way of her job as their therapist (she's like a lion tamer and the men are angry cats).
At times, the clashes between the men are as vicious as the fights between George and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe? And what monumental clashes they are, as seldom have so many radically different people been brought together on stage. Anthony (Carvajal) has severe anger issues. Richard (McConkey) is addicted to pornography. Mel (Hatcher) is severely confused. Peter (Douglas) is consumed with self-loathing. Mark (McClelland) is a temperamental artist who suspects his wife is having an affair. Vince (Jansen) is a charmer who claims to have had sex with 2,000 women and probably has. And Nick (Michael Christopher) is rich, arrogant, and constantly belittles all the other men and the therapist.
Despite the confrontations between these men, there are moments of tenderness and mutual support; and throughout all the mayhem there is a carefully constructed dramatic arc that leads to a satisfying ending.
All TAO shows are produced in the tiny Midnight Sun performance space in Olympia. Despite an almost non-existent budget, TAO manages to scrape together impressive sets and costumes, but for this show it was not necessary. All that was needed was chairs and street clothes, and the intimate seating in the small space made the drama even more intense.
This little home-grown theater company rivals the best of the best anywhere. I'd love to see them bring this one back for another run.