Seattle-based Macha Monkey Productions presents "Cliffhouse," written by local award winning playwright Allison Gregory now playing at Richard Hugo House on Capitol Hill. I have to admit there is a bit of a risk attending a play on opening night, not all the kinks have been worked out. With this said, it is also a fantastic opportunity to feel the energy and buzz that only exists on an opening night.
The play begins with the Inn’s only employee, the multi-tasking and bowtie wearing Cliff (played by Vincent Delaney); with bags in tow he welcomes us to the Cliffhouse. The play is fairly quick to introduce all of its characters within the first few scenes; it doesn’t take long to identify the character’s personalities and vulnerabilities.
Guest One: The fashionable Lana, played by Kristina Sutherland, is wickedly unsubtle with what is on her mind and prides herself in being a chain-smoking recluse.
Guest Two: The sweet Glorie, played by Meaghan Halverson, is the passionate airy chatterbox who has a spunk that wins us all over with her cute antics, unless your name is Lana (see Guest One).
Guest Three: The insecure, rock-climbing West, played by Troy Lund, is determined to conquer his demons by spending most of the play hanging on for dear life at the Inn’s coastal cliffs while engaging in thoughtful conversation with his fellow guests.
I always become giddy when a production can take me to imaginative places without forcing props down my throat, especially in an intimate venue such as Richard Hugo House. Elaborate scenes in small theatres make the theatre experience contrived and take away the originality of the dialogue.
There is a simplistic brilliance to the set design of "Cliffhouse" and I thank the thespian gods that this play didn’t fall victim to this common theatrical trap. The set remains unchanged throughout the entire production consisting of a ground-level dock, rocky cliffs made out of plywood, two Adirondack beach chairs and a table.
In addition, the production team masterfully showcased their artistic skills by creating a beachside retreat with affective stage blocking, lighting and sound effects. As the character Lana steps onto the beach for the first time taking in the ocean view, I could smell the refreshing salty air along with her.
As the script begins to reveal the reasons of why the characters are guests at the Cliffhouse, we are taken on a journey back in time to pinnacle and insightful moments that directly correlate to their current state. The most enjoyable part of the play was the way a scene would morph into a flashback; Cliff the Innkeeper would engage in conversation with his hotel guests and with subtle physical and vocal changes, the skilled actor Vincent Delaney transformed into a completely different character of the past. These flashbacks gave much needed context to the characters; I applaud the way these senses were done without confusion.
The first half of the play really focuses on character development, whereas the second act evolves into a story line of heavy themes dealing with tragedies that surround the three hotel guests.
Actresses Kristina Sutherland and Meaghan Halverson deliver powerful performances filled with pain and sorrow towards the end of Act II. Surprisingly, the play is sprinkled with lighthearted moments that keep it moving along. How can a play of such morose themes be so funny? These quirky moments are cleverly written and the comedic timing of the actors is spot on. There is never an awkward moment where you feel that the comedy is in appropriate.
So what about risking attending an opening night? I gambled and decided that I would be present for the first show, and it paid off. The house was full, the tech crew was spot on with their queues and the actors delivered well-rehearsed and meaningful performances.