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Review: Vestal Virgins At Theater Schmeater

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The Vestal Virgins, a powerful group of priestesses from ancient Rome; also an aging punk rock girl band from the eighties in Marcy Rodenborn’s new play of the same name, now playing at Theater Schmeater (or The Schmee) in Capitol Hill. Directed by Douglas Stanley, this high energy comedy is definitely not your normal December fair, a breath of fresh air for anyone looking to break the onslaught of holiday-themed shows.

The acting in Vestal Virgins is top notch. Each character is well portrayed, and special congratulations go to Karen Jo Fairbrook as the mad drummer, Miss Clitty. She is easily my favorite character and could probably carry the show if she needed to. Ms. Fairbrook is a theater veteran and currently teaches Drama at Bellevue College. To anyone in her class: pay attention. She has a lot to teach you.

Close runner-up is Ben Burris as Scar: an identity-seeking young man turned boy toy who never quite understands what is going on around him. This character provides a nice ground for the story in the first act, making sure it doesn’t go over the audience’s heads by asking questions of the other characters.

Although not a full musical, Vestal Virgins is a “play with music.” That is: a show in which all of the musical numbers are performed completely in-character, with no asides to the audience or other fourth-wall breaking. Composed by Trish Shallest and the band My Favorite Girl, the music fits the show very well. From the visceral 80s punk rock to the modern Disney pop, each song serves to enhance a scene. Sometimes this is by calling up feelings of nostalgia for days gone past; others by inspiring revulsion at the modern trend to sexualize younger and younger performers.

I’m also quite impressed by the set. The division of space is very effective, and not once during the performance did my eyes wander away from the main action.

Terri Weagant rocks out in Vestal Virgins at the Schmee (R Macstravic).

Unfortunately, this play is not without its flaws. A somewhat obvious one is in the lighting plan, which for some reason shines on the front row of seats for the entire performance. I can only hope this was a one-night-only glitch, because it was very disorienting, especially for anyone sitting in the front.

There are also a few problems with the writing. Created in 2003, Vestal Virgins is still a fairly new play, and as such is probably still going through edits. The second act in particular is in need of some tightening in the dialog. There are a few scenes where it feels like the characters are deliberately censoring their speech so as not to reveal key plot elements to the audience. Worse are the times when characters switch abruptly between intense anger and loving caresses. Finally, certain conversations are so unnecessarily wordy that the big reveal at the end feels underdeveloped.

Despite these problems, Vestal Virgins is a show that’s definitely worth seeing. The play runs until December 18th on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00pm. For those looking further into the future, The Schmee’s 2011 season is very exciting and will be up on the website first. Personally, I’m excited for Reservoir Dolls and Arrh! A Dinosaur Ate My Space Ship.