ACT’s Theatre’s ‘Alki’ tries to pack in too much

  • By Mike Murray / Herald Writer
  • Thursday, June 17, 2004 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

SEATTLE – “Alki,” the season-opening production of ACT Theatre, is enduring and frustrating.

There’s much to like about this offbeat production, a stage adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s poetic fantasy “Peer Gynt” relocated from Norway to the rugged Northwest of the mid- to late-1880s.

Peer Gynt is a lyin’ con man of epic proportions, and his strange odyssey is told in rich detail. But playwright Eric Overmyer has overloaded this clever comedy-drama with scenes and dialogue, and it veers at times into tedium because of it.

The sets and costumes are a delight and the staging inventive. The acting is uniformly good, with a cast of 13 portraying more than 50 characters, driven by the peerless performance by R. Hamilton Wright as Peer Gynt, the selfish, greed-driven wastrel who knows only one kind of lie to tell: a whopper.

Overmyer, a Seattle native, has infused “Alki” with instantly recognizable visual references of the Pacific Northwest that evoke smiles of recognition.

Slides projected on a screen behind the stage take us on a whirlwind tour of our history: there’s Seattle during the sawmill days of Skid Row, there’s J.P. Patches, there’s the monorail, there’s a traffic jam on I-5. Isn’t that the troll statute under the Freemont Bridge?

And in a very funny bit, we see the image of a grinning Peer Gynt superimposed on some famous historic scenes of Seattle, surrounded by dour-faced early residents.

Ibsen, who wrote “Peer Gynt” in 1867 and adapted it for the stage in 1876, relied on Norwegian fairy tales for his poetic narrative.

In director Kurt Beattie’s “Alki,” Peer Gynt travels a gritty, greed-driven path strewn with weird love stories and broken hearts, get-rich schemes gone bust, lies and bigger lies and even the shrunken heads of his enemies, served up by an accommodating tribe of Amazon Indians.

When this show flies, it’s an exhilarating ride. But Overmyer has packed so much into “Alki,” that at two hours and 30 minutes it begins to feel like a marathon for the actors.

Peer Gynt ends his journey a changed man. Some judicious cutting and editing would make the trip more enjoyable for everyone.


“Alki”: At ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, through June 27. Tickets, $15-$54, 202-292-7676,


“Alki”: ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, through June 27. $15-$54, 202-292-7676,

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