See What I Wanna See at Signature Theatre

Last night I went and saw See What I Wanna See again. My buddy Evan Hoffmann went on for Tom Zemon, so it seemed like a good time to go see it. The first time was during preview week, and a lot of things can change from previews to the regular run. In any case, I was there last night.

First mounted at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in the summer of 2004, Michael John LaChiusa's show is based on three short stories by Ryunouske Akutagawa: "Kesa and Morito", "In a Grove" (which was the story that the Japanese movie Rashomon was based on) and "The Dragon." It had its off-Broadway premiere in 2005 at The Public Theatre with an amazing cast - Idina Menzel, Henry Stram, Mary Testa, Marc Kudisch and Aaron Lohr. It is now having it's Washington, DC, premiere at Signature Theatre.

Beautifully directed by Matthew Gardiner, the show takes place in Signature's intimate, 109-seat Ark Theatre. It begins with Kesa (Rachel Zampelli) singing about killing her lover and going back to her husband. From there, it moves seamlessly to 1950s New York City, where a janitor (Bobby Smith) is being interrogated about a murder that happened the night before. The janitor denies any involvement. At the same time, a thief named Jimmy Mako (Matt Pearson) is being questioned about the same incident. Unlike the janitor, Jimmy confesses that he committed the murder. The show goes into a flashback that starts when Jimmy meets Lily (Zampelli) for the first time outside of the premiere of a big new movie, Rashomon. He believes that she wants to sleep with him until she goes to her husband, Louie (Tom Zemon). Jimmy then endeavors to get rid of the husband so he can have Lily. They ultimately end up in Central Park, and Louie is dead. Next up is Lily's testimony, during which she says that she killed her husband. The flashback is the same as before, only Lily ends up murdering Louie. A psychic (Channez McQuay) comes onstage, and says that she has heard from Louie from beyond the grave. Louie says that Lily wanted to go with Jimmy and that Lily comes out with the fact that she hates her life with Louie. In this flashback, Louie kills himself.

In the second act, a priest (Smith) confesses that he made up a lie that became the truth. During the course of the act, he comes in contact with many people from different walks of life that end up believing the lie that he has come up with.

The whole show revolves around the idea of the truth. Adam Koch created a lovely set that did not take away anything from the performers, but is a wonderful backdrop to an intense story. It is complemented by Mark Lanks' lighting design. The best part of Kathleen Geldard's costume design is the first 5 minutes of each act, when Zampelli and Zemon are dressed in fairly traditional Japanese clothes. Otherwise, the costumes are lovely, but not spectacular. There are a couple of great fight scenes in the show, choreographed expertly by Casey Kaleba. Zak Sandler conducts the six-person orchestra extremely well. The last time I saw him was during Les Miserables as the assistant conductor.

I think this is a definite must-see this season. While I might be biased, I give it 4 stars. It is well-acted, well-sung, well-designed, and just an entertaining evening. It lasts all of 2 hours with 1 15-minute intermission.

See What I Wanna See
Music, lyrics, and libretto by Michael John LaChiusa
Signature Theatre
Through May 31
Tickets running $30-$77
Directed by Matt Gardiner
with Channez McQuay, Matt Pearson, Bobby Smith, Rachel Zampelli and Tom Zemon


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