Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Smoke & Dust (produced by Macha Theatre Works) on its opening night at Theatre off Jackson in Seattle. This is an ambitious play that weaves together the intrigue surrounding Barbara Strozzi, an ambitious 17th century composer rumored to be a courtesan with the drama plaguing the modern day acting troupe exploring Strozzi’s story.
It takes a deft hand and quick wit to balance a group of actors playing actors who are caught between the 400 year-old-struggle of a brilliant woman and the politics of modern relationships and the realities of being female in our world. Director Amy Poisson was more than up to the challenge, creating an immersive and flawless world for the audience to connect with.
Bianca Raso plays the indomitable Liv/Barbara Strossi, and plays her to the hilt. As Liv, she’s a caring, determined big sister who is still trying to follow her passion while providing for her family, and as Barbara, she is a woman who disdains her assigned role and forges her own path in Italian society. I was captivated not only by her excellent acting, but also by her voice: Bianca is one of the most talented vocalists I have had the pleasure to hear on stage. Her tone is clear and striking, and her control is mesmerizing. You have no trouble believing that her character was once offered an apprenticeship at the Met.
The rest of the cast was just as brilliant. Belle Pugh playing Piper did an amazing job acting through the screen (she only appears in vlog posts) bringing through her emotion and trouble with amazing clarity for never setting foot on stage. The chemistry and timing between James Lyle and Caitlin Frances as ex-lovers and current playwright and director was real and vibrant. Peter Cook’s comedic timing was excellent, particularly during the mansplaining scene, and Michael Blackwood killed it on the part of the awkward musician, confirming the reality that it takes a really excellent actor to pretend to be a bad actor on stage. Shelby Windom was a beautiful note to the ensemble, and managed to sell her role as both a schoolgirl eager to learn and at the same time–nope can’t finish this sentence, too many spoilers.
Needless to say, I enjoyed the show immensely. The playwright, Joy McCullough-Carranza, did an amazing job paralleling the plight of women in the 17th century with the drama and judgement women still experience today. It hit several sore spots from my own time in high school, and made me wonder just how much worse certain of my interactions might have been had social media been around. Not that a woman’s life couldn’t be ruined by a simple poem published in an elite publication at any time, anyway. It reinforced my recent observations about some of the hard choices women have to make in this life, and reaffirmed my commitment to being a support for my fellow woman, rather than being judgemental and adding to their difficulties.
If you have the chance to go see this show, you absolutely should; it’s running until April 14th, 2018, and you can get tickets here.