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Review: NONSENSE AND BEAUTY at Theatre22

Review: NONSENSE AND BEAUTY at Theatre22

Too much Nonsense and not enough Beauty.

Review: NONSENSE AND BEAUTY at Theatre22
Eric Mulholland and Russell Matthews in
Nonsense and Beauty from Theatre22.
Photo credit: Truman Buffett

As we continue to watch the effects of the pandemic wane, we may miss one of the societal casualties, smaller, local theater groups. One such group is Theatre22, whose final show, "Nonsense and Beauty", brings to a close their decade long run in the Seattle area. They've given us some wonderful shows over the years. I still can't shake the power of their first show, "The 5th of July". And while I'd like to say they are going out with a bang, this final production, while having some powerful moments, comes through as more of a long winded whimper.

But it's not the production I have issues with, director Corey McDaniel and all of Theatre22 always bring out some top notch productions. Who can forget their "Live! From the Last Night of My Life"? No, it's the script from Scott C. Sickles that left me wanting. Based on the life of author E.M. Forster, the show focuses on the author (played by Eric Mulholland) of great novels such as "Howards End", "A Passage to India", "A Room with a View", and "Maurice" to name just a few. We're introduced to Forster at a party thrown by his longtime friend J.R. Ackerley (Hisam Goueli) where we find through conversation that the two men are both gay. Being gay in 1930's England was a troublesome lifestyle at best as, if discovered, could result in jail or worse. Look up the lives of Oscar Wilde or Alan Turing for some of the horrors put upon gay men in that era. Ackerley introduces Forster to young police officer Bob Buckingham (Russell Matthews), and the two begin a lifelong relationship.

Now, I'm a huge fan of Forster which is why this play is so troublesome for me. Sickles not only treats his life like a sitcom but glosses over much of it with a huge time jump that ignores the relationships he had after Buckingham. You could say he did this for the sake of brevity, which is probably a good thing since the 2 hour and 30 minute play meanders from one repetitious declaration of love to another. And in between those declarations, we're subjected to gay snark and innuendo that just feels out of place here, as it would have probably gotten them arrested, and feels more like an episode of "Will and Grace". And while, yes, I found some of them amusing, in the context of the closeted lives these men had to live, and the danger surrounding them at all times, comes across as crass and insulting.

The cast does have their moments with the script they are given. As I said, some of the sassier moments, especially those from Goueli were funny and he even manages to take this stereotypical character and show him to have much depth in a few scenes. Jennifer Ewing shows Buckingham's wife May to be a quite strong woman caught in this love triangle but isn't given much to do until the end. And Marty Mukhalian as Forster's mother Lily brings us a quite formidable woman who knows more than she lets on.

But the show is mostly that of the relationship of Forster and Buckingham, and Mulholland and Matthews have tremendous chemistry together. The connection between the two of them is raw and vulnerable and saves the play from being a complete sitcom. Mulholland tended to be a bit one note but still gave a very loving performance. And Matthews gave a wonderful portrayal of a man stuck in societal rules as he juggles the love for his wife and child with his dangerous love for Forster. And his stage presence only made their relationship and Forster's attraction to him all the more realistic.

McDaniel and his cast and crew have crafted an excellent send off to their company, I just wish it had been with a better show. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Theatre22's production of "Nonsense and Beauty" a somewhat disappointed MEH+. This may have not been their best show, but I can honestly say that Theatre22 will be missed.

"Nonsense and Beauty" from Theatre22 performs at Seattle Public Theater through October 2nd. For tickets or information visit them online at

Regional Awards

From This Author - Jay Irwin

         Born and raised in Seattle, WA, Jay has been a theater geek for years.  He attends as many shows as he can around the country and loves taking in new exciting... (read more about this author)

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