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Best of Olympia 2018: Harlequin Productions

Readers' pick: Best theater group

Jason Haws and Ann Flannigan in August: Osage County at Harlequin Productions. Photo courtesy Harlequin Productions

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It should come as no surprise to anyone that Weekly Volcano readers have voted Harlequin Productions best theater group. Founded and run by Scot and Linda Whitney, Harlequin has been offering South Sound audiences the best in local theater since it began on a small scale with shows in the Black Box at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts in 1991.

Almost immediately, it went from small-scale shows to huge productions, opening its second season with a production of Hamlet featuring a 20-foot motorized revolve and an 18-member cast. Harlequin has been taking chances ever since, with budget-busting shows, unique and quirky productions of classic plays, challenging modern plays and seasons that balance comedy, drama and musicals.  Productions have included the vastly popular summer music reviews and the much-loved "Stardust" Christmas shows, all of which are locally written with their own arrangements of popular songs, beginning with songs from the big-band era of the 1940s and working up to more contemporary music.

Harlequin is a professional theater. Its productions feature the best of local and regional actors, often including equity actors from Seattle and beyond. Many of the very best actors to grace South Sound stages have become regulars in Harlequin shows: Jason Haws, Dennis Rolly, Christian Doyle, Helen Harverster, Ann Flannigan, the late-great David Wright, and outstanding singers Antonía Darlene and LaVon Hardison, just to name a few.  Its production values are of the highest quality, on par with such major theaters as The Seattle Repertory Theatre and The 5th Avenue. Sets -- often designed by Linda Whitney or Bruce Haasl and built by Marko Bujeaud and crew -- are the most elaborate and beautiful to be seen anywhere.

Over the past season, Harlequin has produced the one-person show My Name is Rachel Corrie, the story based on the personal journals of Olympia native Rachel Corrie, who was run over and killed by an Israeli bulldozer in the Palestinian city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip in 2003; The Understudy, a play about putting on a Franz Kafka play; the comedy Present Laughter; First Date, a sweet modern musical; the hard-hitting Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning drama August: Osage County; a dark and otherworldly take on Shakespeare's Cymbeline; and most recently the one-person show I Am My Own Wife, featuring Corey McDaniel in the true-life story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a transvestite who survived Hitler's Nazi Germany.

Harlequin Productions continues to bring audiences the funniest comedies, the most delightful musicals and the hardest hitting dramas. Coming up later this season are Richard Greenburg's Pulitzer Prize-nominated drama Three Days of Rain and Magical Mystery Midsummer Musical, a 30-year retrospective of Bruce Whitney's music.

Harlequin Productions, State Theater, 202 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.786.0151,

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