FIRST WEEKEND of the Festival, and Seattle Weekly's crack troupe of theatrical reviewers have much to report, including the good, the bad, and the truly aesthetically unpleasing. Use this guide wisely, but quickly; all the shows listed have only a few more days to run (until March 19), and word-of-mouth means that if a show's a hit, it's probably already an effort to get a ticket. Stay tuned next week for a final wrap-up on the Festival.
All Fall Down Circus Contraption—This is circus for people with clown nightmares, a collection of acrobats, musicians, jugglers, and other big-top types viewed in a creepy funhouse mirror. Circus Contraption were favorites at last year's Festival and look to be gathering big houses again with their new show, an examination of the crueler side of children's games. While the troupe's circus skills are enviable and the music an intriguing mix of violins, toy pianos, and hard rock percussion, the show suffers from too few ideas tied to a fairly random collection of images, skits, and acts. The result is certainly not for children, but a bright 4-year-old repeatedly asking the producer "why?" would be a helpful tonic to a show that's got all the right elements, but doesn't quite know how to use them.—John Longenbaugh
Leonardo Ate My Baby Strawberry Head Productions—Yes, I too am sick of Leonardo DiCaprio, but this comedy by Suzi Barrett makes him seem even more of a star. Giant images of him hang over the stage as Trudy Barnett plays a 12-year-old girl obsessed with the actor as well as bad bands like N Sync and the Backstreet Boys. Tracy Kirkpatrick is her mother, Belinda, who bemoans the loss of her daughter to fandom. Barnett is amazingly believable as a preteen, full of whines and sullen pouts. However, the God as Slob character (Joshua Parrott) who appears to Belinda's aid is neither fresh nor funny, and like a bad movie, background music too often supplies the feelings of the characters.—Soyon Im
*Bed Among the Lentils Classics, Unlimited!--Alan Bennett's fascinating portrait of Susan, the wife of an Anglican priest frustrated by her small-town parish life in England, provides Julie Thornton with a riveting performance as she dissects her social circle with a graceful, Jane Austenian precision, questions her belief in God, and relates a love affair with an Indian grocer. Thornton is seated for almost the entire duration of her monologue but is able to convey an entire cast of characters simply through facial expressions and voice inflections. An elegant performance.—S.I.
The Far End of the Earth Keith McGregor—Keith McGregor's original melodrama brings three generations of a family to an isolated cabin in the Cascades. Gayle (Jill Johnston) has made the trek to see her mother Annie (Sherry Penoyer), but not for entirely selfless reasons. She's having problems with her own daughter Jo (Lysa Penoyer), a willful 15-year-old who's bridling under her mother's disciplinarian upbringing. While Annie is a self-styled "wise woman," a Wiccan who prays to the Goddess and reads Tarot, she's also not the easiest person to get along with, and there are plenty of lessons for all three women to learn in this encounter. McGregor's tight plotting is admirable, but there's too little that's unexpected in a show whose unquestioning naturalism resembles a movie-of-the-week, though the cast, particularly young Lysa, enliven the piece through their commitment.—J.L.
Cirque de Flamb鼯B>—This "Cirque" is a curious conflation of the hokey and the dangerous. (Clown-loathers beware, they are here, and they're never singed enough to necessitate their departure via ambulance.) The fire truck stationed at the venue's entrance adds a hopeful note of possible disaster, as do the firemen that sporadically rush out and spray everything with industrial extinguishers; and moments of fire-fumbling by the cast provide some real fear. The double-Dutch rope jumpers and the Pyro Vixens, along with the Roman-candle-wearing Pyro Boy, are impressive. But too many of the acts are duller than things in flames ought to be. The kids might enjoy it, but they'd probably go home and set each other on fire afterwards.—Bethany Jean Clement
Shakespeare: The Lost Episodes Sound and Fury—Richard Meritzer, Shelby Bond, and Shannon Derry present a hilarious, frenzied reinvention of Romeo and Juliet: The First Draft and Testaclese and Ye Sack of Rome. A nonstop adrenaline drive, this energetic team hailing from Los Angeles sing and dance, slip and fall, and make very bad fart jokes that manage to work. Pop culture vultures will appreciate this: Everything from The Jerry Springer Show to Planet of the Apes to The Blair Witch Project is invoked to update and explain the Bard.—S.I.
Freewriting Tower Room Players—A little girl, frightened and alone, collapses in a dark basement with Bach's "Toccata and Fugue" amplifying the racing of her mind. But when she begins to dream, the play's initial promise is broken. With the arrival of "Con," "Actress," and "Talk Show Host," we veer into a world of trite epiphany. Spoofing talk show insincerity (with a "Let's Chat" section) is a creaky plot device for character revelation, and the show's pace slows to a crawl. Jenny Parsons' lively "Girl" is memorable, and Kevin Lapin scene-steals in various roles, but neither can provide the one sadly absent character, "Originality."—Michael Baker
*Kazoo! 5 Kazoo!—This is sketch comedy nirvana. The failings of this 90-minute production: One tagline fell flat and one costume change got muffed. The successes: Everything else. Brian Wennerlind's material was consistently funny, well arranged (opening with a bit about pirates then moving to a macho man parody will always put the audience squarely in your corner), and marvelously performed by a five-person ensemble (Wennerlind, Chris Altman, Ingrid Ingerson, Gordon Todd, and Teniea Sandlin). Wennerlind deserves top honors for effortlessly spouting fractured sentences in "A World Without Grammar," but Ingerson managed to bring down the house in her backup singing role in "Be My Enabler," by simply smiling obliviously like a half-sedated Karen Carpenter.—James Bush
The Ballad of Young Will Jones Greenstage—David J. Dodge's new play about a theater troupe in 1785 America starts with the playwright (in the role of an actor) stumbling onto the stage in a drunken stupor, then dying soon after. He gets off lightly. This confused morass of a play wastes a very large cast of actors for no discernable reason, with countless ludicrous plot twists to no real effect at all. By the time we finally get to the "play within a play" mentioned in the title, it's far too late for the company to save themselves by purposefully acting badly. The show seems to have been written mostly as an excuse to raid the company's costume trunk.—J.L.
*My Brother Sang Like Roy Orbison Loraine Jane Productions—Randy Rutherford delivers and performs this autobiographical tale of two brothers during the 1960s with the precision (and telling detail) of a born storyteller. There's no way of knowing (short of asking him) whether this is the real story of Rutherford's teenage years or merely a clever piece of writing, but you leave the theater with a real fondness for both the narrator and his brother. A funny, poignant memoir of days past.—J.B.
*Portrait of a Sissy Fairytale Productions— At times hilarious, at times deeply touching, David DeBlieck's one-man show uses cheerleader choreography, confessional narratives, '70s pop songs, a faux Charlie's Angels episode, and a slew of costumes and props, from sparkling pink converse sneakers to a large metal cross, to demonstrate the difficulty of growing up sissy in an "anti-sissy" world. DeBlieck takes the audience from his earliest, glamorous cross-dressing efforts to his first sexual encounter and onwards to his experience with the Catholic church, making this "portrait" a journey that's well worth taking.—David Massengill
In the Dark Left Coast Theatre Company—After a car crash on a Florida highway, Emily leaves Chaswick, her diabetic boyfriend in need of meds, to find help. Along the way, she discovers that past wishes hold concrete consequences, and the fate of the couple's relationship lies in her hands. What could have been a moving exploration of the dynamics of a couple becomes an awkward mix of spooky situations, unnecessarily comic dialogue, and clumsy scene transitions. Despite Lisa Nix and Keith Anderson's earnest performances as Emily and her mysterious driver, the piece stumbles and the script begs for more flesh. Lastly, who clips their nails while driving?—D.M.
*Mumble in Numbskull Roblin Gray Davis—This may be the funniest, most heartwarming one-man clown show ever to hit Seattle. Roblin G. Davis uncovers the choking anxiety at the heart of a clown with the help of a few simple props, a questionable red nose, and song (displaying a fine tenor voice). It's not the usual clown antics, or at least not since Chaplin and Keaton. Further description would only spoil the unexpectedness that is the hallmark of the show and its humor. And though you may be tempted to, please do not hug the clown.—M.B.
Twisted Pucker Up Productions—Eddy Barrows' adult retelling of Lewis Carrol's Alice books has a strong, if not unprecedented, approach to the material, that of the individual's search for identity. This Alice (Kate Swenson) is not only puzzled by the dark inhabitants of Wonderland, including a brooding Humpty Dumpty, a Cheshire Cat in a rubber dress, and a certifiable Queen of Hearts, but titillated, confused, and terrified as well. There's a lot of meat in this short show, but Jennifer Kuchenbecker's occasionally hazy direction detracts from the strong work of the ensemble of talented young women to favor generic zaniness. To quote Alice herself, "it seems very pretty, but it's rather hard to understand!"—J.L.
From the Journals of an American Hitch-hiker What A Dream, INK—Journals author/originator Shawn Telford plays Neptune Tullman, an even-keel hitchhiker who encounters a horny waitress, a creepy chainsaw wielder, and a scorned, gun-toting woman in love, among others, in this production that serves up some deep thoughts and great dialogue. The piece never reaches much of a climax, but it does concern the road, not what lies at its end. Besides, with remarkable lines such as "Birkenstocks: they're like sex for the feet" and My Ameba's memorable music score, sounding somewhere in between Sonic Youth and Folk Implosion, Journals is a tasty, if not tremendous, slice of American pie.—D.M.
*ISO... (In Search Of) Burnt Studio Productions—To describe any part of this production would only spoil the surprises—let's just say it's a mix of dance, movement, playacting, and a dash of spoken word. Let's also say it's enjoyable, memorable, and remarkable. This artistic examination of sex (and the obsessions we derive from it) manages to be provocative, funny, and endearing—and sometimes all three at once. Two minor cautions: There's a brief bit of nudity, and the piece runs well under the claimed 60 minutes—so you'll have time for an extra drink at the Elysian.—J.B.
Menage A Trois Sirens Theatre Company—It's sex with a twist of comedy in this "suite of sexy shorts." By far the funniest of the three is 'Til the Cows Come Home, which concerns a financially screwed farm family who employ a porn star to make an adult home video to save their estate. Also at times side-splittingly funny, Enter...the Poet features Miss X, a pornographic poet who refuses to swear due to her upbringing, along with her living Thesaurus and a newly employed typist. Dr. Love Jones is the loosest and least original of the three, featuring a tabloid talk show host and an animal sex therapist exploring the sex lives of a jealous mouse, a toucan that desires a larger beak, and a bull that's always known he's a cow.—D.M.
*Shylock—On the night of the abrupt closing of The Merchant of Venice, the Jewish actor whose controversial portrayal of the villain has been condemned by the community confronts the audience in an after-show "talk-back" session. Mark Leiren-Young's provocative one-act monologue asks if art should make people comfortable or if there is a higher responsibility to "truth," and lobs precise intellectual salvos at political correctness without Limbaugh sneers. With nothing more onstage than a glass of water and his fiery presence, Dennis Rolly gives commanding life to the unique dismay of an artist attacked for his authenticity to art. —Gianni Truzzi
Audition Antics Repertory Actors Workshop—This smattering of song, sketch, and monologue is a multifaceted approach to that evil ritual of self-abasement through which actors get cast in a role. Like an open audition, it's an entirely mixed bag, with the picks including Jon Jory's wordy but amusing "Scruples" (three actresses compete for a nylons commercial) and a casting call from hell by John Wooten featuring a bravura performance from Kathy Hsieh as an actress who just won't quit. They almost cancel out an interminable sketch by Robert Mauro about a psycho cat burglar; even though the show's less than an hour long, it could use some judicious pruning. In short, do it again, only faster, smarter, and funnier.—J.L.
The Dumb Waiter Witney Williams— Pinter's classic drama involves two professional killers and one dumb waiter. When two East London hit men waiting for their next assignment receive orders for room service instead, it leaves the audience in an odd suspense. The success of this piece lies in the raw yet fleshy performances of the actors, rather than the overly predictable plot. Edgy and intense, The Dumb Waiter is hypnotic in its ability to flip-flop between restless boredom and nervous tension. —Kate Morgan
*Jack the Ripper Slept Here Theater Au Naturel—The latest exercise in gentle absurdity from this San Francisco-based couple has little to do with Jack the Ripper but much to do with the mysterious world that lies beneath what we know, a world honeycombed with a Transcontinental Sewer System, hordes of alligators and rats, and a strange little man who's looking for love to fall in through a manhole cover. As with much of their work, there's an odd melancholia to all this silliness, and while this tall tale reveals itself to be a soggy shaggy dog, there's a very real gem of truth here about the need for people to overcome disappointment and try again.—J.L.
*Road Trip Alter Ego Productions—This comedy/ drama plays itself out like an episode of MTV's The Real World, without the characters being so detestable. (They also feel a lot more real than anything you'll see on the idiot box.) There's a running MTV soundtrack between scenes, there are cute twenty-somethings comparing their lives to Seinfeld episodes and falling in love with the wrong people. There is laughter from the audience, there is heartbreak, and there is kindness. Jen Taylor is excellent and truly funny in the lead female role of a show that provides an unexpected but very satisfying journey.—Laura Learmonth
*Agnostic's Way Remember Theater—For people with more doubt than faith, contemplating the afterlife can be an unnerving experience. Which makes Vincent Balestri's original piece, combining dance, movement, narrative, song, and even audience participation, all the more daring, as we watch a talk-show host emerge, and retreat, into the antechamber of the afterlife. The skill and almost palpable sincerity of this fine performer, aided by the otherworldly demeanor of actress Kay Morrison (as lovely and graceful a Death as you could imagine), creates a fluid meditation on the end of life and what may lie after. As usual, the multitalented Balestri takes no prisoners in a show that challenges him, and us, to explore what we believe and what we believe we believe.—J.L.
*Torch River UNI Theatre—First you get to know the bigoted, wryly irascible, 94-year-old Maggie. Then Shannon Jardine steps out of her wheelchair and out of her nightdress, reverently folding it before placing it on the wheelchair. It's a wrenching metamorphosis, watching the young woman emerge from the weary flesh of the nursing home resident. The unnerving hardship of Maggie's life early in the century, in a sort of exile on the vast Canadian prairies and trapped in a soured marriage, is told in a spare, matter-of-fact narrative of rare skill. In "Torch River," Maggie—and her history—survive through the sheer strength of her character.—M.B.
Another Antigone Repertory Actors Theater—In case you don't get it, at one point college student Judy Miller actually announces: "I'm another Antigone." She's skirmishing with Professor Harper over his refusal of her "updated" version of the play, handed in instead of a term paper. A.R. Gurney penned a biting academic satire, but it keeps poking you in the ribs to make sure you get the delicious irony. Angela DiMarco's unsinkable Judy Miller is great fun to watch—and even to root for, since Shawn West's Professor Harper lacks authority and delivers lectures as if onstage instead of in his classroom.—M.B.
*Kung Foo On The Donut Pierre Vladimir Stroud—Watching this one-man production is like watching a schizophrenic's existential stream of consciousness, as it flows and spirals and winds around the pop culture hypocrisies and the nuances of life on this coast in the late '90s. Stroud leaps, laughs, sings, and karate chops his way through a discourse that includes inspired rants, peeks inside his subconscious, and fun, folksy protest songs. Like a Gen-X Spalding Grey or the West Coast version of Jerry Seinfeld, Stroud is smart, funny, honest, and irritated by all the right things.—L.L.
Weeds—Friar Laurence feels so guilty from causing the deaths of Romeo and Juliet that he can't eat and he questions his faith. His abbot, Custos, assigns Laurence a student, Micheli, to help him heal. But Micheli soon presents him with another choice to intervene for love, forcing the friar to try to get past his biggest mistake. Daniel J. Ichinaga's brave choice to write in quasi-Shakespearian verse might get in your way, and his thought-provoking text seems to be deeper than this cast and director are able to plumb. But it's a worthy effort that reminds us that we are more than our worst failures.—G.T.
*Banging Bamboozles Lelavision—If you haven't seen Lelavision's surprising arrangements of movement and music, you should; funny, mesmerizing, and strange, a current of true sweetness runs through it all. Two performers manipulate weird props, including themselves, and make hilarious and haunting sounds with bizarre, beautiful instruments. It's perfect for both I-hate-modern-dance types and aficionados, along with both young and old (someone must have announced this at the co-op preschool meeting, and kids were giggling cutely, if occasionally irritatingly, throughout). If you have seen them before, come again: Lots of this show is new.—B.J.C.
A Corner in Texas Tanja Productions— Attempting to explore time, its limits and its limitlessness, A Corner in Texas puts a young divorcee smack dab in the middle of the diner that time left behind. A young man and his mother descend on Charlotte in a creepy but sweet way reminiscent of Psycho, if Mrs. Bates had only been able to get outta that rocking chair. As eager as they are for company, Charlotte is just as eager for someone to hear her. The play stumbles a bit and the script seems heavy-handed at times, but the production remains genuinely affecting.—L. L.
*Ballyhoo Reason and Rhyme Productions—A cast of characters inhabit a world dominated by Friendly Joe salesmen pimping "socially important products," from extra-blue water to Pop-A-Doo, a mind-numbing substance with hilarious side effects. Replete with rapid-fire advertising disclaimers, savage acts of consumerism, and sardonic sales pitches like "buy now, pay in advance," all set to a pulsing soundtrack that plays continuously throughout the performance. One part biting satire, one part high school cheerleading routine, and one part Orwellian science fiction, Ballyhoo is both wickedly humorous and wonderfully disturbing.—K.M.
*Pressed Against a Meat Cleaver EXITheater— A sort of "film noir" in miniature, this roving minidrama has it all: a fast-talking private dick with a soft spot for a dame by the name of "Sugar Legs"; a flask-toting ex-starlet with a penchant for good gin and bad boys; and an "uncle" who bears a suspicious resemblance to "Odd Job" of 007 infamy. Full of snappy one-liners, double-crossing dealings, a meat cleaver the size of a small dog (and the occasional SCCC student strolling through the outside stage), this is 10 minutes of pure entertainment.—K. M.
Head Full of Pretty Several Canadian Husbands—A two-woman show that addresses issues of societal standards of physical beauty (sort of), Head Full of Pretty is amateurish, scattered, and sporadically funny. Segments revolve around a telethon set up to benefit those afflicted with pulchritude that is plagued by missing guests and technical problems, some of which seem more planned than others. The hostesses' descent into a catfight is a high point, though what it says about competition between women is obscure. A stuffed bear steals the show, but unfortunately it's like taking candy from a baby. —B.J.C.
Fifty-Seven and Still Lying About My Weight Goodside Productions—Susan Freedman, a Canadian woman on the rear cusp of "the silent generation," is silent no more, in this candid, 45-minute life story. Backed by slide show and soundtrack, Freedman tells with self-effacing humor of what job options were to be had in the '50s: wife or stewardess. She leaves nothing out; her three marriages, step-parenting, career, surgery, and finally a hopeful present-day. It is refreshing to hear about life from someone who has lived long enough to have one. Freedman's work needs a unifying idea, but her story is instructive, much like pawing through your parents' photo drawer.—G.T.
*Thank You, Spain! Balance Productions—What happens when the dinner party falls apart? The unintentional slights of old friends, the bickering and you-had-to-be-there jokes, and the unexpected secrets between the closest confidants are put on the table in this comedy/drama about the workings of a variety of relationships. The stereotyped characters (weepy dumped girl; holistic poet hippiewoman; funny, fussy gay guy; token good-looking boyfriend) are made endearingly real by excellent performances all around and some sharp, witty writing. The second act is unexpected and imaginatively staged—with refreshments!--B.J.C.
The Ballet George's Narcissistic Delusions— Anyone who believes the '70s sitcom Three's Company offers lessons for life is bound to be at least disappointed or, more likely, deranged. Fred (Mickey Losinski) fulfills that expectation in this preposterous comedy of absent manners. A tangle of jealousies and betrayals explode when Fred's roommate and girlfriend try to browbeat him into maturity during a double-date to the ballet. Nothing gets neatly resolved like it does on television; life is messy. So is this script, which values outrageousness more than message, although Harley Rees livens things up with a bawdy Die Walkre that rivals Bugs Bunny's.—G.T.
*Once Upon The End—When Pinnochio explains to his fairytale friends how they have been transferred from paper to computer hard disk, Chicken Little alerts them all to the dangers of Y2K. Millennial chaos offers everyone an opportunity to change their plots: the Big Bad Wolf gets the Princess, Snow White files for divorce, and Sleeping Beauty opens a coffee bar. This community effort from Bellingham features a cast of 36, ranging from age 6 to 50, all of whom have, and offer, a great time. The story went completely over my 5-year-old's head, but she enjoyed the spectacle, the music, and seeing other kids onstage.—G.T.