Reviews

FAR EAST

Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave., 206-325-6500. $10-$25. 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat.; 2 p.m. Sun. Ends Sun., Feb. 23.

Mirror Stage Company gets about as much out of A.R. Gurney's latest play as it did from its premiere production, the lyrical Southern family drama The Knee Desires the Dirt, back in October: The show ably holds your attention, despite an inability to achieve the script's promise.

Tommy Smith of local improv group the Habit plays Lt. "Sparky" Watts, a fresh-faced upstart on a U.S. Naval base in Yokosuka during the '50s, who, ignoring official warnings from polite white society, falls in love with a Japanese girl. True to his name, Sparky's rebellious affair ignites dormant passions in two other characters: commanding officer Anderson (John Kobasic), an overly nostalgic captain who can't forget his own past wartime romance, and the captain's Mrs. Robinson-ish second wife, Julia (Susan House), who sees the young lieutenant as a symbol of everything she feels she's missed in life. Meanwhile, our similarly self-deluded, military involvement in Vietnam looms in the background.

While still less than confident with blocking, director Suzanne M. Cohen gives the show a glossy polish. Craig Wollam's Eastern-influenced minimalist scenic designin fact, all the designhas real class, and Cohen knows how to pose her ensemble to heighten the effect. Cohen's attentiveness keeps you involved in Gurney's careful unfolding, though she continually stumbles trying to bring out his subtleties. (In a spotty cast, House, in particular, doesn't have the chops to convey her character's shaded longings or Gurney's characteristic dry wit.)

Whatever the show's failings, however, the smart script still shinesGurney moves smoothly to a peak that sees American values (in war, in life, in love) at a crucial turning point mid-century. And he travels there by means of a clever conceit: We're guided by a ReaderNancy Calos-Nakano, in the night's best performancein traditional Japanese costume, speaking the voices of all the other supporting characters, who are played by a single, silent, black-garbed stagehand. (The exception is Skot Kurruk, who has a nice turn as Sparky's closeted comrade.) The evening presents such a worthwhile journey that you'll probably forgive its awkward trespasses. STEVE WIECKING

BOY GETS GIRL

Seattle Repertory Theater, Seattle Center, 206-443-2222. $10-$46. 7:30 p.m. Tues.-Sun.; 2 p.m. matinees Sat.-Sun. Ends Sun., March 23.

Rebecca Gilman's acclaimed thriller is ostensibly about Theresa (Liz McCarthy), an N.Y.C. magazine writer being stalked by an unhinged admirer. But, using conventional suspense and a sense of humor, it moves effortlessly into something else altogether: Theresa starts to examine her own view of herself in relation to men, a situation that disrupts the politically correct gender politics of sympathetic co-workers (a first-class R. Hamilton Wright and David Scully), until the engaging play seems more about how, as compassionate Detective Beck (terrific Joanne Klein) puts it, "we can't always tell how much is us and how much is the world around us."

Director Roberta Levitow goes broad with Gilman's leavening comic elements: She overdoes the everyday awkwardness of Theresa's blind date with initially benign Tony (Joe Hickey, suitably whacked). She also seems jonesing to turn two of the charactersa dangerously naive receptionist Harriet (Cleopatra Bertelsen) and sleaze-producer-with-a-heart-of-gold magazine interviewee (Stephen Payne, having great fun)into wild caricatures, despite the fact that Gilman has put them there to upset stereotypes. But Levitow opens up by Act II and keeps the adrenaline pumping without going brain dead, getting a crackling performance from McCarthy, who successfully translates the tremulous doubt beneath Theresa's confident veneer so she's much more than a movie-of-the-week victim.

The design team has gone ape shit in an unfortunate attempt to capture urban hipness; James Noone's slick, shifting set has some sort of random neon ornamentation on it, and sound by Mitch Greenhill features laughable, remixed jazz underscoring meant to sound terribly "big city" but which plays like the background hump track for '80s gay porn. But Levitow does get one big, haunting moment from it all: Feeling trapped in her own home at night after a rash of threatening calls, Theresa sits warily in the glow of her laptop screen while the apartment set glides backward into a sinking blackness and a menacing Tony, framed in spotlight, stares upstage at his captive prey.

Like her inquisitive play about race, Spinning Into Butter, Gilman's script is meant as an opportunity to ponder the gray areas of black-and-white assertions. That Levitow's production finds both the thrills and the thoughtfulness is reason enough to check it out. S.W.

THE CHANGELING

Jewel Box Theatre at the Rendezvous,2320 Second Ave., 206-728-0933. $12. 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Ends Sat., March 22.

If you're familiar with 17th-century Jacobean drama, then you already know what to expecta virginal girl, a sadomasochistic villain, and one outrageously violent death after another. But you probably wouldn't expect to hear the Supremes, and in Bret Fetzer's adaptation of Thomas Middleton's work, not only do you see the requisite stabbings and disembowelments, but you also sense the spirit of Diana Ross hanging over the proceedings like a chorus and a muse.

The play is tragic, though it's tragedy reimagined as farcea Grand Guignol sex farce, to be exact, punctuated by the occasional musical number. This is the story of Beatrice (Susan McIntyre), a scheming virgin who hires her manservant Deflores (John Bianchi) to murder her betrothed (Chris Macdonald). Deflores does the deed, assuming that Beatrice will sleep with him afterward. She refuses. He insists. And so begins a series of cruel, vengeful acts, starting with rape and ending with murder, with a few gratuitous slayings in between. Take the kids.

The show is enthralling whenever it's twisted and lurid, and that's blessedly often. As soon as the sex stops, however, the actors have to amuse themselves with petty concerns like dialogue and plot, and almost everyone seems uncomfortable with Middleton's dense language. Still, director Carys Kresny benefits from a first-rate crew (especially Matthew Smucker, whose demented set is a fun house full of doors and half-doors, perfect for slamming). And the best reason to goreason enough, I sayis Julie Rawley: She does well by Diana Ross, investing each musical number with enough degenerate spunk to counter the production's less inspired moments. CHRIS JENSEN

 
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