Brief Encounters

FAR SIDE OF THE MOON

Played Fri., April 4, Sat., April 5 at the Moore Theatre.

Commingling the U.S./Soviet space race with the lifelong sparring of two modern-day brothers could have been insufferably arty; that brilliant Quebecois writer/actor/designer/director Robert LePage is a virtual unknown here could have kept most of us from attending. That we both took risks made us all winners for the night: Far Side should easily stand as one of the best offerings of 2003.

The race to the moon, complete with archival footage, projected titles, and puppet re-enactments, surrounds the central feud between a pair of middle-aged siblings, both played by LePage—one a smug, gay anchor contemplating Canadian cold fronts for the Weather Channel, the other a meditative, morose scientist who can't contain all his confused sorrow over the recent death of their mother. It's heady stuff, yes, but made marvelously accessible by an affecting pathos that has been mixed with an unexpected, and very winning, sense of humor: LePage's grieving scientist is a wry, Albert Brooksian schlub who can't get a break; stuck telemarketing on the weekend, he ends up peddling the newspaper to an ex-girlfriend who has recently married into money.

The sometimes simple theatricality here is memorably clever: An ironing board is flipped over to double as a Lifecycle at the gym; a washing machine, thanks to an accompanying video projection shot from inside, becomes a space craft in orbit; LePage seemingly defies gravity when a huge mirror overhead reflects him rolling around on the laundromat set that has been inverted and nailed to the floor. The amount of such wondrous detail never overwhelms, and instead feels important: LePage is delicately communicating how much anything that happens to a person—or a country—is a part of everything else. STEVE WIECKING

PARROT FEVER (OR, LIES I'VE TOLD IN CHAT ROOMS)

Union Garage, 1418 10th Ave., 206-352-1777. $12. 8 p.m. Thurs.Sat. Ends Sat., May 3.

If you've ever wandered into an online chat room, then you know just how grimly fascinating it can be. And if you've spent many, many hours in chat rooms, then you probably recognize the facile, repetitive cycle of ruse and counter-ruse, the attempts at honesty undercut by the ease of deception, the tentative mating dance performed by people who have no intention of ever meeting one another in real life. It doesn't matter if your handle is "cutegal23" or "needprostatepoundedNOW"—the assurance of anonymity is a balm to the lonely, and chat-room culture provides endless opportunities for the careful reinvention of the self.

Parrot Fever, the fantastic new play by Keri Healey (Cherry Cherry Lemon, Penetralia), understands the absurdity of cyberdating, but that's not the tricky part—even "uwfratboi33" understands that much. The trick is digging down to discover what's so maddening and endearing about our common neediness. And, boy, does Healey dig. Her play is a series of threads, each thread following the travails of online chatters, some of those chatters doe-eyed, others lacking any glimmer of self-awareness, still others amused by the whole concept of virtual intimacy, but chatting all the same. The miracle of Parrot Fever is that it's funny and observant without being suffocatingly cynical—there's a weird, welcome sense of dignity shared by all of these characters, even the ones who describe their sexual fantasies in purely frat-boy terms. It's the best new play in months. Just don't take a first date. CHRIS JENSEN

HERBERT WEST: RE-ANIMATOR

Open Circle Theater, 429 Boren Ave. N.,

206-382-4250. $12.

8 p.m. Thurs.Sat.; 7 p.m. Sun. Ends Sat., April 26.

The late H.P. Lovecraft himself steps out to introduce Zach Lenihan's adaptation of his grisly 1932 serial by grunting, "I hate this story, and I think this production is crap." It's a great setup for Lenihan and director Matt Fontaine's respectfully irreverent take on the tale, which knows why horror master Lovecraft was compelling, yet can't help but find him a bit of a hoot, too.

Tommy Smith is Karl Wolfstieg, a cocky medical student who becomes obsessed with the morbid, forbidden experiments of fellow young upstart West (Jeremy Young), who wishes to "artificially reverse the process of death." Let's just say that the dead don't appreciate their efforts.

The fast, funny show has a disciplined balance in tone; Fontaine has it pitched somewhere between the terse grimness of an old horror film (with great live underscoring composed by Ian Rashkin) and the arched-eyebrow spoofery of Young Frankenstein. An extra kick in the latter's direction would send it hysterically through the goalpost—Fontaine has missed a bet by not ribbing the devoted protagonists' gay Odd Couple quality—but it's a lot of fun, anyway. A debonair Smith has the half-earnest/ half-spoof thing down; he can move from Lovecraft's stern pronouncements of gloom into the anachronistic "hii-yaaah!" of a karate chop with barely an elbow in your side. S.W.

 
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