Brief Encounters

Things Being What They Are, Shakespeare's Stealer, and China Dolls.

THINGS BEING WHAT THEY ARE

Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center, 206-443-2222. $10-$46. 7:30 p.m. Tues.-Sun.; 2 p.m. matinees Sat.-Sun. Ends Sun., May 25.

Playwright Wendy MacLeod is a great friend to wackiness and irony. Best known for her schizoid comedy The House of Yes, the play-turned-movie about a Jackie O. fetishist, she continues her off-kilter critique of American domesticity with this world premiere at the Repand if the results are less contrived than House of Yes, they're also less appealing. After a strong beginning, the play undergoes a major tonal shift and edges into straight drama, which is not, I'm afraid, where MacLeod's talents lie.

Still, there is much to admire about Things Being What They Are, a two-man show that sometimes mimics the aggressive one-upmanship of Sam Shepard, then indulges in banter that might be early Edward Albee. The play revolves around a thirtysomething marketing exec (R. Hamilton Wright) and his garrulous, obnoxious neighbor (Jeff Steitzer), an older man who possesses neither tact nor friends. As you might expect, the two men eventually discover that they have much in commonmarital problems, struggles with mortalityand MacLeod illuminates their predicaments with mordant wit. But at the end of the second act, when the play reveals its soft, chewy center, she indulges in banality after banality (one character actually saysno, declares"I am worthy of love").

Both Wright and Steitzer perform beautifully, and Don Yanik's seta sterile, soul-shrinking caricature of suburban chicis simply right. But if you go, prepare to be jarred by a script that, despite its strengths, needs a few more hours in the workshop. CHRIS JENSEN

THE SHAKESPEARE STEALER

Seattle Children's Theatre, Seattle Center, 206-441-3322. $12-$26. 7 p.m. Fri.; 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Ends Sun., May 18.

Theater saves livesthat's the ultimate theme of this moving, bittersweet play at Seattle Children's Theatre.

Widge, the play's hero, lives a hardscrabble life as an orphaned apprentice in Elizabethan England. He is sold for his talents as a stenographer to Simon Bass, the head of a theater company from the boonies, who wants the boy to copy down Hamlet as Shakespeare's own company in London performs it. Instead of stealing the play, however, Widge is seduced by it and ends up joining the company. Struggling with torn loyalties, he becomes part of a community of roustabout artists while still tethered to Bass by his master's henchman, Falconer.

The ultimate resolution is just as artfully constructed as the rest of SCT's beautifully done production. The sets, lighting, music, and costumes work together to create a seamless effort that continually delights with both its inventiveness and its grace. There is superb acting throughout, especially from Tim Gouran, who gives Widge an endless supply of naive charm.

The play's sophisticated language, plot, and elements of suspense, however, mean it isn't appropriate for preschoolers and young elementary-school-age kids; SCT recommends it for 8 and older, but I wonder if 10 might be a better cutoff. GEORGE HOWLAND JR.

CHINA DOLLS

Standard Lounge, 527 S. Main St., 206-325-6500. $20-$25. 7:30 p.m. Thurs.-Sat.; also 9:30 p.m. and midnight select Sat. Ends Sun., May 25.

Billed as a "retro-burlesque cabaret" (yes, "retro-burlesque" seems a bit redundant to me, too), China Dolls is a gleeful send-up of Asian-American stereotypes, the kind of stereotypes that cropped up everywhere in American pop culture until at least the mid-20th century. Writer/director Erin Quill devises the perfect vehicle to make her jabsa love triangle in the manner of an MGM musical.

Our charming emcee (Chil Kong) falls for two gorgeous women: The first is an Asian dancer named Mae Wong (Rei Matsumoto); the second is a gargantuan blonde named, of course, Sally Stunning (Tracey Wagner). Throughout the show, they're flanked by "Siamese twins" Wei and Tee (Leilani Wollam and ARMANDO!), who provide some awkward comic relief.

All three Asian girls degrade themselves cheerfully, maintaining their composure while Wagner makes fun of their breast size, their eyes, and their countries of origin. This isn't nearly as disturbing as it sounds, since Quill never allows the proceedings to get heavy and the cast is unabashedly good-natured.

Wagner is a powerful talent, however, and the unfortunateand, I suspect, unintentionalresult is that the Evil White Girl absolutely runs away with the show. You simply must see this woman: Vamping like Rebecca Romijn-Stamos on uppers, she manages to be insanely gorgeous and irrepressibly goofy at the same time. And she looks fabulous in a G-string. Sure, she's the Blond Menace, a parody of the absurd standards of Western beauty, and you're not supposed to root for her. But c'monshe's funny as shit. C.J.

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