Brief Encounters

Nora, Go There, and Ruthless! The Musical

NORA

Intiman Theatre, Seattle Center, 206-269-1900. $27-$42. 7:30 p.m. Sun. and Tues.-Thurs.; 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 2 p.m. matinees Sat.-Sun. Ends Sun., May 18

Ibsen's compelling A Doll's House can still date itself in lesser hands. A woman recognizes her need for self-discovery and leaves her husband and children? Been there, done that. Luckily, laziness has never been the trademark of either cinema genius Ingmar Bergman, whose stage version this production is based on, or Bartlett Sher, Intiman's residing theatrical wizard. Nora is hit-and-miss, but it's made with stylish relevance.

Bergman's adaptation is thoughtfully brisk, though Sher is running a trifle too breezily with it; Act I blows by so quickly that the slightly more meditative second act sometimes seems to have flown in from somewhere else (wait a minuteDoctor Rank is in love with Nora?). Laurence Ballard is touching as Rank, and John Procaccino's subtly sniveling blackmailer Krogstad is a career best, but Mari Nelson's already-vague rendition of Nora's demanding friend Mrs. Linde suffers from the need to keep things moving.

Yet, it's a gorgeous show with resonant stagecraft and Sher's unceasingly agile reverence for classic texts. Nora and Torvald are recognizably deluded, affectionate fools who have yet to wake up to the world (Kristin Flanders, though mannered, has a real urgency with Nora's desperation, and Stephen Barker Turner's graceful Torvald avoids cheap posturing). Nora's feisty farewell carries all of Ibsen's still-timely baggage, and the scene that prompts that exit is a stunner: Torvald, having escaped the threat of blackmail for his wife's deceits, rejoices in his ability to fall back into willful ignorance and proceeds to mount a frozen Nora on the dining-room table. STEVE WIECKING

GO THERE

Re-bar, 1114 Howell St., 206-323-0388. $13. 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. Ends Sat., May 17.

Sarah Rudinoff is a big girla loud girl, a brassy, sexy, funny girland she's more than enough woman to pull off a one-woman show. Go There is a vanity act, sure, but vanity isn't so annoying when it comes in the form of a show-tune-belting, motor-mouthed power diva.

Rudinoff opens with a balls-out song-and-dance number, then stops to discuss a problem common to all one-person shows: They're self-conscious by nature, she tells us, full of all kinds of navel gazing. At that point, she bursts into song again, commencing two hours of the most gripping navel gazing I've experienced in quite some time. So many performers assume that if you climb onstage and talk about your crazy uncle, you're automatically fascinatingas if brutal honesty compensates for lack of talent or craft. But Rudinoff, smart girl that she is, understands that even if you put a song here, a song there, then link each number with intimate, well-observed monologues about alcoholism and fame and tragedy, the first priority is still to entertain. Entertainment requires showmanship, and showmanship is Rudinoff's biggest asset she simply can't open her mouth without spewing razzle-dazzle all over the stage.

Some segments work better than others: Her account of performing Les Misť≤°bles at a gay Al-Anon convention is priceless, whereas her memories of Sept. 11 threaten to drag the show under. Still, as a showcase for Rudinoff's fearsome talent, Go There justifies the commanding tone in its title. So, really, just go. CHRIS JENSEN

RUTHLESS! THE MUSICAL

ArtsWest Playhouse, 4711 California Ave. S.W., 206-938-0339. $10-$26. 7:30 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. Ends Sat., May 17.

The only thing funny in ArtsWest's production of this campy off-Broadway tune fest is Joel Paley's indestructibly silly book, a bald-faced spoof of Maxwell Anderson's straight-faced '50s evil-child drama, The Bad Seed. Amidst shameless Broadway in-jokes and other pop-culture riffs, achingly chipper little Tina (Corinne Bloor) aims for stardom any bloody way she can, against the squeaky-clean hopes of her mother, Judy (Jean Mishler), and with the help of faded star Sylvia St. Croix (drag performer Mark Finley). Meanwhile, Paley's lyrics hilariously skewer theater conceits ("I hate musicals/ But not as much as ballet"), accompanied by Marvin Laird's big-boned, perfectly parodic music.

Director Mary Beth Dagg and her cast lean heavily on Paley and Laird's knowingness without displaying much of their own; most of the rapid-fire, wink-wink punch lines crawl by without even the bat of an eyelash. Mishler would have a lot to give with zestier direction, but a hazy Finley totally lacks focus, and cute young Bloor doesn't have the range to bite down on all this and chew. (She's upstaged by Susan McIntyre, who plays dual roles including Tina's sneering rivaland performs with the kind of unabashed comic insatiability that made Molly Shannon such fun on Saturday Night Live.) Dagg doesn't know how to weave songs in and out of the book scenes, and someone named "Annie!" has done the choreography: While her moniker may have an exclamation point, her limp dance duties, and the rest of the show, are lacking any such exciting punctuation. S.W.

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