POLAROID STORIES, TWO ROOMS, and 7 STRANGERS

POLAROID STORIES

Capitol Hill Arts Center, 1621 12th Ave., 206-508-0728. $10-$12. 10 p.m. Fri., May 9 and Sat., May 10.

Playwright Naomi (The Language of Angels) Iizuka's scripts often get so caught up in their own lyrical quality that they don't demand respect for her singular wordcraft so much as call too much attention to it. In Polaroid Stories, which finds Ovid's Metamorphoses reimagined as the playthings of street youth, her verselike incantations sometimes soar eloquently; at other times, they thud like self-conscious leftovers from West Side Story (her wanna-be toughs spout "snooty groovy wackiness"). This admirable inaugural performance from Capitol Hill's ambitious new performance center works best when it speaks for itself.

You have to know Ovid's tales fairly well to fully appreciate Iizuka's astute reworking, which is mostly a series of exchanged monologues. The mythical stories of transformative human folly are both literally embodied and used as touchstones to which the characters cling for some sense of grandeur in their grim world. Narcissus (Mark Boeker) is a self-enamored young male hustler here.

Director Sarah Shipley illuminates this world with a full-bodied sense of its fevered desperation (though lighting designer Trina Bates might want to up the wattage a little bit). The show starts with a terrific sensory blast: Jake Perrine's throbbing sound design and actor Jennifer Pratt's Philomel howling melodiously into a miked telephone receiver like a passionate traditional Eastern vocalist.

The performers are a devoted but mixed bunch, better when they don't get lost in Iizuka's flamboyant poses. Boeker's embarrassingly pop-eyed prancing resembles Chris Kattan's Mango gigolo routine from Saturday Night Live, but Desiree Prewitt is very convincingly on the razor's edge as a brittle Persephone. And David S. Hogan spends the night spreading his arms and proclaiming, "This is my kingdom!" His dark, daring performance convinces you he's right. STEVE WIECKING

TWO ROOMS

Odd Duck Studio, 1214 10th Ave., 206-297-3064 Call for information. Ends Sat., May 17.

I hate "talk backs"I hate sitting around after a play's curtain call, waiting for the actors to get out of costume, then lingering for another 10 or 15 minutes while the cast answers the audience's inane questions. The approach is so baldly educational that it only works at Seattle Children's Theatre, where the audience members don't sound anything like sophomores at Harvard.

Two Rooms, the new production from Shunpike Arts Collective, is a terribly serious show followed by a terribly serious talk back. It's political theater, you know, and because it's about a hostage crisis in the Middle Eastah, the relevance!director Eric Schinfeld squeezes all the humor out of Lee Blessing's 1988 play. This is a production about pedagogues rather than peoplehumans overshadowed by the ideas they represent.

The play's title refers to two very different roomsone in Beirut, the other in the United States. The first room contains an American hostage (Michael Mathieu), tortured and imprisoned for years; the second contains his wife (Leigh Simpson), who discards her furniture in observance of her husband's plight. These poor souls talk to each other or imagine talking to each other, while a newspaperman (Frank Chiachiere) and a federal bureaucrat (Ellen Van Oss) hover nearby. It's an evocative premise, and there are moments, particularly at the climax, when Two Rooms is nearly as devastating as it ought to be. But not quite. After all, you can't shed tears over a bunch of talking heads. CHRIS JENSEN

7 STRANGERS

5611 11th Ave. N.E., 206-851-6730 $10. 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. Ends Sat., May 17.

EXITheatre's latest environmental staging is the same kind of drunken fun you can get out of a cheap pitcher of Bud.

7 Strangers spoofs the narcissistic melodramatics of MTV's The Real World. You're welcomed into a house in the University District where the actors are busy keeping a straight face while pretending to be a group of disparate young yahoos forced to cohabitate for public consumption; their season finale is upon them, various relationships are about to explode with volcanic self-involvement, and you're the camera. The company, improvising while following a memorized plot arc, moves freely from room to room, and so can youwhen you're bored, you can move to the kitchen.

LookI usually hate this kind of thing, but I laughed most of the night. Yep, some of the improv falls on its face, but the stuff that works worksthese guys are having a ball, and their abandon pulls you in. Amanda Lee Williams, in particular, has a quiet way of poking a big laugh out of you: Playing a passive-aggressive Christian do-gooder, she calmly tells a substance-abusing housemate to think of the house's intervention as "not so much a confrontation, as a care-frontation." The show is collegiate escapism done with a completely winning sense of humor and not a small amount of craft. S.W.

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