NINE HOLES RISES FROM THE ASHES

Union Garage, 1418 10th Ave., 206-720-1942. $12. Pay-what-you-can every Thurs. and artist benefit Mon., July 21. 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat.

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NINE HOLES RISES FROM THE ASHES, THE GONDOLIERS, AND MORE

NINE HOLES RISES FROM THE ASHES

Union Garage, 1418 10th Ave., 206-720-1942. $12. Pay-what-you-can every Thurs. and artist benefit Mon., July 21. 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. Ends with 2 p.m. matinee and barbecue Sun., Aug. 3.

You'd expect Theatre Babylon's annual evening of nine 10-minute playshell, anyone's evening of short playsto be hit-or-miss. This particular collection, however, leans a little too heavily on the latter part of the bargain: Almost all of the mostly Northwest playwriting here is subpar, and much of the work is more akin to extended sketch comedy.

It is a fleet evening, however, and you can find mild rewards if you need to (and you do need to, or it would be a rather limp, depressing evening). Julia Leonas and JD Lloyd are good for very cheap, incongruous laughs as our polka-playing musical hosts. Amanda Wiehe pops out of the iffy ensemble of actors to make a comic impression in two of the pieces: She finds the corrosive humor in Aimee Bruneau's otherwise thin The Addiction, about a woman who picks the wrong time in her life to quit smoking; and she's nicely haughty in Wesley Middleton's cutesy but sort of sweet short musical fable Good Thing in the Land of Bad, a piece formerly seen at ConWorks' 14/48 festival. And Cocaine, an archival work dating back to 1920, is an interesting curio: An early, melodramatic look at the effects of addiction on a skid row couple of sweetheartscomplete with that era's wonderfully slangy, hard-knocks dialogueit's solidly acted by JT Antonopoulos and Tina Witherspoon, and Lloyd's direction is easily the evening's most observant.

Next time, though, the company should take a closer look at the quality of writing it has amassed and decide whether Nine Holes really needs to rise from the ashes every year. STEVE WIECKING

THE GONDOLIERS

Bagley Wright Theatre, Seattle Center, 206-341-9612. $10-$29. 8 p.m. Thurs-Sat.; 2 p.m. matinees Sat. Ends July 26.

For its annual summer production, the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society offers an opulent and traditionalist Gondoliers. Nathan Rodda's sets and Ron Erickson's costumes are about as lush and lovely as you'll find outside the biggest professional theaters or touring shows. The casting is nearly ideal. Part of the fun of a G&S stock company is seeing favorite actors in niche rolesthe comic baritones, one traditionally skinny and one rotund, or the elderly altoand Dave Ross, William Darkow, and Alyce Rogers, respectively, are again superb. Julian Schrenzel and Amanda Brown bring special romantic chemistry, balanced nicely with sweet silliness, to the tenor/ soprano ingenue couple. The society has gathered a fine orchestra, sounding a bit better under Bernie Kwiram's firm hand than it has in recent years.

That's all well and good, but how about the piece itself? The Gondoliers was G&S's antepenultimate collaboration, and it seems as if by that time they'd forgotten nearly everything they'd ever known about pacing. And here's heresy: For all its vivaciously Mediterranean up-tempo numbers in 6/8, the show drags. Bernard Shaw's review of the premiere called it "machine made," and he was on to somethingfun as it is, you can't really point to anything particularly new or fresh in it. (When Gilbert reuses the babies-switched-at-birth plot, is he spoofing a cliché or merely falling back on one?) The society, as always, lavishes loving care on the show, but if you're not already a G&S devotee, you may wonder why. GAVIN BORCHERT

WHO AM I NOW?

Northwest Actors Studio, 1100 E. Pike St., 206-783-5559. $15. 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Ends Sat., July 26.

Thirtysomethings singing about their personal problems for two hours? It could have been unendurable, but it's actually pretty engaging. Three college pals, ex-theater majors, reunite for a weekend of wine and introspection. Wisecracking Linda (Stacie Hart) stayed with the profession, though her most visible role has been in a Maxi Pad commercial, and her relationships don't seem to stick. Solid Elaine (Page Byers) became a soccer mom with a perfect marriageor is it? Perky Joanne (Ellen Hastings), the divorcée who organized the reunion, tries to keep the other two from resenting each other while struggling with her own secret. (It's the show's most interesting performanceHastings finds a kind of likable grandeur in Joanne's relentless chirpiness.)

These women are entertaining company. OKso the premise gets a D for originality, but Hastings, who wrote the book and music, has a knack for imaginative, out-of-left-field details. The narrative nearly spins out of control when the characters start discussing death and infinity, though this does lead to an edgily profane sketch about religion. Just as edgy and funny (and as extraneous) is a number about pregnancy. You can see why Hastings didn't have the heart to cut these two, and you're glad she didn'tthey add a little grit. But the show's real gem is "In the Middle," a bluesy and quietly devastating paean to emotional numbness sung by women so demoralized they'd be willing to forgo life's highs for the sake of avoiding the lows. G.B.

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