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. and Wed., Aug. 20. Ends Sun., Aug. 24.
Theater dealing with questions of sanity almost always tries to convince you that it's exploring the gray areas of the human mind, and then ends up swearing that the shrink is the crazy one and the guy who poked out all the horses' eyes is some kind of wunderkind. Blue/Orange, playwright Joe Penhall's British award winner, is no clunky Equus, but it does morph into something just as obvious.
Christopher (Sylvester Foday Kamara), a young black man, is about to be released from psychiatric care in a London hospital. Earnest first-year psychiatrist Bruce (Ian Brennan) thinks Christopher is schizophrenic and should remain in the facility; jaded superior Robert (Laurence Ballard) advises less hospital expenditure. What gets this clichéd setup kicking is the issue of race and its part in the dizzying doublespeak of mental-health discussions: Robert maintains that Bruce's diagnosis is based on "ethnocentricity," an opinion that sounds both like a sincere defense and a frighteningly cavalier dismissal of a very troubled human being.
Director Kate Whoriskey means well and keeps things moving, but the production turns petty whenever the play does. Penhall wants to find a Bad Guy; Robert becomes such a bald racist that by the end of the play he's telling Chris to "go listen to some reggae music." Soon Bruce is hollering, "My career is on the line!" to the beleaguered patient and the proceedings go belly-up. Brennan never veers from one strangulated note, and Whoriskey eventually lets Ballard, who begins so cagily, do his combustive grandstanding thing. Kamara, however, does fine work in a strictly reactive rolethe production wouldn't work at all if he didn't seem as fearfully torn asunder as he does.
To be fair, the evening is no less engrossing for its lunkheaded manipulations, but it disturbs you for the wrong reasonsnot because it's a difficult, balanced discussion of a dodgy issue, but because it poses as one and then goes right on ahead and tells you what to think. STEVE WIECKING
JOHN LENNON'S GARGOYLE
Theater Schmeater, 1500 Summit Ave., 206-325-6500. $12-$15. Pay-what-you-can Thurs. 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat.; 2 p.m. select Sun. Ends Sat., Sept. 6.
Less a reworking of Candide than an amped-up, pop-savvy spin on the ordeal of Job, this is the story of one man's descent into an impacted nightmare of crappy decisions and twisted fate. Self-proclaimed asshole Frank (a nicely smarmy/charming Craig Zaguski) gets drunk, steals a gargoyle from the apartment building where Lennon was shot, and then, trophy in hand, travels uptown to cheat on his wife. Big "oops." Frank wakes up in a tubful of ice, missing both kidneys. From this point on, things get pretty bad, as in David Lynch bad, and juiced by some engaging if obvious noir trickery.
Olympia-based playwright Bryan Willis hangs his creepy comic narrative on the by-now hackneyed device of urban myths coming trueyou know, dogs exploding in microwaves, psycho hitchhikers, et al. Atop this puffing, he lards on all manner of Americana and pop references; you can see Elvis coming a mile away. Yet, despite the cumulative clank of such cleverness, the play mostly works. Frank's trialsalong with his "why me?" whimper and stompregister as a timely condemnation of an unconscious yuppie optimism that is as smug as it is oblivious. The talented cast brings an antic energy to the production that elevates it over any moments of dead weight. That the play is also short (a mere 90 minutes) makes it therefore sweet and grants all weight a lightnessand vice versa. RICK LEVIN
ACTION MOVIE: THE PLAY!
Consolidated Works, 500 Boren Ave. N., 206-325-6500. $10-$15. 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. Cast and crew benefit Wed., Aug. 20. Ends Sat., Aug. 30.
No spoof should ever allow you the chance to ponder whether its punching-the-pregnant-lady-in-the-stomach bit is in the best taste. Joe Foust and Richard Ragsdale's drubbing of the action-film genre is harmless, and it's only out to show you a goofy good time, but it's paced and performed so sluggishly that you mostly notice what isn't working.
Whacked-out military megalomaniac Kreegar (Yusef Lambert) is out to, yep, rule the world, so mysterious Dr. Xylene (Jose Amador) gathers up a mighty task force (a hardened cop, Kung Fu Guy, Cyborg Woman, etc.) to take the villain out. Great, except that director Andy Jensen and fight choreographer Peter Dylan O'Connor's terrifically clever action set piecesincluding an extended car chase and John Woo-ish duels aided by Bunraku-style stagehandsmove far too methodically and are surrounded by actors who seem to have timed their jokes on a sundial (Lambert is remarkably unfunny, and intent on making you pay for it).
Don't blame everything on the production. The playwrights have tons of built-in targets, and what do they go for? Poop jokes. Pedophilia asides. It's telling that the best performance comes from Brandon Whitehead as a horny computer whizthe blissfully nonsensical actor is a veteran of Theater Schmeater's long-running action takeoff, Money & Run, a show that has everything Action Movie lacks: other funny people, keen-eyed affection for the material, and the good sense to dash right by every dumb gag. S.W.