Fatal Peril, Candida

FATAL PERIL

Broadway Performance Hall, 1625 Broadway Ave., 206-325-6500. $10-$19.75. 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sun. Ends Sun., Oct. 12.

For years, the adventurously physical UMO Ensemble has stretched out into the corners of the human psyche with nonlinear productions that don't always succeed in the textual sense but remain memorable for the aural and visual imaginings that spring from them. In short, their shows always look and sound terrific, even if the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Fatal Peril, a contemplation of society's urge toward violence, continues in that vein: It doesn't add up to much, really, but it's a triumph of design.

The "story" here is told mostly in utterancescartoon sighs and grunts, brief exclamations of fury or contempt. Aptly imagined by costume designer Tesse Crocker as postapocalyptic mimes, the company portrays episodes of human interaction that explode into varying degrees of aggression. A man noisily struggling with a bag of potato chips works the last nerve of a stranger trying to read her newspaper. Two men hurl defensive "fuck you"s at one another until the phrase is practically meaningless. A couple of loverswonderfully obese caricatures right out of a George Grosz paintingsee their idyllic affair sink into angry ennui as the repeated request "Would you like to have some tea, dear?" turns into a reason for domestic battle. Tellingly, the longest bit of dialogue in the show seems out of place: It's a detailed account of a stubborn political prisoner's brutal torture, and the production just doesn't have the substance to carry something of such alarming weight.

Not too much of the show, in fact, resonates intellectually. Much of it plays like a polished course in classroom theater games, a tone furthered by the company's use here of "unbridled raw vocals," the result of a carefully studied technique that produces an ascending, guttural moan. These vocals form a leitmotiv in Fatal Perilopening and closing the piece and interspersed generously throughout. This sometimes results in astute metaphor for the helpless howl inside anyone suffering the torments of the world, but more often amounts to someone onstage going "aaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAA!!!" for far longer than you'd care to hear.

But the piece is dreamily executed by its designers. Bill Moyer's haunting soundscape is a vivid combination of Warner Bros. 'toons and human echo, and the crumbling, surreal sort of pueblo that scenic designer Etta Lilienthal has createdthe faces of the company seem to float in the tiny square windows courtesy of LB Morse's spectral lightingwill stay with you longer than any of the ensemble's earnest cries. STEVE WIECKING

CANDIDA

Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., 206-781-9707. $10-$26. 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Thurs.; 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 2 p.m. matinee Sat. Ends Sat., Oct. 25.

Cities sometimes get the plays they deserve. Take, for instance, Taproot Theatre's staging of this G.B. Shaw playdefanged and bumptiously respun for the Seattle soft sell. The result is a proto-feminist critique of marriagelike A Doll's House, with more whimsythat now plays out like an Edwardian sitcom, textually intact but otherwise unrecognizable. Which is not to say the show sucks. Quite the contraryit's as smooth, creamy, and dietetically uplifting as a mug of hot cocoa. But the forced warmth leaves one cold.

Candida centers on a marriage shoved suddenly to crisis. The self-satisfied Reverend Morell believes he is happily married, but his wife, Candida, is a woman too intelligent and emotionally poised for her surroundingsshe definitely wears the pants. Enter youthful poet Marchbanks, whose high-flown passion for Candida whacks the couple's happy stasis. This shooting gallery setup allows Shaw to take aim at the sacred foundations of marriage and domestic happiness.

Where director Cynthia White goes awry is in the energy she expends making the three principals comical rather than emblematic; any jagged edge that might snag on all the bourgeois complacency is effectively tamped down by pratfalls and New Agey hugger-mugger. Terry Edward Moore is good as Morell, and Nolan Palmer excels as the mildly cretinous Mr. Burgess. The problem rests elsewhere: Lisa Peretti plays the heroine too broadly, tittering where she should giggle and, in general, making Candida a gadfly with too little charm; and Kevin Brady's Marchbanks is the happiest poet ever to prance the stage, more Nash than Keats. Both actors are obviously talented, yet here their dance of manners generates little tension and even less sympathy.

Taproot might do well to remember that, in the case of Shaw, you gotta dance with them that brung you. RICK LEVIN

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