Brief Encounters

THE HORROR IN THE THEATER: AN H.P. LOVECRAFT TRIPTYCH OF TERROR

Open Circle Theater, 429 Boren Ave. N., 206-382-4250. $13. Pay-what-you-will every Thurs. $2 off ticket with costume on Halloween. 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat.; 7 p.m. Sun. Ends Sat., Nov. 8.

Like Poe, horror master H.P. Lovecraft understood that the truly terrifying thing was to stretch an already creepy premise three beats past its breaking point, and to do it with deadly, almost hysterical seriousness. The folks at Open Circle Theater are nothing if not hysterically serious. They've jumped headfirst into some weird, potentially hazardous material and brought it pulsing to vivid life.

Each of three Lovecraft storiesThe Dunwich Horror, From Beyond, and The Haunter of the Darkfalls under the auspices of a different local director, and while the directorial styles are indeed distinct, each shows a great facility in tempering Lovecraft's high-minded horror with the inherent pulp campiness of the genre. It's not an easy tasktoo much comedy and the scares are scuttled. As it is, the equilibrium is just right. The directors neither condescend nor overly revere the material; the laughs and heebie-jeebies run parallel in a funhouse sort of way.

The Lovecraft cosmos is well represented hereall those phantasmagoric collisions of science and mythos, with positivism running amok and the primordial nightmares of humanity given hulking, atavistic shape. This show is scary. It's spooky. It's fun. The whole productionlight, props, sound, even puppetscreates such a giddily complete atmosphere of playful, pouncing dread that one becomes intoxicated, drugged into a state of regressive childhood where cynicism has no place, only laughing and looking and jumping at bumps in the night. RICK LEVIN

UNCLE TOM: DE-CONSTRUCTED

UW Ethnic Cultural Theatre, 3940 Brooklyn Ave. N.E., 206-325-6500. $10-$15. 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Thurs.; 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 3 p.m. Sun. Ends Sun., Oct. 12.

When Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, she might have intended to craft a good Christian novel in favor of freeing slaves, but we all know that old chestnut about where good intentions lead. What Stowe actually created was sentimentalist drivel that became a potent symbol of sneaky racism in the form of the Uncle Tom caricature. Director Tawnya Pettiford-Wates and her collective-driven The Conciliation Project take Beecher Stowe to task for the egregious error; the student cast dons blackface and whiteface for a disturbing minstrel show.

Accompanied by a live band dressed in KKK hoods, uncle tom: deconstructed abandons political correctness and throws punches at modern-day "Uncle Tom" attitudes. No one is spared on either side of the racial divide in this gloves-off approach, refreshing in an age of minced words.

The show is billed as a "ritual play," which partly means it eschews realism for visceral appeal, and partly means it repeats itself a bit. The concept has potential, though tighter production values and a more focused script could probably bolster the effect. The play consistently indulges a need to explain itself along the way. But the powerful imagespointed caricatures, wicked smilescan certainly speak for themselves: Several members of audience and cast were reduced to tears by show's end. LEAH B. GREEN

STILL PLAYING AND RECOMMENDED

THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE

Seattle Children's Theatre, Seattle Center, 206-441-3322. $12-$26. 7 p.m. Fri.; 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Ends Fri., Oct. 24.

This adaptation of Avi's award-winning novel is beautifully staged, perfectly paced, and morally unambiguousin short, just the play to keep the kiddies riveted to their seats for a solid hour and a half. Set aboard a 19th-century cargo ship sailing from England to America, the story revolves around the awakening of young Charlotte to both the beauty and the perfidy of human nature. Strong feminist overtones cut with lots of breathtaking action sequences, sea chanties, and a cast of colorful scamps make for an exquisitely balanced production. One caveat: It's a bit heavy at times, so sensitive young souls be warned. R.L.

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