Velocity MainSpace Theater; ends Sun., Nov. 23
Alex Martin and Freya Wormus of BetterBiscuitDance have a knack for undercutting expectationsa liquid phrase is just as likely to end with an abrupt collapse as a pretty tableau. A witty view of disguise, "Cover," the first of the evening's trio of works, keeps its schizophrenic nature to the last, presenting both a "tragic" and a "Hollywood" ending. And Martin brings a manic energy to the danceshe windmills her arms before a jump, gathering momentum and then letting it loose.
"The Winners" is a sleekly edited videotape of the piece the company performed on the park circuit last summer. Examining when "a game becomes a battle," choreographer Martinalong with videographer John Dixon combines some traditional sports-film techniques with home-movie styles. Well into the video, a solo dancer (Shannon McNamee) emerges from under a pile of AstroTurf. Dressed in a combination of sports gear and body armor, she begins to strip off layers, and with them most of her aggressive behavior. By the end she's down to bike shorts and a T-shirt, peeling a tiny Band-Aid off her chest, and giving us a smile.
Wormus' "the tragedy" is in need of the same deft editingthis new dance seems overlong and repetitive. Some beautiful sequences tend to get lost in the shuffle (we can already see that the characters are struggling to keep a good face on things in the midst of chaoswe don't need to hear the theme song from The Donna Reed Show on top of it). It's telling that one of the most powerful moments in the work is a filmed image of water seeping out of a suitcase: It's spare, it's evocative, and it's what BetterBiscuit can usually do with dance alone. SANDRA KURTZ
New City Warehouse; ends Sat., Nov. 29
I'd never encountered this short piece from playwright Caryl (Cloud Nine) Churchill, and I don't want to overrate New City's confident production of itthat would squash its modest, compact forcebut I have to say that the show is about 50 minutes long and feels more resonant than any two hours you'll spend in some other venue.
The piece opens in a moment of apparently banal innocence, with young Joan (Elena Kazanjian) coming downstairs from bed in the middle of the night. Her Aunt Harper (Mary Ewald) asks the child if she's cold but, no, Joan just can't sleepit seems she's heard some noises and seen some things and wants to know why there were so many people outside in the dark with Uncle. Harper, with tangible unease, tells her that it was only a party. "If it was a party," Joan asks, "why was there so much blood?"
From there, Churchill's fanged absurdism quietly uncoilsyou know something's waiting, but you don't know when it will strike. Now a woman grown into her chosen silences, Joan (Sarah Harlett) gradually becomes enmeshed in the nebulously described, Orwellian politics of hat making with prideful co-craftsman Todd (Malte Frid-Nielsen). The two woo one another over murky, Pinter-esque pauses and swear with self-congratulatory determination that they will speak out against corruption in the chapeau businessboth casually neglecting to discuss the darker implications of their work, the truth about which we become privy to in an unsettling bit of surreal stage business involving a parade. By the time Joan has returned to Harper's house with Todd, the country is at war with random enemies, and the three characters are feverishly debating the vagaries of Latvian dentists, duplicitous mallards, and murderous crocodiles ("It is always right to be against crocodiles," Harper proclaims).
Director John Kazanjian handles all of this with the kind of cool resolve it demands. The play has a lot to say on the global perils of personal willful ignorance, but would blow its cover if it went in for the kill too soon. It has poisonously pitch-black comic bite here because, following Churchill's lead, Kazanjian calmly holds it back until he knows he can get its teeth in good and deep. His compelling performers all respond with jagged reserve, a sharp, halting weirdness that sets you on edgeyou want to know what they know but, fiendishly, it's never enough. STEVE WIECKING
OVER THE MOON
Seattle Repertory Theatre; ends Sat., Dec. 6
If only Steven Dietz ran Hollywood! David Ira Goldstein's effervescent staging of Dietz's adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse's novel A Small Bachelor (itself an adaptation of a 1918 Wodehouse/Kern/Bolton musical) supplies what's missing from most modern comedy: character, setting, worship of language, respect for the audience, distinctive authorial intelligence, virtuoso actingand you've got to see those iridescent, bead-crazy, flapperdaceous 1920s clothes by David Kay Mickelsen.
Dietz transports us to giddy Greenwich Village, 1927, flavorfully evoked by Scott Weldin's double-jointed scenic design. On the penthouse of a small bachelor apartment, compact bachelor painter George Finch pines for the debutante of his dreams, the frothy, stylish, whiny Molly Waddington (Liz McCarthy). It's enough to drive him to drink, conveniently available in the speakeasy just down the fire escape. His know-it-all pal, Hamilton Beamish, opines that Finch should quit pining and simply appoint a wife by pure ratiocination, as Beamish plans to do. Clearly, he'll be beamish indeed in short order: over the moon, spats-over-starched-collar in love. As Finch, acrobatic stumblebum R. Hamilton Wright superbly demonstrates the importance of being earnest in farce. Bob Sorenson (who resembles Letterman from certain angles) makes a neat Beamish, all precise gestures and clipped syllables, even when love transmogrifies him from linguistic martinet to snazzy slang-spouting swain.
Finch fixes to woo Molly via her parents. Mrs. Waddington (the ineffable Suzy Hunt) reacts with a jowly scowl. Finch is, after all, an artist of shady acquaintance; the matron accuses him of playing the ukulele. But uxorious Mr. Waddington (the John Wayne-scaled Ken Ruta) is less inclined to block the match: A Zane Grey fan, forever emitting lines like, "Well, spank me with a skunk and call me stinky," he instantly warms to Finch upon learning he's from Idaho. People keep interrupting Beamish when he tries to explain Finch is rich.
At every step, love, dreams, and common sense are nimbly thwarted. Finch can't win at canvas or altar. Beamish traduces his principles for a fortune-teller with a past (sprightly Kirsten Potter). Finch's ex-con valet Mullet (Roberto Guajardo) can't get his fiancée (Julie Briskman) to forsake pickpocketing for life on a duck farm. The Waddingtons' stiff-upper-lipped butler (David Pichette) can't get respect, though the tabloids may help him get even. A cop, Garroway (Jeff Steitzer), bungles a speakeasy bust and his budding career as a poet. Nobody could milk more laughs from Garroway's lines than Steitzer, arguably Seattle's master farceur. But almost everybody's a master in this piece, cracking up the house even with the lines that aren't intrinsically funny. And often, the stellar cast fetches laughs wordlessly: Pichette disgustedly carrying off Waddington's coonskin cap as if it were reeking roadkill, Waddington disconsolately dragging his lariat offstage after a verbal whupping by the missus.
Dietz's skillfully crafted finale wraps up all the writhing threads with a stylish, tidy intelligence absent from most entertainment today. For sheer helium silliness, Over the Moon outdoes Orton and equals much of Stoppard. Dietz discovered the Wodehouse book when Amazon.com's similarities software recommended it to him. Like Amazon, Over the Moon is fated to get big fast. TIM APPELO