Opening Nights

LIVING OUT

Seattle Repertory Theatre; ends Sat., Jan. 31

Sandwiched between Coca-Cola commercials on the Fox Network, Lisa Loomer's treatise on the question of Who Is Raising Our Children might play like a smart-mouthed, irreverent little diversion. On stage, however, it resembles nothing more than a bloated sitcom regrettably free of regular bathroom breaks.

Nancy Robin (Julie Briskman, making the most of a bum gig) is a married L.A. yuppie heading back to the law office after maternity leave and full of angst about leaving her newborn with nanny Ana Hernandez (sunny Stephanie Diaz). Ana is an ambitious illegal immigrant with a child back in El Salvador and, unbeknownst to Nancy, another little boy at home with currently unemployed husband Bobby (Ricardo Antonio Chavira). Nancy, you see, may have the requisite white guilt and ersatz liberal compassion, but she won't, ironically, hire anyone who might have to leave her child to care for her own.

Matthew Smucker's set, utilizing the same sliding panels and furniture pieces for both Ana's and Nancy's homes, briskly suggests that all of the protagonists are living under the same roof. Loomer, alas, is not quite so nimble, and neither is director Sharon Ott. The production is brightly performed but completely fraudulent, driving its broad points into place with the subtlety of an SUV. Nancy frequently heads to the park to get counsel from two other SoCal mothers (Liz McCarthy and Leslie Law, both way over the top). Ana spends time there, too, commiserating with her peanut gallery (Maria Elena Ramirez and Minerva Garcia, making the most of their punch lines as fellow nannies-in-distress). Meanwhile Nancy's hubby, Richard (Paul Morgan Stetler), gets very worked up by televised sports; so does Ana's Bobby. Gosh, we really are all just a part of the human family, aren't we?

The production seems intended to entertain the same Prada-wearing, Palm Pilot-toting, kiss-kissing women it so smugly mocks. Loomer doesn't dare make anyone uncomfortablethe characters are such cartoons that her intended targets in the audience can congratulate themselves on not being like these icky women. You lose any hope for subtle shadings after the curtain rises on Act I and McCarthy almost immediately sniffs, "Good God, everyone's from El Salvador these days! What happened to the Mexicans?" Then Ott gets her hands on the material and conflates the pat proceedings with her usual overstatement until it approaches musical comedy hyperbole: When the trio of sassy ethnic nannies gathers center stage over the woes of life in uptown L.A., you could swear they're about to launch into "America" from West Side Story.

Despite all Loomer's textual strutting about tough questions, all available evidence here suggests she has an easy message: Women should just quit their jobs and stay at home (and, oh, yeah, El Salvadorans are people, too). When Richard sobs that all he wants out of life is a real family, no one ever suggests that he stay at home. But Loomer doesn't have time for such complexitiesshe's too busy hauling out a preposterous tragedy for the big finale. You know the show has lost all sense of irony when it asks you to take the sight of four people making frantic cell phone calls as high drama. STEVE WIECKING

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM

The 5th Avenue; ends Sun., Feb. 1

If you ask me to name Broadway's funniest musical comedy, this 1962 Stephen Sondheim farce with a hit-and-run book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart would be my first choice. Sondheim's youthful score is somehow both so lewd and urbane"Everybody Ought to Have a Maid," that great paean to lechery, is as pitch-perfect as anything Noel Coward ever wroteand the Shevelove/Gelbart bawd-fest so indestructible, that even a lesser production will have you laughing, which is all that matters if you've plunked down good money for an evening of entertainment.

This is good news for Phillip George's production, which has only about half the amount of riotous shtick it begs for. David Scully is Pseudolus, the Roman slave trying frantically to win his freedom by snaring the hand of virginal courtesan Philia (Billie Wildrick) for his dim young master, Hero (Tom Plotkin), even though she's been promised to vain "slaughterer of thousands" Miles Gloriosus (Timothy McCuen Piggee). Wildrick is charming, Plotkin is having fun knocking Keanu Reeves, and Piggee's butch peacocking makes the best turn of the night, but Scully is another matter: He's funny, certainly, but he's not funny in the agile, robust, spontaneous way required to keep this thing bouncing off the walls. You buy him as a fast-talking con man, but not as a clown, and a clown is what this show needs more than anything.

You'll probably enjoy it anyway, if you let go of any high hopes you may have had for it to really bust you in the gut. The production relies too heavily on its cast-full-of- familiar-local-actors pedigreeR. Hamilton Wright also isn't particularly hysterical as Hysterium, Pseudolus' quivering sidekick but the show's innate screwball goodwill comes through. Go have a good time, and pick it apart later. S.W.

DREAM OF ZEUS

Consolidated Works; ends Sun., Jan. 25

Composer/librettist Garrett Fisher's gentle take on the House of Atreus saga is so obliquely allusive in its stylization, and so skittish about concrete depiction, that the human characters aren't given specific namesi.e., the King, the Queen, the Daughteror, in one case, even a gender (the Child). The text is sparse, highly repetitive, and often in Greekyou won't pick up the plot points without reading the synopsis in the program. Weapons are suggested by the chorus' handheld drums (playing a clever counterpoint with the percussion in the orchestra), and there's much choreographic play with long ribbons of cloth. The whole cast wears solemnity like a mask, only rarely allowing a hint of the grief, anger, and bloodlust suggested in the roiling storyline which, after all, includes three murders in its two brief acts.

Fisher and director Ilene Fins have a knack for writing and staging intricate, fuguelike ensemble scenes, and with set and lighting designer Jon Harmon, costume designer Emily McLaughlin, and choreographer Gary Zinter, they've created something remarkably attractive on what must have been a tiny budget. Fisher's notes for the six-piece orchestra are few but well chosen: minutes-long drones on the harmonium, threads of English horn, an occasional boom-boom! from the Taiko drum or wash of harmony from the keyboard or lute. This delicate pastel score, almost none of it up-tempo, wafts like incense under the singers' chantlike vocal lines, eschewing the usual operatic functions of propelling the drama or painting and differentiating characters. These are legitimate choices for a theater composer, but then how do you create a sense of urgency?

It's all very lovely, very poised, and very distant. Not that Greek myth should always be Grand Guignol, but no matter how hieratic their approach, music-theater makers are not absolved from the responsibility of grabbing the audience and making them care. GAVIN BORCHERT

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