Anse and Bhule, Five Women Wearing the Same Dress

The Further Adventures of Anse and Bhule in No-Man's Land

Sound Theatre Company at Center House Theatre, Seattle Center, 800-838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.com. $12–$15. 8 p.m. Thurs.–Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Ends Nov. 18.

There seem to be two postapocalyptic scenarios competing in the popular imagination. In one, best exemplified by Cormac McCarthy's recent Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Road, the ruined world is a cold, barren, inhospitable place populated by roving bands of desperate survivors bent on cannibalizing each other. In the other, as in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, the world is a warm, barren, hardscrabble desert populated by roving bands of desperate survivors creating a new mythology from the scraps of consumer civilization. It's a wet dream, but it sure fires the imagination of a lot of sci-fi and fantasy writers.

In Tania Myren's play The Further Adventures of Anse and Bhule in No-Man's Land, which seems to fall into the latter category, a pair of primitive-looking "clubbers" (not the techno-and-Ecstasy type but the bam-bam-you're-dead type) roam the sandy wasteland, "cleaning" (i.e., killing) abominations in the form of "wrigglers," which apparently are bad or unclean people. Anse (Lance Channing) and Bhule (Shane Regan) speak a pidgin Scots-English that trucks in a type of Rastafarian slang cut with words from French and Latin. In the wake of the earth's "bust-up," they perform a series of bastardized rituals cobbled together from found or vaguely recalled objects. It eventually comes to light that Anse may indeed be the "Prime," something like, one assumes, the busted-up world's Jesus figure. Complications arise when the brothers stumble upon a mother-daughter duo, Margueritte (Vanessa Clayton) and Persephone (Christine Longe), who throw the brethren and their reconstructed beliefs into chaos: Anse, the obvious leader, wants to kill them, but Bhule, the more ambivalent and empathetic of the two, isn't so sure. What ensues is a collision of faith and survival that has a lot to say about language and the cultural roots of ritualized violence.

The play, directed by Sound Theatre Company founder Teresa Thuman, is by turns fascinating and frustrating. Like Anthony Burgess' constructed subcultural argot in A Clockwork Orange, Myren's made-up language is a brilliant hodgepodge, and it takes a bit of work to pick it up (though, likely, "uze new dat"), but once you get the hang of it, the dialogue assumes an urgency central to the play's message. Both Channing and Regan do an excellent job making Myren's language natural-sounding and as understandable as possible, but Longe seems a bit uncomfortable with it; for instance, it takes a while to figure out that her odd phrase "dollars and yen" is supposed to be an epithet, on the level of "damn it all." Nonetheless, the small cast does a credible job with very difficult material. The end of the world probably won't look anything like this, but Myren's vision of a primitive culture rebuilding itself makes for a pretty interesting and entertaining couple of hours. RICHARD MORIN

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress

Work It Productions at Ground Floor Studio Theatre, 1529 10th Ave., 800-838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.com. $12–$15. 8 p.m. Fri.–Sat. Ends Dec. 1.

Alan Ball, a playwright-turned-television-writer whose most recent hit was the HBO series Six Feet Under, has a knack for penning offbeat, generally fucked-up characters who traipse the razor's edge of stereotype, creating comically macabre situations that often capture some psychological or emotional dark truth creeping under the veneer of suburban politeness. Ball's dialogue is sharp (if sometimes ponderous or aphoristic), as is his eye for that telling character quirk. Overall, however, he seems to lack the ability to sustain a narrative beyond the sitcom's 30-minute ticker-tape resolutions; even his biggest critical success, American Beauty, felt more like a patchwork of powerful moments and oversized characters than a cohesive film.

It's the high arc that eludes Ball. In his play Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, Ball scatters narrative threads like so much confetti until the floor is littered with unresolved subplots. The story of five bridesmaids hiding out in the bride's sister's bedroom while a wedding reception unfolds offstage, Five Women plays out as an intimate, emotionally revealing collision of strangers, acquaintances, and ex-friends, each of whom will come to reveal her soul. The women smoke pot. Share stories of unrequited love. Argue religion. Talk about AIDS. Uncover a rape. There are some fine moments scattered here, full of Ball's trademark dark humor and piquant dialogue. And yet somehow Five Women just doesn't add up to a satisfying dramatic experience. Despite the tangle of stories, it never gathers any serious momentum; the whole is lessened by the parts.

Work It's production, directed by Amy Irvin, exacerbates these weaknesses. On the merely technical side, the stage is too big and the set too spare and spread out, creating a sense of isolation and space where there should be intimacy. What's more, the lights are way too bright, and the broad V-shape of the seating puts the audience distractingly into the lit-up line of sight. A couple of the actors, most notably Katy Bingham as the oversexed Trish and Jennifer Fredette as the groom's lesbian sister, Mindy, do the best they can, but mostly the cast seems at a loss as to how best to deliver Ball's lines. This seems almost forgivable. Without the powerhouse, nearly over-the-top performances of Annette Bening and Kevin Spacey, American Beauty would have been pretty forgettable. You can only dance with them that brung ya. RICHARD MORIN

 
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