Opening Nights: Death, Sex and Pharaoh Serket

Death, SexBalagan Theatre, 1117 E. Pike St., 800-838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.com. $12–$20. 8 & 10 p.m. Fri., 8 p.m. Sat. Ends Feb. 28.The Greeks, and Freud after them, perceived a colossal and epically fraught tug-of-war between Eros (the life force) and Thanatos (the death drive). Balagan's production of Death, Sex mines this charged dynamic for all it's worth, which turns out to be a lot. This six-pack of 10-minute comedies proves a wise choice in these anxious times, when commitment to a full night's play might feel unaffordably risky. For less money than a Beverly Hills cocktail, you get six diverse packages of smart laughs delivered by a confident and well-cast cast.At the top of the heap comedically, David Mamet's Scene 2 of Romance kills. It kills! No other Mamet could get a room going like this. The audience member to my right claimed to have had "an accident" as a result of the hilarious bonfire of religious sensitivities kindled by straight man Curtis Eastwood and further gassed by the maniacally provocative Jason Harber, whose eyeballs deserve special cast billing. Mayo Simon's At Sea is a stark allegory of romantic relationship dynamics: Edie primly reads a book, periodically yanking a rope tied to Hal, the human motor of their romantic vessel. A conversation that seems headed into bitter gender stereotypes deftly steers clear just in time, and rigorously specific performances by Hannah Schnabel and Ryan Higgins make the abstractly symbolic set feel realer than real.In The Only Leg He's Got, a seemingly ravenous-for-each-other Russian couple conducts a volley of long-distance love letters while amorous pursuits of a more tangible nature distract the mister. Grandiloquent text delivered in ardent deadpan during dreamily contradictory choreography exposes the mendacity of verbal language and forgives a forgettable ending. Vampyre, by local playwright Darian Lindle, opens in high camp with the seduction of a gorgeous ingénue by her voluptuous colleague on a dark and stormy night that turns out to be—surprise!—a movie set. Film and vampire/lesbian clichés abound deliberately, pilloried in SNL style, as a vampire educates his scene director on how the dark life really works, and on what every vampire really wants: a car or a job.Tonally different from the other five pieces, Rinne Groff's Orange Lemon Egg Canary feels too emotionally vulnerable for such a high-concept lineup. Like someone giving a painfully earnest homily during a roast, this loss-of-innocence monologue leaves one cringing a bit. Adding to the challenge is the difficulty of not seeing grim-faced Chris Bell as the vampire he plays earlier.Rounding out the night is Shel Silverstein's The Best Daddy, in which Dad (dapper Ashley Bagwell) torments his daughter on her 13th birthday. Actress LaChrista Borgers avoids the common pitfall of playing cute, rendering the soaring peaks and plunging valleys of adolescent emotion with nuance. Over the course of a well-justified tantrum, her entire being becomes the exuberant spirit not only of Silverstein but of Jules Feiffer, Maurice Sendak, Bill Watterson, and other genius caricaturists of youthful human nature. MARGARET FRIEDMANPharaoh Serket and the Lost Stone of FireSeattle Children's Theatre, Seattle Center, 441-3322. $13–$33. Mostly Thurs.–Fri. at 7 p.m., Sat.–Sun at 2 & 5:30 p.m.; see www.sct.org for exact schedule. Ends March 7.This latest premiere from Seattle Children's Theatre won't hold any surprises for you if you're over the age of 11. Written by John Olive (Jason and the Golden Fleece), the plot is mostly borrowed from tried-and-true Disney formulas, with a few Harry Potter tropes thrown in for good measure. Serket (Trick Danneker) is a meek and sniveling young pharaoh living in the shadow of his deceased but apparently heroic father. His authority is threatened by the power-hungry high priest, Harkhuf (David Pichette), who makes no effort to conceal the fact that he's the bad guy. Serket finds himself mysteriously ill, and along comes Zalira (Hana Lass), a strong-willed, provincial woman who teaches the pharaoh a thing or two about elitism, courage, and naturopathic medicine. When it's convenient for the plot, she also has supernatural powers. Zalira tells Serket of a magical stone with the powers to turn him into a strong leader. They set off on a journey to uncover it, aided by a goofy sidekick (MJ Sieber) who sneezes when he's nervous, which is always.You've presumably guessed by now that it's not the stone that Serket really needs. Children, though, are unlikely to be bothered by these clichés. For them it's a visually stunning production. Designed by Jennifer Lupton, the set shifts every scene, transporting us from the pharaoh's bedchamber to the inside of a tomb to various desert locations. Director Kurt Beattie has catered to an ADD crowd: Pharaoh Serket is ultimately an action play, and he's kept it fast and lively. The cast takes particular enjoyment in the opportunity for over-the-top performances. I for one could have done with less sneezing, but then I'm not really the target audience. Based on the kids' reaction at the performance I saw, the show could consist of nothing more than a sneezing chorus, and they'd be thrilled. BRENT ARONOWITZstage@seattleweekly.com

 
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