Theater

Laughing in the Dark

Three Comedies

Chris Bennion

How? How? Why? Why? Why?

Seattle Repertory Theatre

Through April 19.

In 2001, Minnesota-based storyteller Kevin Kling was supposed to perform his new monologue—Baseball, Dogs and Motorcycles—at the Seattle Rep. Three weeks before his flight to Seattle, he crashed his motorcycle and broke his body. The wreck rearranged his teeth, permanently yanked his nerves out of his left arm, and launched him into a coma.

Six years and several surgeries later, Kling has finally brought his show about baseball, dogs, and motorcycles—and now, death and disability—to the Seattle Rep. Despite its existentially gloomy title, How? How? Why? Why? Why? never treads too far down the thorny path of despair. Even with his new disabilities, Kling remains an unflagging ambassador for Minnesotans as portrayed on National Public Radio—good-natured, long-suffering, self-effacing people.

Kling must tire of comparisons to Garrison Keillor, but they can't be helped. He's a Minnesotan and NPR contributor who talks about severe winters and eccentric farmers, and begins one story with: "I remember when I learned about love. It was Miss Jensen's fifth-grade class." Throw in his pretty coperformer in the red housedress who plays Loretta Lynn songs on her accordion and it looks like he's actively courting the comparisons.

Kling is a grinning, folksy host, but he occasionally pulls back the curtain and lets us peek at the frustration and anger of the last six years, by sympathizing with homicidal hunchback Richard III and daring a bit of gallows humor: "You might have a disability if you turn to your lover and say: 'Hey, that feels really good—is that your arm or mine?'" But How? How? Why? Why? Why? is mostly an evening of sweet little stories about disreputable uncles, mischievous older brothers, and first loves. Which, all things considered, is just fine. BRENDAN KILEY

Legends in Their Own Minds: The Habit Strikes Back

The Habit at Rendezvous

Through March 29.

I guess I expected sketch comedy from Legends in Their Own Minds, seeing as it was a reunion performance of erstwhile sketch comedy troupe the Habit. But nope. Instead, Legends is erstwhile sketch comedy performers telling stories—and I don't mean coordinated, tight, thematically knit monologues. Just stories. Stories that would be funnier if you knew (or cared about) the people involved.

Still, it's hard not to be drunk and happy at the Rendezvous. Mara Siciliano told a toe-clenching tragedy of unrequited teenage love. And I particularly liked David Swidler's account of painting Garfield High School's smokestack, back in the pregentrification, preremodel days, when the building was still an asbestos sandwich held together with bits of string and Quincy Jones's ghost. "Here I am hiding from the police in a bush after running through the Central District," he said. "Finally, white teenagers have skirted the law."

Then came a tale by one Mr. Mark Siano. Mark Siano does not know it, but we are in a fight. Last October, I wrote a review of his Super Soft Rock Spectacular, in which I quoted the funniest line: "I can see most of you have at least two ears and a heart, so you're gonna love some Phil Collins." Ha ha. Funny enough. Then, not a week later, I got around to watching 30 Rock on DVD, only to hear a slightly funnier version of that line from the lips of Alec Baldwin! Thievery! Unabashed thievery!

I was willing to give Siano another chance. His story, fairly amusing, was about youthful kleptomania, a Wesley Snipes­–lookin' security guard, and thinking, "You never, ever, ever follow Wesley Snipes to a second location." I'm sorry, what? I can't hear you over my brain exploding. Replace "Wesley Snipes" with "hippie" and you've got ANOTHER Alec Baldwin 30 Rock rip-off! "And from that moment," Siano finished, "I never stole again." Um, yeah. Except for ALL OF ALEC BALDWIN'S JOKES. This blood feud is fucking on. LINDY WEST

The Miser

Seattle Shakespeare Company

Through April 6.

All that matters in this adaptation of The Miser is the production of laughter. The actors wring comedy out of Molière's 17th-century farce, falling on their faces, running into walls, yelling at the audience—anything to break normal breathing rhythms into laughing fits. Recall the movie Monsters, Inc., in which scary creatures travel to human bedrooms to generate the energy that powers Monsteropolis: the screams of frightened children. Something similar is at work in this performance of The Miser, except it's laughter that electrifies Molièropolis.

The man who plays the miser, Todd Jefferson Moore, breaks out of his character, out of the script, out of the historical context to comment on current affairs—the crash of the housing market, the strange habits of Mayor Nickels, and the absurdity of the Bush administration's policy on torture. (The latter comment almost received a standing ovation on the rainy Saturday afternoon when I watched the play.) But this mixing of the past and the present works. Why? Because it mocks a play that is itself all about mockery—mockery of marriage, of romance, of the rich and the poor, and, most importantly, mockery of theatrical conventions. If you are ticklish, if you are easily amused, if you are the sort who erupts before a joke is completed, this performance has your name written all over it. You will laugh for days. You will laugh like nobody's business. Everyone will see your gums in the dark. CHARLES MUDEDE

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