Wing-It Productions at Historic University Theater

Through Nov 17.

The folks at Cupcake, a "naughty" two-man improv comedy, sent us a wheedling letter about their popular late-night show with "record-breaking crowds of 150+ (with lines forming four hours in advance!!!)" Because I am a fan of extreme punctuation and I wanted to see what the college kids are up to these days, I went. To the University District. At midnight-thirty.

There was a long line of blushing freshmen, chatting and smoking. A conversation sample: "Are you the kind of person who hates it when your favorite band gets popular? Yah. But don't you want them to be successful? No, I want them to be making me cool." Someone in a darkened apartment building across the street shouted out of his window with a megaphone: "All you standing in line are corporate tools! You are tools of Bush! If you want to get rid of Bush [pause], show us your tits!" The boys in line laughed that dude-laugh while the girls looked around and giggled uncomfortably. Then the doors opened and we shuffled in.

Cupcake, featuring Ethan Newberry and Justin Sund, isn't adult-naughty; it's kid-naughty. The introductory film sequence gets a lot of excited laughs because one guy wears a black dildo hanging out of his fly, which the other smashes with his face. It's that kind of show—and it has the fresh-faced kids rolling in the aisles. Newberry and Sund seem smart, with the capacity for comedy somewhere deep inside, but it's so easy to make these young'uns laugh, they don't have to work very hard. A few Hitler jokes, a few Jesus jokes, a few dick 'n' pussy jokes and they're done.

I left before Cupcake was over, but I'm an old man—I need my rest. And dick jokes make me yawn. BRENDAN KILEY

The Colour Out of Space

Open Circle Theater

Through Nov 11.

All H. P. Lovecraft stories follow the same structure:

1. Something horrible is going to happen.

2. O, God! Something horrible is happening!

3. Something horrible—too horrible to explain—just happened.

It doesn't help that his dialogue is horrendous. In the play, an earnest farmer describes a dead animal: "The face bore an expression the likes no woodchuck ever bore."

If you've never enjoyed Lovecraft's pulp-horror pleasures, Colour is not for you. But if, as a pissy teenager, you browsed a copy of the Necronomicon for the playing-with-imaginary-fire fun of it, it's essential viewing. Composed of three short plays cleverly tied together with vital details, Colour is the kind of horrorfest where a rural cop can disregard a naked sacrifice to Cthulhu as the harmless play of "city folk." "Jagged rifts in time" appear, people are frequently driven mad, and the cast seems to be having a ball.

Which isn't to say that OCT is playing the material off as dumb: The lighting and sound work, and all the assorted special effects are impressive. The actors put as much weight into their clichéd victims as they can: Dustin Engstrom uses schizophrenic tics to deepen his slow descent into madness, Toni Rose's immortal monster at first seems like an enticingly bitchy new girlfriend. And The Thing on the Doorstep, a new play written by Maggie Lee set in the Arkham mythos, actually ups the dramatic ante by using Lovecraft's creeping terror as a metaphor for homoerotic tension between two friends. The only bad part of the show is the runtime: two and a half hours of horrible things—about to happen, happening, and just happened—squanders the audience's eager complicity long before the final curtain. PAUL CONSTANT

The Transylvanian Clockworks

Balagan Theatre at Capitol Hill Arts Center

Through Oct 21.

As Victorian morality butts heads with heaving Victorian bosoms and Jack the Ripper creeps through London separating ladies from their viscera, Jonathan Harker returns from Transylvania shrieking of boxes and wolves and empty rooms. All appearances, at this point, indicate a standard Dracula rehash. Harker, as usual, is all haunted and cuckoo. Mina and Lucy flutter about. Van Helsing blusters. That mysterious Transylvanian Count doesn't drink... wine.

Then Clockworks expands into some interesting, if not altogether unexpected, regions. Playwright Don Nigro is concerned with preconceptions of the peculiar, with how moralizing begets monstrosity (and not so much vice versa). His script is frenzied and ornate, sometimes ridiculously so ("God is a maniac and a cannibal. He's eating my head right now," howls Jonathan)—the kind of crushed-velvet corniness that can only work in a blood-soaked, eroticized Victorian vampire story.

Period pieces are hard to pull off, especially on a limited budget, but Clockworks succeeds. The set is minimal but convincing; precarious corsetry abounds, well constructed and shapely. The actors commit to their lines (like "my hand is bleeding because I'm real and I want you to kiss it," and "no one loves the dead") with shameless gusto, only rarely stumbling into dangerous ham-n-cheese territory. They even manage, at times, some genuine creepiness, thanks mostly to the sinister sneer and glide of Roy Stanton's Dracula. His m.o. is pleasantly ambiguous, menacing yet vulnerable. He might be a calculating, flesh-hungry monster—or maybe just a lonely outsider with bad circulation and weird skin. Aren't we all, though? Where's my cape? LINDY WEST