ROMEO AND JULIET Tybalt and Mercutio, the doomed scene-stealers.

Romeo and Juliet
Center House Theatre
Through Nov 20.

Romeo and Juliet is almost a comedy—its wit and ironies would be hilarious if they weren't so deadly. Director John Langs understands this, and gives the play's comedy room to breathe. Dozens of tiny gestures and inflections (lovesick Romeo, for example, first appears with an acoustic guitar and a Depeche Mode T-shirt) throw the final tragedy into sharper relief.

Both Romeo (Lathrop Walker) and Juliet (out-of-towner Dana Powers Acheson) are capable and occasionally electric but as usual, Mercutio (Hans Altwies) steals the show. His speech about dream weaver Queen Mab articulates the spiritual heart of the play—an erotic rhapsody shadowed by death—and Altwies's delivery is spellbinding, shifting from obscene exuberance to rage. Juliet's Nurse is similarly vivid, and Erica Bradshaw keeps her playful and loving enough to break our hearts (along with Juliet's) when she advises the girl to forget her exiled Romeo and marry cold Paris.

The production has some lame moments. The Chorus character, sporting overly gaunt makeup, wanders distractingly into the scenes that foreshadow the couple's death, and Juliet maintains a numbingly one-note sob through most of the second half. Langs stuffed the show with pop music to mixed results—Romeo and his cousins play a great indie-rock serenade to Juliet during the Capulet ball (though Mercutio should use brushes instead of deafening drumsticks), but Juliet's later song to Romeo is saccharine and forced (the canned guitar track only makes it worse).

Despite some odd choices and a few creaky performances, Romeo and Juliet gets the important, but often overlooked, moments right. BRENDAN KILEY

Pulp Vixens Double Feature
Theatre Off Jackson
Through Nov 13.

Since their inception in the mid-'90s, the Pulp Vixens have dished up a singular blend of Sappho-specific camp comedy. Drawing on the vast repository of tortured urges, luxurious self-loathing, and barely sublimated lust found in '50s pulp novels, the Vixens quickly distinguished themselves with crowd-pleasing confections blending the hoariest old stories (rendered in the purplest pulp prose) with aggressively talented performers. The shtick remains the same in the troupe's latest offering, a "double feature" bringing together two works written for the Vixens by Seattle playwright Scot Augustson: 2001's Hung by the Chimney, a lezzie spin on classic film noir, and the world-premiere of A Fistful of Lesbians, a womyn-friendly revenge western. Both pieces stride confidently through their modest paces—Augustson knows of what he mocks, and if he insists on staying in the shallower end of the pool (as when his western's protagonist whimsically forfeits any and all claim to a motive), he's got a cast sharp enough to spin cotton candy into comedy gold, or at least bronze.

Leading the cast is founding Vixen Jennifer Jasper, a longtime star of Seattle's improv comedy scene who only gets better with age. Whipping herself around the outsized caricatures of both western and noir, Jasper manages to infuse her cartoons with unnerving emotional depth, creating flashes of hilarious pathos. Jasper gets inspired competition from the rest of the Burton Curtis–directed cast: the doe-eyed Shawnmarie Yates has perfected her take on the pulp ingénue, while the chameleonic Megan Hill is sharp as a knife and funny as a fart whenever she appears, making even the clunkier elements of the show (winky-naughty sex, prolonged single-entendres) worth watching. DAVID SCHMADER

The Real Inspector Hound
Stone Soup Theatre
Through Nov 19.

The Real Inspector Hound, Tom Stoppard's oh-so-meta whodunit lampoon, is a masterpiece of glib self-reference, twisting and stretching the boundaries between critic, audience, and performer. Or whatever. It seems silly to apply critical seriousness to a work about the silliness of theater criticism. Simply put: Inspector Hound is funny and good. Go see it.

The action takes place in a theater, where two high-horse critics, Moon and Birdboot (Eric Riedmann and Martin J. Mackenzie), bicker, swan, and swoon over their emotional baggage (Moon is a bitter and nauseatingly pretentious second-stringer; Birdboot an absurd, philandering blowhard). They also, somewhat peripherally, watch a play (or a play within a play, if you insist) about a murder at "charming though somewhat isolated Muldoon Manor." The ensuing cavalcade of mystery clichés includes a comically overlooked corpse, an escaped lunatic, a "heavily disguised cripple," and the reddest of herrings. Inspector Hound transcends parody when Moon, Birdboot, and all their personal issues become entangled in the onstage tomfoolery—play within merges with play without.

Despite the 30-plus years since its genesis, Inspector Hound's jokes hold up beautifully. The cast is solid and sometimes fantastic—my favorite is Deonn Ritchie as droll de facto narrator Mrs. Drudge (she answers the phone: "Hello, the drawing room of Lady Muldoon's country residence one morning in early spring"). Stone Soup's intimate space (that's a euphemism) feels awkward at first, but turns out to be kind of delightful. When you're sitting so close (literally twelfths of inches!) to that inert corpse under the sofa, you can't help jumping whole hog into Lady Muldoon's world. You feel chummy with the cast, complicit in the jokes, and forgiving of the production's weaker moments. Inspector Hound is no grand artistic undertaking, but it's fun. Let go of your inner critic and enjoy it. LINDY WEST