Re-bar, 1114 E Howell, 323-0388.
Fri-Sun at 8, through Aug 6. $12.

ArtsWest Theatre Company, 4711 California Ave SW, 938-0339.
Thurs-Sat at 8, playing until the end of the world. $18-$22.

All about Medea presents a small gay theater that's staging a drag production of Medea. The drama--written by Mark Mitchell and directed by Ilya Pearlman of Theater Fabulon--is set both on and behind stage. The drama behind stage concerns an aging diva (played by Matt Slinger) whose position is challenged by a young and ambitious actress (Jen Faulkner), whose wealthy father promises to give the struggling theater money if her roles are improved in future plays. A vicious struggle ensues between the determined two, with the director (Gary Zinter) in the middle. The drama on stage concerns Medea (Slinger in this second role is simply marvelous) and her unfaithful husband Jason (Mike Triglia, whose transparent Greek costume raised my eyebrows considerably), and everyone knows how that story ends.

As with all of Mark Mitchell's art (he sings jazz standards at the Baltic Room, writes short fiction, and is now working on a screenplay--indeed, he is Seattle's Jean Cocteau) the play is light, charming, smart, sexy, and always in the twilight of saying something profound or falling apart into laughter.

If All about Medea is light, charming, and oblivious, John Fisher's Medea the Musical is serious, sentient, and political. True, it is a comedy with lots of laughs, music, and flamboyant acting, but it wants to do much more than simply entertain us; it also wants to address feminist concerns within the context of contemporary queer theater.

This play presents another gay staging of Medea that goes all wrong when the main gay actor (Jeffrey Resta, who plays Jason), falls in love with the straight leading actress (Anne Guetti, who plays Medea). Paul, as Jason is called when he is backstage, is confounded by his sudden attraction to her, as he has not desired a woman since kindergarten. When the two move in together, Elsa, as Medea is called backstage, begins to express her unhappiness with the way Medea (a woman) is portrayed in straight and gay productions of the play. Her new boyfriend, now ostracized from the gay community, sympathizes with her concerns.

During rehearsals, both conspire to radically change the play so that it accommodates a feminist agenda. The director of the musical is appalled by these changes, and maintains that the musical stay gay. But the actors continue to defy him, and as no resolution is made between the feminist and gay agendas, the play falls apart on opening night. Though this collapse is considered a great success by a theater critic within the play (a reporter from Time magazine, who loves the way things have spun out of control), it is in reality (the audience's reality) a great failure because the collapse and confusion implies that queer theater needs a closed system of meaning with specific gay tropes if it is to work. Without this center, nothing holds and chaos rules. In the end, one much prefers the motions of a meaningful Medea that has Medea killing her kids to get back at duplicitous Jason, rather than the sprawl of an unresolved Medea that has Jason and Medea and whoever else killing the kids, which is how this play ends.

All in all, it is highly recommended that one watches both plays back to back, because they say such different things about queer theater, despite having similar material. CHARLES MUDEDE

Annex Theatre, 1916 Fourth Ave, 728-0933.
Thurs-Sat at 8, Sun at 7, through July 15. $12 regular, $7 students.

"I could either be a lying whore, or a prisoner," laments Max Brinks. It's New York City in the 1950s, and the Cold War is at its height. Max has just been arrested for "lewd behavior" in a public men's room, and the mysterious Agent Mars (Pete McBryan) has offered him a choice: He can either face the horror and humiliation of prison, or perform a task for the CIA--a small task, complete with a rent-free apartment overlooking Central Park and a paycheck! Max makes the obvious choice.

His mission is simple. To be cleared of all charges, all Max (the flamboyant, outrageous, and thoroughly wonderful Peter Sorenson) has to do is meet, seduce, and earn the trust of another gay man (a visiting Russian nuclear physicist), record as much of their pillow talk as he can, and report back to Agent Mars.

It is here that Intelligence can either take off or fall flat on its face. The most obvious approach it could take would be the schmaltzy, clichéd romance-novel angle: The physicist and the spy fall desperately in love, forsake their homelands, and escape arm-in-arm to Cuba; or, conversely, fall in love and are torn tragically apart by forces far greater than themselves.

It could also fall into the trap of becoming a tiresome "gay issue" piece, lamenting discrimination and the cruelty of an intolerant world. But Intelligence, blessedly, takes none of these paths. It instead utilizes its cloak-and-dagger theme to explore the nature of honesty and the inherent complexity in all human relationships--and it does this with great humor and charm. It is witty, many-layered, and surprisingly touching, full of memorable quotes and characters (Patrick Sexton being simply superb as Sergei, the Soviet physicist). At times light and bouncy, at other times full of weight and poignant observation, no part of this story falls flat. It is a solid and tight piece, peppered with enough clever plot twists and dimensions to satisfy and surprise the most seasoned (read: jaded) audience member. All in all, a highly recommendable evening of theater. ADRIAN RYAN