Action Movie: The Play!

Consolidated Works

Through Aug 30. Given a choice between watching someone poorly lampoon a cliché and watching that cliché unfold on its own, which would you choose? If you venture to Consolidated Works before August 30, chances are you'll choose the good ol' fashioned clichés over those given a light spanking in Action Movie: The Play! Why? Because the production, which is littered with talented people, is rather uninspired.

Actually, inspiration can be found, but only as the play approaches the midway point, when a lengthy car chase--the mother of all action-movie clichés--is tackled, complete with shootouts and near misses of civilians. It's a rousing sequence, and it makes you wish that the bulk of the play were as rousing. Or, if not as rousing, at least funny.

The story is, of course, completely unnecessary: An evil genius wants to take over the world, and a group of heroes--including a Chuck Norris-like meathead named Stone Hardgod, a troubled cop named Jack Jackson, and a kung fu expert named Kung Fu Guy--band together to thwart the evil scheme. Also on hand are Cyborg Woman and Alec Smarty--robot and brains, respectively--as well as the group's leader, the wheelchair-bound Doctor Xylene.

Will this ragtag group save the world? Will they all survive the battle? Will the laughs ever start? Sitting through Action Movie it occurred to me that among all the clichés the play tackled, the one it apparently ignored was "drama is easy, comedy is hard." Action Movie: The Play! is very, very hard, apparently. BRADLEY STEINBACHER

bodyBODY: Aphrodite Raves

Theatre Off Jackson

Through Aug 24. There are two immutable truths: Buffy the Vampire Slayer should never have had a sister, and heavy, hairy, homely women in their right minds would almost always prefer to be not-heavy, hairless, non-homely girls. And since bodyBODY is a multimedia production exploring "women's body issues," one might expect a lot of heavy girls trying to convince the world that it should just get off their heavy, hairy, homely backs.

But bodyBODY stretches far beyond the expected parade of plus-size, freaky-looking women wrestling with their ostensibly socially imposed self-hatred. The show mostly features thin- to average-sized and flat-out adorable women wrestling with their ostensibly socially imposed self-hatred. It seems there is a lot of ostensibly socially imposed self-hatred out there--which is hardly huge news (pun maybe intended).

Writer/producer Vanessa McGrady (a tad adorable herself) was inspired to create bodyBODY after an ex-boyfriend said something snotty about her appearance. "It really sent me into a tailspin," she says. "I was disgusted. I would look in the mirror and cry."

McGrady can stop crying; her show is far from disgusting. Sure, it feels like a work in progress at moments--the production needs tightening up, the flow of the overall concept needs attention, and god knows a script that requires a goddess to interrupt and explain the writer's intentions has a few bugs. But, all said, bodyBODY entertainingly proves beyond a doubt that heavy girls are beautiful too. They do "feed that stray cat with the runny eyes" and make "special carrot ginger soup for sick friends," after all. ADRIAN RYAN

The Debutante Ball

Northwest Actors Studio

Through Aug 23. God knows I love me some comedy, and poking fun at Southerners? Well, that just tickles my pumpkins in general. But something about this little chamber piece smacks indelibly of community theater. It's overblown, way too talky (playwright Beth Henley crams the unbelievably complex history of at least two extended Southern families into casual drawing-room conversation), and the characters? Right off the rack.

The sophomoric plot is based on dramatic deceits and lies, and one is able to muster hardly a drop of sympathy for the lying, neurotic, sometimes criminally insane characters as they connive, conceal, and wrap each other up in cruel webs of emotional torture and just plain irritating Southern-belle bitchiness--too much booze, lotsa pills, tons of backstabbing, and a bastard or three tucked under a chifforobe somewhere. Everyone marries for money, wears (or wants to wear) honest-to-God real fur, values fake social respectability above all else, and, my God, I think Mamma murdered somebody! It's like Dynasty meets an undermedicated and Sally Field-less Steel Magnolias, with depressing results.

Also, as I understand it, the cast is composed of just-graduated acting students. In other words, this is a class project. Great buncha kids. Worked real hard. But asking the audience to believe these fresh, collegey actresses as bitter, middle-aged, maybe-murdering multiple mamas and maids is a tall order. The accents got suspicious. There's a lot of explosive yelling and pacing. In other words, it had all the characteristics of nicely polished community theater. Just like I said. Great buncha kids. Worked real hard. ADRIAN RYAN

John Lennon's Gargoyle

Theater Schmeater

Through Sept 8. According to the playwright's notes for John Lennon's Gargoyle, President W. recently asserted that "what's meant to be is meant to be... everything happens for a reason." While this is a frightening declaration of c'est la vie from a national leader, it's a popular metaphysical position for optimists, fundamentalists, and other sluggish minds--a position Voltaire famously lampooned in Candide. The title character, under the influence of grinningly aloof Dr. Pangloss, suffers mightily at the hands of human cruelty. Throughout, he maintains that everything is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds.

An homage to the French philosopher (as well as some Beatles arcana), John Lennon's Gargoyle drags the famous misadventures of a naif into contemporary America, swapping the misery of 18th-century Europe for today's urban legends. Conscription and the Spanish Inquisition become organ theft and finding worms in your Big Mac.

Gargoyle is a fun ride with a good production team. Director Jerry Manning has a hotshot resumé with credits ranging from the Kennedy Center to Ken Burns' The Civil War. Craig Zagurski offers a solid performance as Frank, the Candide stand-in, and the rest of the cast artfully manages a menagerie of characters from a kidney-thief temptress to a sagacious Elvis Presley.

Sometimes funny and constantly reeling from one improbable scenario to the next, Gargoyle suffers only when held in comparison to its inspiration. Voltaire invokes hilarious violence to indict monarchies, religion, and nationalism. Playwright Bryan Willis, on the other hand, settles for cursing the fates and a shrugging "shit happens" resignation, taking the righteously critical punch out of the story's sails.

Though Gargoyle gives us no additional insight into Candide, it is an amusing tale of mythological modern woe, a funny collection of urban legends we can enjoy from a safe, sadistic distance. BRENDAN KILEY