7 Strangers

Through Nov 23.So there's a God-fearing honky hayseed, a loudmouth Jew who cracks wise, a saucy crypto-dyke goth, an MTF tranny, a moneyed pretty boy--seven people altogether. Seven strangers, in fact, picked to live in a house to find out what happens when people stop being polite... sound familiar?

MTV popularized the reality-television genre over 10 years ago with The Real World, and now, local company EXITheatre brings the experience to Seattle theatergoers! Yawn. Did I mention this all occurs not in a theater but in an actual house, with multiple scenes happening simultaneously in different rooms? Just like the TV show. Unfortunately, the manufactured plot lines of 7 Strangers are far less interesting than MTV's version of engineered spontaneity.

The production is simple, if unusual. Seven actors have created seven characters, and they move through the Magnolia house, performing "scenes." While certain information has to be exchanged within each scene, the actors improvise the dialogue. The idea is interesting, but the show is merely a tangled yarn-ball of young-American stereotypes--which is to say, dull. Crises do develop--the characters have suicidal parents, dead boyfriends, and dying girlfriends, and they confront sexual quandaries of varying stripes. But the pathos and voyeurism produce little titillation, because we've seen all this before. On MTV, fer crissakes.

7 Strangers is theater for theater people--better as a concept than a play. It's neither interesting enough to hold a neophyte's attention nor radical enough to blow the cognoscente's mind. During the post-show discussion, director Michael Lindgren said there might be a sequel in the works, 7 Strangers on the Street, in which the characters would be homeless--which has the potential to be more dangerous, more offensive, and more interesting. If EXITheatre wants to continue with their wanky theater experiments, let's hope they'll hone their cutting edge and give us something great--something we've never seen before. BRENDAN KILEY

My Lady's Hand

Moonlight Productions

Through Nov 23.There's something innately safe about the typical family drama; the characters, situations, and struggles are... well, familiar. One or more of the characters will have some kind of debilitating disease or injury someone we know may have, and audience members can rest assured that, in the end, the main characters will find happiness in some acceptable form. It's the comfort food of entertainment. Gentle, filling, and easily accessible (it's found in abundance on the Lifetime network), the typical family drama reflects modern domestic life without too much challenge.

Tess Thompson Hardwick's My Lady's Hand is a good family drama. It's a story about a successful writer and Harvard professor, Thomas Bloom, who deals with paralysis following a car accident, a broken marriage, a self-destructive sister, an overbearing mother, and the pretty cellist who is renting a room in his house. It isn't hard to figure out what'll happen in the end, but it's fun to watch.

But one can't help thinking, about halfway through, how much better the play would be if the characters were explored more deeply than the typical family drama's characters. In his struggle with paralysis, Thomas (played with surefooted talent by Philip Clarke) comes off more like a guy with just a broken leg. Lilly, the cellist (solidly portrayed by Jennifer Marley) represents the future for Thomas, but is nothing more than a necessary rough sketch. And we never hear excerpts from the book that Thomas finds himself in a rush to finish--would we not, perhaps, understand him more through the art his professional reputation is built on?

These lost opportunities are more than made up for, however, by the skill of the actors. Lively and honest, they easily bring a third dimension to the sometimes-flat characters and make this typical family drama worth seeing. GREGORY ZURA

Tank Plays

Annex Theatre

Through Nov 23.If Sarah Rudinoff ain't the kickassest vocal talent adorning Seattle stages today (or yesterday, for that matter), I'll kiss a hog. The woman is superlative, squared. She can tear through a tune like it's a cheap prom dress, and that deep jazzy croon of hers can melt your spine to puddles of scrumptious goo. Even when she's crooning some unfathomably crazy bits about bacteria or raising her "raison children" or La Niña, as she does in unfathomably crazy Tank Plays--an über-bizarre collection of seven individual, sometimes-musical, sometimes-multimedia works.

When Bret Fetzer, Annex Theatre's artistic director, introduced Tank Plays, he promised a night overflowing with eccentricity, peculiarity, and plain old American weirdness. He didn't lie. The seven original works feature some popular and interminably watchable talent (Josh List, the wonderful Heidi Darchuck, and, of course, Sarah Rudinoff) and run the gamut from quirky to surreal to "What the fuck were they ON?". This is the fringiest of fringe theater--floating marshmallow pieces and soggy cornflakes are menaced by a giant cardboard spoon (I'm guessing that "shoestring" is an extravagant way to describe their production budget), and talking, legged dolphins lead the unwary to an ominous place called "Vacation Land." Much of it is cute, much of it is clever, and all of it is indulgent and ultimately perplexing.

But I simply adored Sarah Rudinoff. Did I mention that she's funny? Big-time funny. What a presence. And gosh darn it, I want to see much more of her. And don't get some strange notion that I'm just gushing because she's a friend or something. No such thing. We, like, shook hands once, but that was a hundred years ago. I simply believe that Sarah is an extremely underappreciated talent, and it's time somebody pointed it out. ADRIAN RYAN

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