HOTSPUR! THE MUSICAL SENSATION
This one's a must-see. Plenty of critics (um, guilty!) may mewl on about substance over style, but let's face it--style matters, and Red Card Productions has it. A collaboration of company members Ethan Savaglio, Jeff McIlvain and Corey Moore, this original musical comedy spins a classical hand-wringing history play, Henry IV, Part I, into Shakespeare Does Chicago. Okay, so some of the tunes don't carry, and playing the royal family as the Family isn't exactly new, but this production toys with the formula soooo well. Thankfully, Red Card's no one-hit wonder, either; as with their first modern burlesque, Happy Panties, Hotspur! is packed with clever satire and a level of showmanship that's pro caliber--and pure fun. TONIA STEED

THE URBAN LEGEND FOLLIES
In the nearly lost family troupe tradition, the Burbank-based Gozas (Mom, Dad, and eight-year-old Zephyr) write, choreograph, design, and perform together. I have a feeling the tradition will die out with this line. The Goza family revue spins on a few popular urban legends, and might have been interesting if they'd either staged a full-on urban legend in all its glorious high camp absurdity, or tapped into the deep dark anxieties lurking beneath these modern fables. Instead, the Gozas string together a set of grade-school level groaners with oh-you-silly-billy acting. Only little Zephyr has any stage presence, but then, we all know he's a pro from the verrrrry Burbank bio his parents have penned for him, emphasizing his precocious commercial cuteness in various Chevrolet and McDonald's ads. Worth missing. TS

EMMA GOLDMAN: LOVE, ANARCHY, AND OTHER AFFAIRS
The famous Russian-born American anarchist Emma Goldman spent the first decades of this century fighting for peace and for labor, civil and women's rights. Only a woman with fire and a real sense of the absurd could have responded to the Biblical byword "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven," with "Heaven must be an awfully dull place if the poor in spirit live there." But anyone hoping to get a taste of the flesh-and-blood Emma Goldman in this awfully dull one-woman show will be disappointed. I blame the director, Sean Ryan. Despite a name-dropping professional bio longer than the script itself, Ryan still manages to turn Goldman into a humorless cut-out, largely by snubbing staging ABCs: (a) less is more; (b) shouting is not acting; and (c) lights, lights, lights (I think that's actually c, d, and e). Ryan opts rather to cram the show with long speeches and distracting mood lighting. When actress Caroline Brown isn't lurking in the shadows, she's hiding behind a gratuitous set piece--a folding screen that she periodically throws on her back, skittering across the stage like an anarchic dung beetle. This production is less about the Anarchist than the Artist. Emma deserved better. TS

WHAT BIG TEETH YOU HAVE! OR LITTLE RED BITES BACK
This smart one-woman show comes courtesy of San Francisco's Theatre Au Naturel, and it's a joy. Eve Smyth fleshes out three fairy tale figures: Little Red Riding Hood (the quintessential edible/Oedipal child) is the innocent on the verge of womanhood. Myrtle, the mother of all fairy godmothers, resents the ungratefulness of her various charges--Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, etc.--once they get what they want. And the vamp is the implied but unnamed villainess of Brothers Grimm fantasy. Not surprisingly, the vamp finds herself quite attracted to the wolf: "I found myself drawn," she purrs in my new favorite line, "like an actor to a pretentious script." But civilizing forces back at the suburban palace want to reclaim her for a less hairy mate. Smyth plays out the politics behind these fairy tale models with humor and a wolfish bite. It's the perfect bedtime story. TS

A SURREAL CIRCUS
How could a circus featuring acts like a rope-swinging psilocybin mushroom, a book-juggling reciter of Dada poetry (in German), and a dung beetle tamer, performing in front of a Tom Waits meets Wings of Desire band, fall flat? Well, if the performers all have trouble playing to the audience, and if their performances are of inconsistent quality, and if the skits between the acts are uncompelling, as they are here, you could get yourself into some tedium. But a few of the acts generate enough sparks to make it a good-enough-for-the-fringe kinda performance. Note: I apparently saw the PG-rated version of this show; the remaining performance is advertised as "bawdy" and for adults only. ERIC FREDERICKSEN

SISTER
Suppressed your memories of torturing your sibling? This charming 60-minute melange should reopen a few childhood wounds for your consideration. A collaboration between UMO Ensemble's Martha Enson and Seattle Mime Theater's Mik Kuhlman, Sister covers the life span of two sibs through movement theater, moody slide projections, spare set design, gabby marionette work, a dab of nudity, and one bawdy song. While the vocal bit falls flat, most of this melancholy grab bag achieves pleasant, poetic immersion. Sister briefly touches on all the big milestones--preemie bonding, adolescent sparring, adult reconciliation, death--which add up to a "smell the roses" hour of meditative moments. (Note to my brother: I'm sorry I made a voodoo doll out of your used Kleenex way back when. I hope the stabbing pains didn't last.) STEVEN GRIMM

SLOW CHILDREN AT PLAY
When I walked into the converted garage that tries to pass itself off as Theater Schmeater's performance space, I found myself immediately accosted by the entire cast of Slow Children at Play. In some misguided attempt at performance art, they were pretending to be waiters, handing me a copy of the menu/program and loudly helping me find my "table." Despising audience participation pieces with every fiber of my being, I smiled a little too big and inwardly rolled my eyes, sat down and prepared myself to be thoroughly annoyed. I was pleasantly surprised when, 10 minutes later, the five members of the cast (known collectively as The Habit) had me laughing out loud at their often clever and witty, sometimes obvious and flat, but consistently fun and entertaining melange of sketch comedy, improv, and gratuitous--if only partial--nudity. ADRIAN RYAN

The Ninth Annual Seattle Fringe Theater Festival runs through Sun March 21 at various Capitol Hill venues. Pick up a program at any coffeehouse or www.seattlefringe.org. Tickets are available at Broadway Performance Hall and Broadway Market, 322-2018.

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