IF EVEN HALF A chance exists that tomorrow never comes, I do not want my eyes to shut tonight remembering only The Complete Millennium Musical (Abridged), the would-be laugh riot now embarrassing itself over at the Seattle Rep. Surely even the starved subscribers in the audience who wet themselves in delight opening night have had better times in the theater. Come to think of it, those past excursions might have had something to do with why the audience was laughing in the first place. They were nostalgic laughs, I'll bet, since most of the production's jokes sound like they came off a roll of toilet paper in Bob Hope's bathroom. Let's not linger on this show, though, as we have so many better moments of theater from the past year to contemplate.

I'd like to wash away this failure at the Rep with the image of the mainstage show that preceded it, The Game of Love and Chance. Director Stephen Wadsworth expanded the horizons of that Marivaux confection, articulating its heart so well that the story of a Harlequin who becomes a gentleman not only bounced along for two and half hours like an ecstatic Marx Brothers farce, but glowed with a surprising humanity. It was the year's loveliest show.

A Contemporary Theatre was particularly fine this season as a source of humane thoughtfulness. From the unique compassion of Kevin Joyce's A Pale and Lovely Place (a haunting one-man show that remains the most remarkable of many such local efforts) to Dael Orlandersmith's shimmering James Baldwin valentine, The Gimmick, to a wonderful Book-It staging of Jane Eyre, the productions in ACT's intimate Bullitt Cabaret space were among the highlights of theater in 1999.

Other joys? Intiman's stormy production of Fires in the Mirror, Anna Deveare Smith's important dissection of racial discord in our country, was a highlight. As for comedy, I don't think I laughed harder than at Lauren Weedman's Christmas show at On the Boards or at Re-bar's shameless Deflowered in the Attic, though the Barb Dirickson meltdown in Intiman's The Royal Family was worth the price of admission. Add a brilliant, withering comedic turn from Lori Larsen in The Psychic Life of Savages over at the Empty Space, and you've got more laughs than the Rep's Millennium Musical will earn during its entire run.

Recalling the past has given me strength, so I guess I can deal with the woeful Millennium Musical now. The Reduced Shakespeare Company, never any great shakes (forgive the pun), but usually at least a goofy diversion, is completely obliterated by the vast Rep mainstage. Size does matter, unfortunately, and putting a lighthearted comedy troupe in a space usually reserved for epic constructions only amplifies everything that is missing in this effort.

Did I say last week that The Holiday Survival Game Show had delusions of grandeur? Folks, meet its high-functioning, older cousin. The Complete Millennium Musical (Abridged) wants to be some lunatic, cutting-edge free-for-all, a comic revue taking "outrageous" potshots at the revered icons of the last one thousand years. No such luck. The evening is cheery, but cringing and forced, with fake improv and a bottled, cozy irreverence meant to make your grandmother think she's having a wild time at the theater. I laughed a few times, and the show does feature the year's best musical line -- "Lawrence of Arabia/Never saw a labia" -- from a tune called "Let's Hear It for the Homos." That's about as wacky as it gets, though.

At one point, Taylor Young, the troupe's sole female member, came down into the audience and sat on my lap, moving aside my notepad and pen. What zinger did she get in -- you may ask -- faced with a critic and armed as she was with a spotlight and a microphone? She asked me where I was from. "Seattle," I replied, trying to cover up the note I had only just made to myself concerning how unfunny she was. "I'm sorry?" she said. "Seattle," I repeated. "I heard you. I said I'm sorry," she countered. Oh, the stinging originality. I hadn't laughed that hard since "Take my wife -- please."

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