This Room and This Gin and These Sandwiches

Union Garage Performance Center

Through Feb 8.Oh, people. Really. I'll be the first sucker to stand and ovate at the inarguably gallant achievement of conjuring up (relatively) old yet (ostensibly) fabulous yet (allegedly) "neglected" works of theater and slapping them on the boards so's the world can finally get down to appreciating 'em. And this one. Wow. It's a good one. The craft and care with which Theater Under the Influence accomplished this "neglected" work's "slapping up" is inspiring. Wonderful. Top-drawer, darling.

But. I damn near didn't make it.

I've tried to mention the issue before. Politely. And dammit, I'm not being facetious! Three hours long? Three jaw-clenching, breath-holding, pee-pee-dancing hours? I simply refuse to accept that every "neglected" work out there has to run 180 ass-numbing, crick-in-the-neck-causing minutes! Forget attention span: It's too much to expect from an audience's bladder.

See: This Room and This Gin and blah, blah... (even the title is three hours long) is a fun and compelling story about a gin-pickled, bohemian, and probably doomed theatrical troupe in "The Village" circa 1924. The tale is emotionally centered around an actress named Sally who smokes in bed, aborts compulsively, and has more revolving-door romances and mood swings than... well, I won't name names. Christine Kolodge plays Sally. Nervous, independent, stubborn, and idealistic, Christine gives an incredible starry-eyed monologue. This Room has lots of desperate sexual attachments, sardonic, booze-fueled conversations about Christ, clunky, trying-too-hard-to-be-symbolic conversations about a broken fireplace, and Alex Samuels as the most endearing drunken slob since... well, I won't name names. Fabulous acting, and the set? A picture-perfect testament to sepia-tinged bohemian dinge. However.

Can we at least skip the "in real time" scene changes in the next resurrected play? Please? We don't need to watch the characters changing clothes and moving furniture between scenes--honestly. Our attention is precious, and our asses are numb. ADRIAN RYAN

Strange Attractors

Empty Space Theatre

Through Feb 16.Playwright David Adjmi hasn't written some kind of postmodern deconstruction of Henrik Ibsen's classic play A Doll's House, he's completely stolen the whole damn play, torn down the walls, and rebuilt it with hip new plastic facades. And in his remodeling he has created a wonderfully strange, dark look into the life of a woman attempting to maintain her "magnificent obsessions."

Like Ibsen's Nora, Betsy lives a privileged bourgeois existence--wife to an MTV executive, she spends most of her time shopping and waiting for life as an idle '50s housewife to come back into vogue. In order to pay for a lifesaving trip for her husband, she accepts an offer that threatens her family (and her health), but liberates her "spiritually." When her husband's recently terminated assistant, Alexander, discovers her indiscretion, he attempts to blackmail her to get his job back.

Adjmi's characters, while related to Ibsen's, are blacker and more perverse. All find themselves locked into patterns of deviant behavior that go well beyond the degree which Ibsen scripted his characters, to a level of Oprah-atic proportion.

Director Chay Yew saves these characters from being unreal by urging the actors to make them as unreal as possible. With expressionistic fervor, Heidi Schreck is brilliant as the fragile, ditsy Betsy--her deliberate control, even at the edge of breaking down, is simply mesmerizing. Duke Novak (Alexander) percolates with a desperation that both threatens and demands pity. Shelley Reynolds, as Vanna, dominates the stage as she bellows brash advice to the self-destructive Betsy. And Ian Bell grounds the ensemble with the mostly reserved portrayal of husband Josh. While never going completely over the top, the actors push the limit of natural behavior to extract the pure essence of the characters. Rather than being caricatures, they become more real. GREGORY ZURA

The Triumph of Love

Seattle Repertory Theatre

Through Feb 15.I knew to be suspicious when the press pack had to justify the play as "shocking!" and "brilliantly lucid." Virtually ignored for centuries, Marivaux's The Triumph of Love has been resurrected, translated, and directed by Stephen Wadsworth of the Seattle Rep. Big damn deal.

Eighteenth-century French farce has been criticized by detractors as either tedious or frivolous--or, in the case of this production, both. Wadsworth is an esteemed translator and director, and, thanks in large part to his adaptation of Love, Marivaux has been rediscovered by an artistic culture hungry for "classics" that satisfy its lust for contemporary ideological relevance.

The play features a "strong-willed heroine" (who is simply a callous, self-serving jerk). It pretends to mount a critique against excessive rationality (which is just a caricature of misogyny). It brims with puns. It has a bawdy clown. It is, in short, Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, but light-years less stimulating, challenging, and lively. Let us give credit, however, where credit is due: The (largely imported) cast gives a spit-polish sheen to this masterpiece of irrelevance.

In what was a stroke of 1730s revolutionary genius, Marivaux grafted features of the Italian rough-and-tumble lower-class commedia dell'arte onto his plays. Harlequin (Dan Donohue), a character directly lifted from that genre, gets the meatiest fun out of Love. He represents the dirty, sexy fun that used to be the privilege of the Rabelaisian poor but is now de rigueur for every red-blooded, Cosmo-reading American. Whatever one's class status, Donohue spices the role with outrageous slapstick precision and breathes fresh air into an otherwise dun exercise in antiquarianism.

Please don't let me be misunderstood--I love classical fogies. But if you're looking for a heroine-featuring wit-fest, go straight to the horse's mouth and read a three-dollar used copy of Much Ado About Nothing from your local used bookstore, and skip the $40 ticket. BRENDAN KILEY

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