Romeo and Juliet

Seattle Repertory Theatre

Through April 20.Is there anyone in the known universe who doesn't know how this story ends? Or how it's usually staged? Pompous posing by packs of over-enunciating yahoos in faggy outfits with only the vaguest clue what their dialogue actually means, beating the audience bloody with the monotonous hammer of unrelenting iambic pentameter. Yikes. Hell hath a 10th ring, and above its door reads Shakespeare, Badly Done.

So what makes the Rep's Romeo and Juliet so engaging, so visually astounding, so moving, so shockingly... good? Hell if I know. But it seems that some somebodies at the Rep did something pretty darn right.

Take the set. Marvelous. A brooding, gray, mist-sweating gothic paradise--on wheels. And the costumes. I rarely mention costumes because costumes are rarely worth mentioning. But David Murin's elegant costumes, which alternate between grand, sweeping medieval splendor and modernish tight-cut denim and leather, definitely are.

But set and costumes are only icing--wonderful acting is the sweet, sweet cake. Many scenes are stolen by Laura Kenny as the hilarious Nurse, while Tom Story's flaming Mercutio is gayer than the word "frittata" and the most endearing Mercutio ever. Cynthia Boorujy's Juliet sparkles like spring water, and James Ginty is slightly goofy, over-earnest, and adorable as Romeo. The two have whatcha call "chemistry." When Juliet finally pumped that dagger into her broken little heart, I'll admit that a genuine tear may have escaped my critical eye. Maybe.

Love Shakespeare? You must see this show. Hate Shakespeare? You must see this show. I'm willing to bet it'll surprise you. A lot. ADRIAN RYAN

Sex in Seattle, Episode 6: Vicious Valentines

Richard Hugo House

Through April 5.This popular episodic soap opera about the absurdly tangled love affairs of four sassy Asian American chicks is 100 percent critic-proof. If it were wrapped in Kevlar, encased in concrete, and buried 100 feet below the Uwajimaya grocery, it couldn't be any safer from my barbs.

This show is a joyous community event, a celebration of an underrepresented demographic, and a chance to dress up and have date night. Practically the only thing it isn't is a decent piece of theater. As written, it's completely devoid of likable characters or believable situations, directed in a style that alternates between rushed and tortuously slow, and acted (with the notable exceptions of the ever-brilliant Ray Tagavilla and the swoon-worthy Kelly Ogilvie) in a style both shrill and wooden.

Maybe if all the crappy sitcoms on TV weren't so glaringly free of Asian Americans, this play's intended demographic wouldn't have to throw a party for a play that makes them look like self-involved ninnies cloned from Jennifer Aniston's toenails and pickled in a jar of Carrie Bradshaw's urine. But until that day, Sex in Seattle cheerfully stuffs itself into that void like a hoochie mama into a too-tiny pair of pleather pants. TAMARA PARIS

The Sickest F***ing Stories I Ever Heard

Northwest Goga Theatre at Rendezvous

Through May 22.Here's the premise: Five honkies sit on stage, "improvising." Playing real poker, drinking real beer, swapping funny gross-out stories--some of which are amusing, none of which are gut-busters. Perhaps I misunderstand the point of this theatrical exercise, but it seems the "audience" pays seven dollars to see "actors" just, well, hanging out. Since when did that become an object of spectacle rather than participation?

I'm guessing since circa The Real World--when reality television was bickering roommates in ordinary situations rather than comptrollers flown to a French chateau to compete for a stranger's hand in marriage.

Jean Baudrillard, pomo-babbler extraordinaire, once wrote that the escalation of life-as-spectacle coincided with the devouring of communication and social life in "a circular process of simulation, that of the hyperreal: a hyperreality of communication and of meaning, more real than the real. Hence the real is abolished."

Forgive me for waxing pointy-headed, but the quote is relevant. There is a voyeuristic nausea in bearing mute seven-dollar witness to something you could have a lot more fun doing in your own living room, or even with the people next to you, given a pack of cards and some introductory small talk.

Halfway through the show, I heard the audience whispering. They leaned into each other, drinking their own booze, spinning their own weird yarns about illness and neighbors and embarrassing sexcapades. Normally, this would be bad audience behavior, but this time I salute it.

In your eye, Baudrillard--The Real: 1, Simulacra: 0. BRENDAN KILEY

Underneath the Lintel

Empty Space Theatre

Through April 19.To solve a mystery takes more than just facts--it takes faith. We can have all the evidence in the world, but without the larger context we have nothing to believe in. Glen Berger's small miracle of a play, Underneath the Lintel, is fundamentally about finding something to believe in.

Billed as "An Impressive Presentation of Lovely Evidences," this one-man show ostensibly concerns a Dutch librarian's obsession with tracking down the mysterious reprobate who dared to return a book 113 years late. Armed only with an initial and, eventually, the offender's trousers, the librarian (Todd Jefferson Moore) pursues an elaborate string of clues that lead to some rather profound discoveries about humanity.

A combination of travelogue, detective story, and philosophical roller coaster ride, Underneath the Lintel bubbles with insight and wit. With a wonderful sense of humor and poignant grace, Playwright Berger tackles nothing less than the value of life and how one lives it. It is rare to see a play that boasts an equal dose of intelligence and modesty.

I could quibble over director Adam Greenfield's fussy theatrics or Todd Jefferson Moore's occasionally rushed, but otherwise strong, performance, but I am reluctant to say anything that might dissuade you from seeing this marvelous show. Smart, funny, and literate, this is a night at the theater that should not be missed. JEFF MEYERS

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