Sea-Saw: A Lumberjack Dreamplay

Jewel Box Theater at the Rendezvous

Through April 26.Like Curtis Taylor's other cabaret-style productions, Sea-Saw, a vaudeville love song to the lumberjack, collapses time. Vaudeville already suggests a nostalgic past, and there is a sentimental overlay--the lumberjack-hero, orderly man pitted against chaotic nature--that Taylor does not resist, and the pleasure he takes in giving in to it is quite palpable. His dancing, singing lumberjacks have, thanks to the upward gaze of the footlights and Eve Cohen's spot-on costumes, the air of figures in a postcard image, found by accident in a vintage store crossed by dusty beams of light. The tilt of a beard, a hat jammed down on a head, an old-fashioned hobnailed boot--all somehow manage to convey, at the same time, the authentic and the artificial, time past and present.

But of course, we know more than we used to, and are both relieved and saddled by our contemporary ethics. You can't bring up the lumberjack without at least thinking of the concomitant issues: labor, the environment, the macho stereotype. As it turns out, vaudeville's unreality can look straight at these topics without flinching, but also without preaching, so that the conundrum of logger versus owl becomes a sweet but failed courtship of big puppet heads, and the phallic joke of the band saw and axe is explored and (mostly) rejected.

In one scene, a fat-cat lumber baron lectures a filled auditorium about the threat of "Bolshevik labor perverts" while an agitated Wobbly (one of the Industrial Workers of the World, active in this state early in the 20th century) plots his demise. The fat cat has his back to us--a classic vaudeville setup--and even though the assassination is foiled again and again by the rules of vaudeville itself, somehow the scene manages to be both funny and solemn at the same time. The specter of a murdered Wobbly haunts the production in typical Taylor fashion and becomes, like the Widow in his Shades of Parkland, an image of loss embodied. It's one of the images that lingers--quite in the manner of a dream--after the show is over.

There are dreamlike shifts in logic and tone, right up to the morbidly hilarious finale. As with Shades last year, and Rome the year before that, Sea-Saw has a great deal of visual brilliance in its scenery: the dense, shimmering forest, the lonely grandeur of a clear-cut, the gaping maw of a half-cut tree. You won't soon forget these images, not least because there are lumberjacks in front of them, gleefully twirling their axes like so many unburdened teenaged cheerleaders. Innocent, indeed. EMILY HALL

Parrot Fever (Or, Lies I've Told in Chat Rooms)

Ethereal Mutt at Union Garage

Through May 3.I have never participated in online sex-chat. I understand it's quite popular, but have never understood its appeal, nor its devotees. I always imagined chatters as vicious, fragile psyches: bold enough to zap obscenities at perfect strangers, but too chickenshit to risk the minor heartbreaks of more embodied flirting. I expected a play titled Parrot Fever (Or, Lies I've Told in Chat Rooms) to be a winking wank for the puerile and lightning-fingered, but was happily deceived. Keri Healey's latest gem is simply a solid piece of theater.

Amy, our narrator, sets out to research a book on male sexuality by cruising the tangled webs of chat rooms, the places where language and reality part company and terminally insecure shut-ins can become, through the sheer force of prose, outdoorsy swashbucklers, brimming with tales of derring-do and humping on sunny mountaintops. Or in piss-puddled truck-stop bathrooms. Whatever turns you on, baby.

To her surprise, practitioners of e-onanism don't simply cleave to well-worn pornographic lies; in the luxury of intimate anonymity, they confess their most miserable truths. From women locked in impotent marriages, to men trapped in the nervous cycle of fear and desire, to Amy--a writer hiding behind "research" in a vain attempt to flee the death and decay of relationships with actual, feeble bodies.

During her advanced forays into romantic chat, Amy loses a friend to cancer and contracts parrot fever, a pulmonary form of chlamydia spread solely by birds. Snapped between the tantalizingly textual realm of the Internet and her unavoidable physical life, Amy tries to make sense of her new online existence. But Parrot Fever refuses resolution, unfolding entirely in Amy's head and on her computer screen, where personalities don't die. They merely log off.

Every aspect of the production deserves praise. Healey's stellar direction nurtures strong, invigorating acting by Amy Augustine, Evan Mosher, and Stacey Plum. Aaron Loidhamer's musical accompaniment is a fourth actor--I can't imagine the play without him. Despite the production's all-around excellence, Parrot Fever is a writer's play. Healey's jagged vignettes of narration, chat, farfetched tales, and desperately lewd monologues would enchant, distract, and surprise as well on the page as they do on stage.

Parrot Fever is moving, funny, erotic, and repulsive by turns--a paean to the lonely who cadge and sleaze their way through the seamy (and sometimes steamy) corners of the Internet. More deeply, it demonstrates that fantasy, in any medium, is often lubricated by pathetic truths, and, as Healey deftly illustrates, the babble of that inner universe cannot be silenced by turning off a computer. BRENDAN KILEY