Candida
Taproot Theatre
Through Oct 25.

Candida--concerning a self-satisfied socialist minister whose world is shaken when he suspects that his beautiful, intelligent wife, Candida, may have fallen in love with a foppish but passionate young poet--has the look of a conventional drawing-room comedy, but the dialogue overflows with the elaborate and cunning arguments that typify the plays of George Bernard Shaw. In this play Shaw labors, with formidable wit and intellect, to overturn his audience's received notions, particularly the lingering Victorian views on women and marriage. As most modern audiences don't hold the same assumptions that Shaw's audience did, some of the play's reversals of thought feel more quaint than daring. More significant to Taproot Theatre's production, however, is that for the play to truly hold us--the audience--in the grip of its story, we must believe that Candida might choose either of these men, or neither, as her true mate; but the production allows not a moment's doubt as to whose embrace she will share at the play's end. Still, Shaw's humor holds up, and the play gets funnier as it goes along; the solid cast handles the comic turns with comfortable skill. It's a serviceable presentation of the play, if not an exciting or challenging one. BRET FETZER

The Horror in the Theater: An H. P. Lovecraft Triptych of Terror
Open Circle Theater
Through Nov 8.

My black little heart simply beats for good old-fashioned, ghoulishly moonlit and blood-drenched horror, especially if it has a nice thick layer of cheese on top. And no horror is as scrumptiously and inarguably cheese-laden as the desperately melodramatic, flamboyant, and demon-riddled pulp pulled from the wretched pen of H. P. Lovecraft. The old lunatic wrote some pretty hysterical shit. And Lovecraft's mythical meanderings about an ancient, squiggly, and thoroughly unappealing race of bloodthirsty hell-beasts that ruled the Earth eons ago and seek without rest to resurface and rule again via forces dark and terrible may have scared the screaming bejesus out of Grandpa. But in these jaded Bush Years, Lovecraft's writings have acquired even more of a corny funhouse charm (although the parallels in modus operandi between "the Regime" and H. P.'s mythic Old Ones are staggering). Fortunately, Open Circle Theater's production of Horror in the Theater understands this dark yet goofy charm completely.

The show's shtick is to present three Lovecraft stories--The Dunwich Horror, The Haunter of the Dark, and From Beyond--each with its own unique flavor and individual design, yet with a unified cast. Each piece has a different adaptor and director--Ron Sandahl, Rob D'Arc, and the ever-talented Matt Fontaine, respectively--employing the same actors. The shtick is successful; each piece is darkly fun, singular, surprising, and smartly presented in its own right, due in no small part to the collective efforts of way too many cast and crew to be mentioned here (but I'll give a nod to the performances of Aaron Allshouse, Josh Knisely, and Kate Kraay, each of whom caught my eye). And did I mention the monstrous puppets and demonic marionettes? Fabulous. If you see one show this season featuring giant, thousand-headed octopi attacking from beyond, make it The Horror in the Theater. ADRIAN RYAN

The January Book
Seattle Public Theater
Through Oct 26.

"Episodic" is what the press release calls this colorful little musical, which details the adventures of four basically unrelated couples in four different time periods (the 1880s, the 1920s, the '50s, and the Barbarella-rific late '60s) at one location: the January Inn, located somewhere in coastal Maine, overlooking the sea, as the lyrics are wont to remind you again and again and, yes, even again. It's a nifty concept. There's a mild, almost intangible thread linking these characters in time (some misguided and confusing stuff about buried treasure that never really amounts to much) and more subplots than a sunken cemetery.

In true musical-drama tradition there is much bravado and much, much vibrato. Clearly not afraid to lean toward the cliché, the characters, though well-played, are what one might call pronounced: a 23-skidooing gangster couple (complete with flapper drag and zoot suit), a Brontë-esque English eccentric on a romantic mission (played delightfully and hilariously by the surprising Karen Skrinde), a lame 19th-century gardener in a pageboy cap hobbling about on a crutch made of sticks, a '60s movie star with her Jackie O sunglasses and knee-high patent leather boots (played by the equally surprising Susan McIntyre)--there's a lot going on here, and the fragile thread of the plot(s) is sometimes lost. But for all of its minor foibles and flaws, this production has a certain warmth and good humor that I found ultimately charming. ADRIAN RYAN

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