The Countess

Theatre Babylon at Union Garage

Through Feb 7. I'm a slut for the Pre-Raphaelite painters. If anybody could still get a thrill out of John Everett Millais running off with the child-bride of the Victorian art critic John Ruskin, it's me. So why did this brainy bodice-ripper bore me so absolutely?

At its most effective, theater allows us to behave like voyeurs peeking into the hearts (and bedrooms) of interesting folks. The Countess should have served up plenty of these vicarious thrills. The characters are boiling beneath their corsets, forced to deny their lust and swallow their feelings in an era of extreme repression. Juicy stuff. Sadly, this attractive but bewildered cast vacillates between giggling nervousness and head-tossing petulance. Shouldn't someone have told them that before you hide your feelings, you must first have them? In lieu of actual emotions, director John Longenbaugh seems to have substituted accents.

This production offers no real sentiment, no discernible logic, and certainly no surprises. There was barely even a set. The normally ingenious Brad Cook swerved weirdly into the territory of "high concept" with a design that made it seem as if Ruskin and company conducted their tawdry affairs in a sponge-painted cafe bathroom after a floor-buckling earthquake. Stick with the paintings. They have more depth. TAMARA PARIS

Living Out

Seattle Repertory Theatre

Through Jan 31. Take your basic illegal immigrant in Los Angeles theme, your basic post-feminist mom wants to have a career and a child theme, your basic hiring an illegal immigrant as a nanny theme; add a dash of baby boomer liberal guilt for flavor and a pinch of sexual tension between father and nanny to stretch out an already slender storyline. Cast a bunch of decent actors, but direct them to play either screechy caricatures or earnest stereotypes. End on a plot turn that desperately wants to give emotional weight to the flimsy play that preceded it. You have Living Out. Avoid. BRET FETZER

Pride and Prejudice

Book-It Repertory at ACT Theatre

Through Feb 15. I'm aware of my own prejudice, which is that the A&E version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is just about perfect, and this has nothing to do with the fact of Colin Firth in a wet shirt.

Marcus Goodwin's adaptation, directed by Jane Jones, massacres Austen's lively, humorous text by playing it slapstick. The audience is subjected to a kind of vaudeville: head-slapping disbelief, eye-rolling exasperation, petulance, and snobbery, all in high relief, so that none of Austen's fine narrative and social commentary is necessary; they could have done this as a silent film and avoided the awkward Book-It convention of putting the author's narrative into the characters' mouths. Frankly, I've never warmed to this weird conceit, and this particular script is so oddly jury-rigged--with important passages absent (the novel's textual turning point, if we are so concerned with the text, in which Elizabeth Bennet declares, "Till this moment, I never knew myself," is deleted altogether), strange invented stage business, and a terribly rushed conclusion--that I could hardly find rhyme or reason to the adaptation.

Drawn in such broad strokes, the characters who best survive are the most satirical, and Laura Ferri's Lady Catherine DeBourgh and Brandon Whitehead's Mr. Collins have much to recommend them--but not enough to engage you for nearly three hours.

And by the way: I know ACT is suffering financially, but for pity's sake, turn the heat on! EMILY HALL


Bombast Productions at Union Garage

Through Jan 31. Scotapalooza promises much, including "beat poetry, existential angst, marital exasperation, barroom pickups... food fights" and other ever-so-wacky hijacks and intellectual meanderings. It also delivers much, including bleary, yawn-birthing boredom, indignation, nervous giggles, and that singular warm, runny embarrassment reserved for amateurish performers, mixed with a low, smoldering resentment that the time spent suffering through each of these pretentious, silly, conversely under-and overacted poems and vignettes could have been spent doing laundry or licking stamps. Or licking laundry.

I'm going to teeter onto a shaky limb and assume that embarrassment for the performers wasn't originally a goal of the production. And yet I wholeheartedly recommend Scotapalooza, especially to those who suspect I might be exaggerating the sheer and terrible pointlessness of it all. I shouldn't be the only one to suffer. ADRIAN RYAN

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