Carlotta's Late Nite Wing-Ding
Northwest Actors Studio

Through May 22.

Into the Woods
ReAct Theater

Through May 30.

Melancholy Play
Macha Monkey Productions

Through May 22.

Ubu
Empty Space Theatre

Through June 6.

I shouldn't be reviewing Ubu, Ki Gottberg's adaptation of Alfred Jarry's scatological caricature of Macbeth. Sarah Rudinoff--who plays Ubu, the bloated, greedy, craven noble who murders his way to the throne with a toilet brush--is a friend of mine, as are many other participants in this project. This is usually a conflict of interest because one is predisposed to like what one's friends do, but in this case, I'm in the awkward position of not liking what my friends are doing and having to say so in public.

The cast, designers, composer, and playwright/director have all done outstanding work around town. Individual elements of the show stand out (David Russell's elegant cabaret melodies contrast nicely with the berserk behavior of the characters; when the son of the murdered king confronts the ghosts of his ancestors, the black-light-lit scene is eerily beautiful), but their cumulative effect feels sloppy and inert. Jarry's vomitous depiction of power abused by the unbridled lusts of a country's leaders, written in 1896, certainly resonates with our time. Unfortunately, Gottberg has crammed the play with references to tax refunds, weapons of mass destruction, reality television, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the PATRIOT Act, etc. These political horrors (or fresher ones) would have risen in an audience's mind while they watched the original text. By making these analogies explicit, Gottberg hammers the play's macabre internal logic into a shapeless pile of broad, poo-poo ca-ca jabs at George W. Bush and American consumerism, offered at a moment when reality, as seen on the front page of any newspaper, trumps fiction. The delirious grins of American soldiers standing over piles of hooded Iraqi prisoners tells us more about the grotesque spirit of Ubu than we ever wanted to know. His stage persona pales in comparison.

I shouldn't be reviewing Macha Monkey's production of Sarah Ruhl's Melancholy Play either, as this troupe has previously produced a play of mine, and I'd certainly like them to produce another one if they can do it as well as this. The script--about a young woman whose melancholia is so seductive that everyone falls in love with her--could easily drown in its own whimsy, but director Kristina Sutherland and her excellent cast make Melancholy Play vibrant and delightful with quirky performances and stylized physicality. It would betray the production's charm to reveal too much; just go see it.

I've been a guest performer on several previous runs of Carlotta's Late Nite Wing-Ding, the daffy live talk show hosted by Carlotta Sue Philpott, a skeptical and sly middle-aged Southern woman played by improvisational genius Troy Mink. So I shouldn't be the one to tell you how Mink has gathered a really brilliant ensemble to portray a ridiculous bunch of no-talents and hapless friends who assist/hinder the unflappable hostess. These characters have grown so detailed over the past several years, and the cast has cultivated such comfortable comic synergy, that the Wing-Ding bursts with both the mundane and the surreal. In this past weekend's episode, Carlotta's son Slaw was locked inside a refrigerator while her stage manager, Nellie, after being blinded by drugged eye-drops, ended up literally kissing the ass of Terry, Carlotta's repressed homosexual director. Somehow, these events flowed seamlessly from the simplest of beginnings. Mink wisely doesn't try to dominate the proceedings, yet everything spins around Carlotta in dizzying, wonderful chaos.

I don't really know David Hsieh, the artistic director of the Repertory Actors Theatre, which makes reviewing their production of Into the Woods particularly tricky. I'm trying to persuade him to get more involved with the playwright service organization Rain City Projects and I haven't been wild about some of ReAct's previous productions. But to my surprise, the impressive vocal talent serves Stephen Sondheim's fairy-tale musical well. Accompanied by high-quality costumes and some nicely done effects (including a great prop cow), the result is more entertaining than anything I've seen at the 5th Avenue Theatre. The second act falls apart when the musical tries to merge realistic psychology with the symbolic world of fairy tales, but that's not ReAct's fault; they do their best with the flagging plot and pull together for a rousing finale. The lively and satisfying first act zips along, mixing modern wisecracks, classic stories, and lilting tunes with a minimum of cutesy self-reference. I'm no Sondheim fan, and I found it pretty damn enjoyable.

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