Are We Scared: An Experiment in Child's Play
Open Circle Theater
Through June 26.

Life X 3
Steeplechase Productions
Through July 3.

Paper Airplane
Collaborator Productions at Raisbeck Hall
Through June 26.

Wreckage
Theatre Babylon at Union Garage
Through July 3.

Since theater is little more than orchestrated pretend, it's not surprising that childhood, adulthood, and the treacherous journey between them are common topics for theatrical events.

Collaborator's Paper Airplane mixes the mundane and the absurd: A toddler goes on a Stanley Kubrick-inspired crime spree and indirectly causes his parents to burn down their house, leaving the family to beg for pennies by making balloon animals. The storyline is just a thread on which to string a mélange of pratfalls, oversized props, animation sequences, mime, and dance. None of this features a single word; instead, the three actors create their world by interacting with a soundscape of music and ambient noise, produced live by two musicians. Paper Airplane could stand to be tightened up, but that's a small complaint.

Open Circle based Are We Scared entirely on stories and poems created by preschool children. The real feat is that the adaptors have kept so out of the way, leaving the evening almost wholly free of adult notions of narrative or character; repetitions and non sequiturs abound, yet there's a glorious headlong momentum. The feat of the performances and direction, on the other hand, is that they are not childish; the actors approach the script with the same skill and emotional commitment they'd bring to Moliére or Ibsen, no matter how loopy or monomaniacal the characters may be (for example, an incontinent dinosaur having a phone conversation with Supergirl). Matt Fontaine's graceful and fluid direction produces some striking visual moments, greatly enhanced by the ingenious props and set pieces, colorful costumes, evocative lighting, and particularly John Ackerman's music. The cumulative effect is of indescribable delight.

Lauren Weedman's new autobiographical solo show, Wreckage, demonstrates a hint of calm reflection as she revisits a horrendous lie she told in her college days, interspersed with episodes from before, during, and after the collapse of her marriage. Which is not to say that she's quiet or low-key; Weedman stills bounces, shimmies, and shrieks as she whirls through a host of characters, including an aspiring weathergirl for the Playboy channel, an absent-minded medium, and glib karaoke-singing boyfriend. Though Weedman plays most of these people as grotesque comic caricatures while portraying herself with more naturalistic nuance, she doesn't do this to make herself seem like the only sane person in a crazy world--on the contrary, she explores her own obsessive, needy, self-destructive behavior with blistering honesty. But because she presents herself more simply, her own excesses sneak up on the audience. Wreckage is perhaps the best work yet from this powerhouse performer.

Yasmina Reza's Life X 3 is very grown-up, an almost surgical examination of the subtle social brutality adults can inflict upon each other. Two parents are in the middle of a fight over how to get their young son to sleep when another couple (a high-placed academic and his wife) arrive for a dinner date that the parents had forgotten. As the awkward quartet quaff wine and nibble on cheese and chocolates, they spar, flirt, and cut into each other. Then this scene is repeated twice, each time with small but significant shifts in the characters' personalities, sending each variation spinning in different directions. Throughout, the off-stage child's efforts to stay up punctuate the insidious adult tactics. It's a sneaky and slippery play, flush with sardonic humor and capably acted by the cast--particularly Terry Edward Moore as the vain older academic.

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