Teatro ZinZanni
One Reel Productions
Through forever.

A peculiar mishmash of styles and flavors, Teatro ZinZanni presents truly dazzling acts--including amazing physical feats and delightful clowning--amidst a lot of labored, smarmy routines and tiresome connective tissue. No unifying sensibility holds this show together. For example: Along with classically circus-oriented tunes, the band plays baby-boomer-friendly rock songs like "Born to Be Wild" and "Wild Thing"--which when sung in a vaguely operatic style by Christine Deaver are neither rock nor comedy, but a hideous verging-on-easy-listening bastardization. Or: Robert Lopez, as the evening's host, sings Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" while holding a work light as a microphone, just like Dean Stockwell in David Lynch's Blue Velvet. You really don't know if the director understood that this alludes to one of the creepiest movies in modern cinema, or what the director was trying to do with that allusion. Maybe someone was desperately trying to invoke a little of that nightmarish unease; this show, despite a lot of cutesy sexual allusions, lacks any hint of decadence, ambiguity, or spontaneity.

But Helena Wyder's mesmerizing rope act, Sergiy Krutikov's boisterous juggling, the rambunctious clowning and plate spinning of Los Excentricos, the hand balancing of Elena Borodina (whose feet are more expressive than most people's hands), and above all the athletic trapeze buffoonery of Die Maiers (truly one of the most superbly orchestrated and physically dexterous clown acts ever created) are impressive as hell--and would be even more so if there wasn't so much forced gaiety surrounding them. Teatro ZinZanni spends a lot of time telling the audience what a wild and wonderful time they're having, loudly invoking love and mystery and dreams, which is a sure-fire way to squelch anything lovely, mysterious, or dreamy. Los Excentricos had a few much-needed moments when they did something very simple but graceful; the show as a whole could learn from their example. BRET FETZER

Winnebago
Northwest Actors Studio
Through July 31.

You know what's not funny? Everything lately. Have you seen an episode of The Simpsons from the last season or three? They've been reduced to, like, puns and slapstick and people yelling. I think the last time I laughed out loud at The Simpsons was the Christmas episode with Gary Coleman from a couple years ago, where he's all "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, everyone!" And it's still one of the funniest shows on non-cable.

Anyway, Winnebago is advertised as "sketch comedy," and like most comedy outfits of late, the performers were just trying so hard and had no idea where funny even begins. Case in point: I get there and a guy's sitting in a 5' x 5' cardboard box, with a sign on the side that says, "Box office--lift lid for tickets." You're not supposed to be uncomfortable or embarrassed for the guy at all--you're supposed to laugh and cooperate and congratulate him on his brilliant... unique... ness. It's a BOX. OFFICE.

By then, we were already tipped off that the show was gonna be pathetic, and it didn't disappoint. Things were kicked off with a long parody of what if, like, Rick Steves did an episode on their theater, followed by an eternal home movie that revolved around a play on the phrase "The Rainbow Connection," and then... a UPS guy accidentally kills a customer with an empty box? The cast marches around with sparklers and impersonates chickens? Granted, the sketches became more mediocre, but there was no way we could stop hating them for all the punishment from before. It was Friday night and the world was happening outside without us and we just couldn't take it after an hour and we bailed. It's a mystery how people think they can get away with this shit, never mind charging 10 bucks for it. That's a lot of nerve right there. MEG VAN HUYGEN

You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown
Taproot Theatre
Through Aug 7.

If Clark M. Gesner, writer/composer of the Broadway musical You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, had any genuine affection for the comic strip Peanuts, he plucked it from his breast and ground it into bloody chum in the hope of attracting the ferocious amounts of money that follow Charles M. Schulz's extraordinarily popular creation. The comic strip's huge following is extraordinary because, originally, Schulz distilled anxiety, self-loathing, doubt, and repression into an incisive existential haiku, centered around a depressive, timid, wistfully hopeful, and derangedly gullible child who was also, to all appearances, as bald as a chemo patient. By the 1970s, the sardonic poetry of Peanuts was Hallmarked into prefabricated and very very commercial pap. You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown takes that process a step further; before our eyes, the original spirit of this seminal comic strip is degraded, betrayed, and shat upon.

None of this reflects on the cheerful, sincere struggles of Taproot Theatre's cast and crew; they just want to have a good time. Despite their competence, the material inhibits any such effort. Unlike the miraculous A Charlie Brown Christmas, this musical has no story, but instead trots out the texts of individual comic strips like a series of gags in a vaudeville show, interrupted by mediocre songs (one truly appalling number morphs Beethoven riffs and godawful white soul into a puddle of melodic mud). But there is no theatrical equivalent to the spare visual rhythms of a daily comic strip; trying to deliver lines like "Nothing echoes like an empty mailbox" as if they were hilarious knee slappers is like beating the audience over the head with a tire iron. The only imaginable response to this atrocity's big hit, "Happiness," is diabetes or an aneurysm. BRET FETZER

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