Anna in the Tropics
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through Oct 30.

This bland production of Nilo Cruz's Pulitzer Prize-winning Anna in the Tropics has an impressive set. Designed by Hugh Landwehr, the rotating cigar factory is huge and picturesque, and if its façade looks a little too Restoration Hardware, well, it's not realism we're dealing with here. Landwehr's only misstep is the monstrous wooden seal that looms above the action throughout--eventually you figure out that it echoes the advertisement that the factory will devise for its new cigar brand, but it's so heavy and clumsy-looking I kept fearing it would fall and crush everyone. Its ugliness distracts from everything else, including Peter Maradudin's lighting--warm and slanted low across the stage to simulate a Cuban dusk--which is masterful.

Not so masterful are the performances. Some of the actors can't help looking ridiculous--director Sharon Ott invented their roles and planted them onstage like furniture. But others, like Tanya Perez as Marela, the dreamy younger daughter of the factory owners, and Romi Dias, as the marginally more with-it elder daughter, have more to answer for. The implausible language presents a challenge, but Perez barely makes an effort, and Marela's leaden flights of fancy weigh down the entire show. ANNIE WAGNER

Dubya 2000: A Political Horror
Open Circle Theater at Re-bar
Through Oct 30.

You would assume that a play featuring Barbara Bush pulling the entrails out of puppies and George W. Bush making endless masturbatory gestures would be a puerile pseudo-satire taking advantage of the complete vapidity of contemporary political discourse--and you'd be right. But that aspect of the schizoid Dubya 2000: A Political Horror is actually a subplot. Much more of the show is concerned with the story of Susan Smith, the woman who drowned her children in her car in 1994, retold as Medea and transplanted from South Carolina to Georgia so that it could take place in Athens. This side of Dubya 2000 isn't comic at all, but a kind of Wal-Mart melodrama written in metaphor-heavy white-trash argot. Thanks to a sympathetic performance by Amy Rider as Smith and Chris Mayse as a manipulative political operative, this storyline has a whiff of something creepy, sour, and sad.

Dubya 2000 aspires to say something about the lower class being the victims of right-wing political policies, but it falls clumsily short. With more spectacle, the W side of the play might have been more engaging, but probably not; despite a valiant effort from the cast (Kim Nyhous and Aaron Ousley manage to eke out a few laughs), the satire wilted into a muddle of shit and dick jokes. Maybe I've lost my sense of humor when it comes to politics, but the monstrosity of the Bush regime demands more than shit and dick jokes. BRET FETZER

Laura's Bush
Washington Ensemble Theatre at Little Theatre
Through Nov 1.

This roller-coaster evening of broad political satire (three sketches followed by the one-act Laura's Bush) by the pseudonymous Jane Martin starts off promising, gets mired in dreck, makes an exuberant resurgence, and then concludes with the most offensive spectacle I've seen on stage in a long, long time.

Grand Dames, one of the opening sketches, concerns a couple of neocons named Mrs. Baliburton and Mrs. Chaliburton (played by Lathrop Walker and Marc Kenison in Fenella Woolgar drag). After the ladies sip from teacups full of high-grade Middle East oil, the intriguing allegory peters out--but the sketch annoyingly persists. Then, in the next sketch, we get an excruciating monologue about the scourge of affluenza, delivered sans affect by a homeless woman named Amelie. (What kind of homeless woman is reduced to bathing with Sani-Wipes but somehow manages to maintain immaculately shaved legs? The kind who has to play Laura Bush after intermission, of course.)

The one-act itself is basically enjoyable--until the end, which is horrifying. Megan Hill turns in a fantastic performance as Dody Dotson, a Kansas librarian with repressed "lesbianistic" tendencies who discovers the First Lady (Marya Sea Kaminski, in a stunning recovery from her turn as Amelie) has been blinking Morse code distress signals in all of her public appearances. From the crazy rescue plan to the memorable bit starring Darrick Clayton as Bill Clinton's breakdancing "contingency" ghost (it doesn't make sense in context either), the first three-quarters of this production is brilliant. Then, proof positive that Jane Martin is, in actuality, neither black (not that there was any suspicion) nor female (likewise), the awful finale--wherein a power-grubbing Hillary Clinton dons blackface and impersonates Condoleezza Rice. It's the opposite of funny. ANNIE WAGNER

Waxwings
Book-It Repertory Theatre at Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through Oct 31.

Jonathan Raban's novel Waxwings is the most important book about Seattle published in the last year, and thus a fitting choice to open Book-It's 15th anniversary season. Raban's archly incisive, wickedly satirical vision of Seattle during the dot-com boom is a surefire crowd pleaser, and laughs were plentiful on the night I attended. Terry Edward Moore as the solipsistic professor-protagonist Tom Janeway garnered the lion's share, often for doing no more than intoning, in a painfully pinched English accent (imagine John Cleese holding his nose), the names of certain local landmarks: "Chub-by and Tub-by." Moore plays Tom for laughs, which is enjoyable, but as a result, Tom's drama--his failed marriage and ensuing depression--becomes flat, his antics cartoonish. Sam Lai, as Tom's foil, the eager and rough-edged immigrant Chick, is much more human and appealing, and comes across as a complex, interesting character in half the time it takes to develop Tom.

Sadly, the long, careful narrative arc Raban develops in his novel--the power shifts between all the various characters--is mostly lost in this jumbled, ill-focused adaptation. The audience seemed amused but somewhat perplexed throughout, confused even over what the significance of the titular "waxwings" might be. Although Book-It's spoken-narration style allows for some nifty narrative compression, Raban's layered, thematically complex novel does not lend itself easily to the stage, and at intermission I saw several people thumbing desperately through copies of the book, "cramming," as it were, for the second half. KATE PREUSSER

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