The Playboy of the Western World
Exchange Theatre at Seattle Public Theater at the Bathhouse
Through Nov 28.

Exchange Theatre is opening its first Seattle season (the company was formerly based in Bellevue) with the J. M. Synge play that caused riots at its Dublin premiere nearly 100 years ago. Nobody raised a fuss at the performance I attended, though if someone had broken into an Irish reel--some of the wigglier audience members looked tempted--I might have chucked my notebook. The panting, sex-starved country girls in this strong production might still raise an eyebrow or two, but the real focus here is a timely parable of instant celebrity and groupthink.

A straggly young man (Ethan Savaglio) who has a way with words flees his home and takes refuge in an isolated Irish county. He stumbles upon a room warmed by the benevolent gaze of a Virgin Mary statue (glowing under a dedicated spotlight) and chilled by the sharp tongue of the virgin of the house (the excellent Tracy Repep). After bragging that he has offed his dad, the man becomes an overnight celebrity, stalked by the women of the town and championed by the men. Then his dead dad shows up. Director Vince Brady whips up a fine chaos, and his actors (particularly Savaglio and Repep) skillfully channel the fever of provincial imaginations. The company sidesteps a number of potential pitfalls--the accents are good, the set is relatively subtle, the rapacious girls don't overdo their slobber--and pulls off an immensely satisfying show. ANNIE WAGNER

The Designated Mourner
New City Theater
Through Nov 20.

Wallace Shawn's The Designated Mourner is a major work in a minor key. The play's themes, though founded on abstraction, address the most complex social, historical, and intellectual dynamics known to mankind, while its theatrics are so minimal that one could literally stage it with three actors and three chairs. New City's production of this tiny epic doesn't quite go that far (they use two chairs and a bed) but director John Kazanjian has clearly set his table by honoring the simplicity of Shawn's design. The result is an almost meditative state, in which the torrent of language--the play basically consists of a 90-minute monologue interrupted by several shorter monologues--is given ultimate priority. This trance is difficult to achieve at first; Peter Crook invests the lead role of Jack with an ingratiating tweedy Northwestiness (laughing at his own jokes, etc.) that distances us because we can see the character's wires. This approach pays off mightily in the second act, however, when it becomes clear that, far from trying to turn on the charm, Jack is a condemned man pleading his case before the jury in his mind. Crook's facility with Shawn's language, an artful dance between self-recrimination and self-justification, between reliable narration and outright deception, is inspired. A similar feat is pulled off by Mary Ewald as Jack's estranged wife, Judy. The first half of the show finds her chained to both the memory and the physical presence of her erudite father, Howard (Jack Clay, who unfortunately renders only the self-seriousness and not the seriousness of the man he portrays); post-intermission, with Howard gone, we see Judy emerge to claim her father's problematic legacy. It's a beautiful performance in a production I highly recommend. SEAN NELSON

A Eulogy for Citizen
Theater Schmeater
Through Dec 18.

Theater Schmeater is mounting a solid production of a flimsy new play by Josh Beerman, the winner of the theater's laudable new Northwest Playwright Competition. The dystopian drama describes a child so exceptional he becomes the world's first universal citizen. The backstory is complex, but basically there's this Aristotelian hierarchy of being that includes ordinary humans, god-like "Others," and a class of "Messengers" who serve as heavenly go-betweens. Citizen, as the redeemer figure is called, is the product of an unprecedented human-Messenger love affair, and he spreads love and joy until the day he turns 30, at which point he has a revelation or throws a massive tantrum (I'm not sure which) and rends a hole in the sky.

The script is full of portentous half-sentences about predestination and wisdom and authority, but Rob West's production tempers the play's excesses and brings out some sensitive performances. M. J. Sieber is excellent as George, the third-string movie critic whom Citizen grants an exclusive interview. Sieber's scenes with Khanh Doan--also strong as Citizen's wife--successfully convert the play's rarefied themes to a human scale. Garlyn Punao is perfectly cast as the blandly gorgeous savior, and Tony Shoffner transgresses wonderfully in the role of a dissenting Messenger. (The subtle, illuminated bracelets that distinguish Messengers from humans are a nice touch.) The only real misstep in this production is the incessant, grating piano theme. ANNIE WAGNER

Take Me Out
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through Dec 4.

When Darren Lemming (M. D. Walton), the sexy, mixed-race, hugely famous star of a major league baseball team comes out of the closet, the rest of his team reacts in predictable ways. In general, his teammates are incommunicative and stupid--they are, after all, baseball players--though several of them turn out to be surprisingly accepting and one of them is unsurprisingly revealed to be an ignorant, stuttering, homophobic racist. Let the games begin! The play itself is preachy and slight, especially in the plot-heavy second act, but the set is incredible and the whole thing is a lot funnier than you'd expect. Most of the cast is excellent and all of them look good in the buff: Early in the second act, half a dozen showerheads descend toward the stage and the team, facing the audience, showers together. Then, of course, someone drops a bar of soap. For all the predictable gags, there are also some clever exchanges, like when the jockish but sweet player Kippy (played charmingly by Doug Wert) tells Darren, in a sentimental moment, that he loves and respects him no matter what. The two hug. Then Darren unlocks from the embrace, looks around, and says, "Fucking faggot." CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE

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