Noises Off
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through Jan 15.

I don't know what makes slamming a door so satisfying, but most stage doors don't cut it. Maybe you've got to have a really heavy slab of wood. Or maybe stage doors have quiet latches, when what you really need is something stubbornly metallic. In any case, the doors in Seattle Rep's Noises Off (and there are lots of them--the director of the play-within-the-play, Nothing On, declares that "doors and sardines" are his production's recurrent themes) close with a sort of hollow whoosh. Seattle Rep audiences are constantly applauding fancy sets the moment the curtain rises, but with due respect to scenic designer John Iacovelli, they should really learn to sit tight until they sort out what's important. Like doors that slam shut loudly.

Michael Frayn's Noises Off is a sophisticated sex farce about a company of actors staging a puerile sex farce. In Act 1, you witness a disastrous dress rehearsal for a touring production of the cheekily titled Nothing On. Act 2 brings you backstage during an even more disastrous performance, and then you get to play the audience-within-the-audience for a performance in yet another British hamlet-on-stream. It's telling that the comic potential of the play peaks after intermission, when the distinction between sophistication and puerility collapses and you're really smirking at the farcical behavior of the Nothing On actors, both onstage and off. Noises Off coyly grants audiences permission to laugh at a genre they might otherwise judge to be beneath them: We might think we like meta-farces about bad acting and worse plays, but all we really want is to see people fall down several flights of stairs.

So it's a relief when Bradford Farwell pitches himself down a stairwell face first--especially following the by-the-numbers first act, in which Suzanne Bouchard manages to drain the remaining color from an already beige character and Mark Anders, indicating his character's sleep deprivation, stalks around like a zombie. And Bhama Roget's ludicrous bad-actor tics would have been funnier if they were used more sparingly. All of this is unfortunate and probably director Richard Seyd is to blame, but the staged chaos of the second act is splendid, so I'll forgive him. Now, about those doors... ANNIE WAGNER

Smorgaspork: The Best of Ham for the Holidays

Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center

Through Dec 26.
To celebrate their 15th year of comedy togetherness, Peggy Platt and Lisa Koch are reprising a slew of old sketches. A couple of the spots earn points for their sheer aggressiveness--Koch's coffee-chain drill sergeant and Platt's put-upon camper have their moments--but most of the satire is tame and dated. (The goofy medleys and choreography of their Sequim Gay Men's Chorus can't hold a candle to the real flower-petal tutus of the Seattle Men's Chorus, to judge by their most recent newsletter.) I will, however, endorse the menstrual-feminism spoof "A Womanly Song." The singing uterus will forever be fertile comedic territory. ANNIE WAGNER

The Dina Martina Christmas Show


Through Dec 31.
After years of admiring psycho-drag sweetheart Dina Martina as the occupant of a creative airspace all her own, I've recently been exposed to a number of her artistic forerunners--such pitch-imperfect, self-willed superstars as Casiotone master Wesley Willis and the eternal Mrs. Miller, whose stature as the seminal "Is-she-kidding-or-is-she-crazy?" performer is well explicated by biographer Skip Heller: "As does the work of Plan 9 director Ed Wood Jr., Mrs. Miller gives us something in which there is so much human charm that we are disarmed by it. We laugh at first, because the ineptitude is so striking--but the enthusiasm, heart, and above all, frailty, touches the heart. Ed Wood and Elva Miller make us happy, and in ways that neither could ever have foreseen."

The same can be said of Dina Martina, the thrillingly untalented chanteuse/raconteur currently lighting up Re-bar with a brand-new, deeply warped holiday show. Compared with her past extravaganzas at On the Boards, Dina's latest is a stripped-down affair--no films or Phoebe, just a lady and her pianist and a spotlight, all used to maximum effect. Rock standards are molested into new holiday classics (with Dina's "Let It Snow"/"Let It Be" topping even her triumphant "Hotel California"/"Night Before Christmas"), gifts are bestowed, and malapropisms are strewn like confetti. But the highlights come from Dina's letters to God, heartfelt prayers to our Lord performed in a spotlight and rambling into territories beyond the scope of even the Old Testament.

Which brings me back to that Ed Wood/Mrs. Miller quotation. Like her forerunners, Dina Martina may never know why audiences love her so much. But behind Dina is writer/performer Grady West, who understands perfectly, offering audiences all the thrills of a performance by a legitimate talent-free psycho, with none of the "am-I-gonna-get-stabbed?" anxiety. Brilliant, as ever. DAVID SCHMADER

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