Death of a Salesman
Capitol Hill Arts Center

Through April 30.

The late Arthur Miller's most lauded play is getting a revival at the Capitol Hill Arts Center, and while the production won't crush the playwright's ardent cheerleaders, it is likely to provide his detractors with a certain grim satisfaction. It's no secret that Death of a Salesman feeds some of its most pivotal and quasi-poetic lines to a lazy approximation of a lead character. In CHAC's production, Miller's total disinterest in Willy Loman's wife, Linda, is matched by a correspondingly vague and reedy performance by Sherry Narens. With the help of an actress who doesn't or can't restore some semblance of a soul to this hollow character, we see her for exactly what she is: a convenient way to develop the personalities, ethnic background, and the debts of the people who surround her.

The rest of the production is serviceable enough. David S. Klein is wonderful as Willy Loman, and Garlyn Punao, as his son Biff, injects fire into their striking and painful Act II confrontations. (Punao may, however, have been miscast. He tends to project suave groundedness onto every role he plays, and Biff is neither suave nor grounded.) Projected photographs fill the window frames that hang above the set, and some of them are great--the vertiginous brick buildings especially--but the nostalgic scenes from before the neighborhood was developed look far foggier and more coniferous than you'd expect for the wilds of Brooklyn. The apartment building where the Loman family lives, designed by Matthew Kwatinetz, is a bit garish and patchworked, which is more or less in the spirit of things. When Willy Loman's little crisis of masculinity starts to look quaint (loyalty to an unfeeling company) or, worse yet, diagnosable (early Alzheimer's), the production must follow suit. ANNIE WAGNER

Northwest New Works Festival
On the Boards
Through April 10.

Moisture Festival
Hale's Palladium
Through April 10.

At first glance, the two festivals seem worlds apart. One is in its second year; the other is celebrating its 22nd year. One tags itself as "tomorrow's innovators today" and presents works-in-progress by local Young Turks of high art. The other presents the simply high: clowns, jugglers, and other New Vaudeville stunt artists. Both are mixed bags with some greatness and some groaners.

The well-respected Northwest New Works at On the Boards is a curated showcase of new, experimental performance. Most of the music, dance, and theater this weekend used familiar postmodern trimmings--repetition, fragmentation, heavy use of reference and allusion--to either inspiring or embarrassing effect. Portland's Khaela Maricich was a treat; her jagged and charismatic solo piece combined original pop tunes with whispered monologues veering between innocence, seduction, and neurosis.

There was also some good dance. The most popular moves included partners spooning and rolling like a couple in a too-small bed and one partner pivoting off another's thigh.

The Seattle School premiered the entertaining but confusing Variations on a Fast Break, a combination three-on-three basketball game and improvisational music piece. There were also some stinkers, but I took a New Year's vow not to slam new works-in-progress. (Confidential to the vacant and didactic: Stop being vacant and didactic.)

Last weekend's other variety performance was genuine Euro-style variété. Merrily slapstick and roughhewn, the Moisture Festival wrangles vaudeville acts ranging from the local Circus Contraption to Berlin's marvelous clown Hacki Ginda. With acrobats, jugglers, and beer, the Moisture Festival is new, old-fashioned cabaret with all the corniness, sexiness, and unexpected brilliance that implies.

Both festivals perform next weekend with a brand-new lineup--have NWNW for dinner and a little late-night vaudeville for dessert. BRENDAN KILEY

Beau Jest
Taproot Theatre
Through April 30.

If one puts aside one's tendency to leap to the most cynical conclusion about every non-ideal situation and one's obsessive need to register the sinister subtext of a Christian theater company production in which stock Jewish archetypes are played (mainly by non-Jews) for uproarious Christian laughs, and whose moral is that Jewish traditions are ultimately kind of silly--Beau Jest presents a highly-skilled, entertaining-in-spite-of-itself night at the theater. All of which is to say that, yes, you can, with almost no effort, see this production, and indeed all Christian art, as a none-too-subtle advertisement for the one true faith that gets you into Heaven. However, on a much more basic level, divorced from its problematic underpinnings, Beau Jest is a cracking farce with a brilliant central performance.

At the center of the dumb story (neurotic Jewess hires male escort to pretend to be her Jewish boyfriend to please her parents, falls in love, despite the fact that--wait for it--he's a goy, oy!) stands the masterfully mannered Charity Parenzini, an actress whose throaty, three-octave voice and elastic energy evoke classic screwball heroines. She and equally deft costar Timothy Hornor gamely elevate the script's tiresome formula into something almost elemental. It's enough to excuse everything that might otherwise rub one so very wrong (ghastly purple-green-and-cream set inclusive). Because, after all, the holiest law of all is that you can't argue with a full house of happy, laughing people. Even if they're all Christians. SEAN NELSON

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