Riff Raff
Theater Schmeater
Through Oct 1.

Riff Raff (by Laurence "Morpheus" Fishburne) starts with a bang and ends with a gunshot. Mike (Beethoven Oden) bursts into a dingy, abandoned apartment with three kilos of stolen heroin, a gun, and a wounded comrade named Torch (G. To'mas Jones) in tow. These petty hustlers have ripped off a major New York drug lord and killed his courier. Mike calls Tony (Sean Morrone), his childhood partner in crime, for help.

Riff Raff is a drama of tangled and sometimes hidden allegiances, but it is primarily a thriller, a woefully underutilized genre in live theater. Fishburne wants us to understand the three men and their complicated relationships, but he knows that nothing keeps an audience hooked like a mystery and the threat of violence. The characters are roguishly charming and full of stories about associates with cool handles like Freddy Nine Lives, but the play never lets us forget that, at bottom, these are sad, desperate people.

The actors are adequate and director Aimée Bruneau (managing director of Capitol Hill Arts Center) maintains good momentum—Riff Raff is pretty exciting for a two-act play set in one room. I only wish there had been more literal and figurative juice. At one point, Torch pisses his pants. Later, he pulls a wounded hand out of his pocket, but Jones's pants and hand stay miraculously dry. It couldn't be too hard to fill his coat pocket with red goo or rig a water-squirter in his trousers. A dripping hand, pissy pants—choosing a few moments like these to raise the stakes would elevate Riff Raff from entertaining to riveting. BRENDAN KILEY

My Last Year with the Nuns
Market Theatre
Through Sept 23.

Matt Smith is a likable enough guy. He's warm and wiry and performs My Last Year with the Nuns, a revival of his collection of reminiscences about growing up Catholic in 1966 Capitol Hill, with enthusiasm and gentle Seattleite charm. Unfortunately, the show itself, while chock-full of period detail and tasty local flavor (and who doesn't love a little old-timey Seattle yarn-spinnin'?) is nothing more than a slow, disjointed trudge down somebody else's memory lane.

Occasionally amusing and frequently gross, My Last Year with the Nuns has its moments. Smith addresses the charms and foibles of adolescence with equal candor, detailing both the exhilaration accompanying a perfect loogie (a recurring theme) and the casual cruelty of an evening of "beatin' up queers" at Volunteer Park.

The problem is that most of these anecdotes seem only half-formed: a hollow chain of unrelated events constantly teetering on the brink of "you had to be there." Smith apparently thinks they can stand on their own—he provides almost no narrative structure, editorial comment, or grown-up perspective. This style works okay for the comedic moments (if the inside jokes of a bunch of eighth-grade boys can be considered "comedy"), but when he tries to get poignant or topical, opting for pregnant pauses and meaningful looks over actual, um, writing, it all falls apart. My Last Year with the Nuns is basically just a list of facts, interspersed with long, awkward silences, which Smith expects the audience to fill with meaning. LINDY WEST

Greasy Demon Heat
Gallery 1412 and Vertebrae Theater
Through Sept 30.

The first installment of the five-part Greasy Demon Heat cycle was crowded, collegiate, charming, and, despite starting 25 minutes late, cannily timed. It was messy, too. I'm still figuring out how to scrape the sticky, ichorous goo off my boots.

Before the performance, a crowd of a several dozen people milled around in front of Gallery 1412. Someone handed out a few helium-filled balloons (I got one, my date didn't). Movement artist dk pan passed out ticket-sized strips of paper that shed a black powder reminiscent of copier toner. One read "dk pan provided courtesy of p.a.n." Somewhere a soprano warmed up, singing higher and higher, her voice thinning and weakening until it resembled a theremin. Audience members with balloons, about half the crowd, were led away down the street. I stayed put and went inside, surrendering my balloon at the door.

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Ringed by a string quartet playing slow, somber music, Ryan Mitchell and the lanky Sam Mickens sat onstage before a pair of suspended microphones. Wearing a housedress, the nameless soprano (there were no program notes) came out with a mop and began singing. Mickens and Mitchell dispassionately directed the proceedings ("Ruthie, please take your seat with the cue cards") while pan fondled a large knife and devolved into semi-verbal agony. Occasionally, Mickens would grab a big white bucket and douse the performers in red, blood-like syrup. Less than 30 minutes later, the show ended when a troupe of clowns stormed in, screaming, humping, and hurling cream pies at one another.

Much of Greasy Demon Heat came off as college students discovering performance art. Yet the sudden, structurally smart ending as well as several vivid sequences (the crackle of sticky feet on concrete and pan elegantly peeling off his syrup-soaked shirt) make this probably crazed, certainly chaotic, cycle worth another visit. CHRISTOPHER DELAURENTI