Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer: Jan 13-Feb 14 at Bagley Wright Theatre
Part theater, part revival, and all power, this one-woman show will have your head nodding and hands clapping!

Empty Space Theatre

Through Oct 23.

Every once in a great while, a play comes along that reminds us why we've been dragging ourselves through a swamp of mediocre shows. Frozen is one of those plays. It's a deceptively conventional work, without an ounce of whimsy, surrealism, or experimental histrionics, but it slaps us in the face, knocks us around, and leaves us grateful for the privilege.

Delivered mostly through monologues, Bryony Lavery's script follows three characters linked by the disappearance of 10-year-old Rhona: her mother, her male abductor, and the psychologist (little more than a glorified, high-tech phrenologist) sent to study him. The plot is simple, but the characters are riveting. Lavery knits their sometimes-overwhelming stories with a powerful argument about social science, liberty, and moral agency that is both ancient and topical. Some critics have accused Frozen of being manipulative—it is, and brilliantly so.

Among other things, Frozen is about absence. The script calls for three actors, but the play really has six characters and each actor has to conjure a ghostly counterpart: the vanished Rhona, her traumatized sister, and the forensic psychologist's collaborator. In less capable hands, the lengthy monologues and projection of absent characters could be a mess, but Lori Larsen (Rhona's mother) and Peter Crook (the abductor) are breathtaking. (As the psychologist, Kate Wisniewski is good, but not as stunning as the other two.) They don't waste a single word of Lavery's intelligent, harrowing, and, at times, shockingly funny script. Crook is particularly mesmerizing—watching him stalk his quarry and coolly recount the experience is terrifying in its understatement.

Seattle audiences routinely give standing ovations to lackluster shows. See Frozen to learn what we should be standing and cheering for. BRENDAN KILEY

The King & I

5th Avenue Theatre

Through Oct 9.

Stefanie Powers must sleep in a chunk of solid amber and drink 42 gallons of spring water per day. Or, she's a robot. If my math is any good, and it isn't, she was at least in her mid to late 30s way back in the mid to late '70s when she was Hart to Hart–ing it up on ABC with Robert Wagner, so by now she must be close to 260 years old. But as Anna, the British schoolteacher who travels to Siam to teach the royal children, she's fresh as May dewdrops (our seats were pretty darn close, so I had a good look), thin and agile, and she prances around the stage in an enormous hoopskirt like a coked-up pony. Wearing an enormous hoopskirt. That sings. It's all really very unreasonable. It's against the laws of nature. It has to be the work of the devil.

The devil I can handle. My problem is Rodgers & Hammerstein.

The King & I is not my favorite theatrical endeavor—it's dated and trite and tuney and über-corny and pretty much confirms that the entire oeuvre of Rodgers & Hammerstein is much like an aged aunty, only to be wheeled out on occasion for sentimental reasons—no one you'd hang out with just because you wanted to.

But for sheer visual oomph, the 5th Avenue gets top marks as always—the Siamese sets and costumes dazzled and blinded (Spangles! Billions of them!). Also, I would be woefully remiss if I didn't note the warm charm and tremendous operatic talents of Catherine Mieun Choi as Lady Thian, the King of Siam's head wife. And the King of Siam (Ronobir Lahiri) has really nice pecs. But like most musical theater, The King & I seems bound for the trunk in the attic. ADRIAN RYAN

Don Quixote

Book-It Repertory Theatre

Through Oct 16.

Most people are dimly aware of Don Quixote (or at least the barest details about a delusional old man who jousts with windmills), but few have actually read the book and experienced Miguel de Cervantes's smart, satirical voice. So it seems an excellent project for Book-It, which prides itself on preserving the author's own words in its dramatic adaptations—even though the novel's length presents some problems.

Act 1 proves disastrous and insulting: A sort of CliffsNotes version of the first half of Don Quixote, reduced to repetitive, lackluster slapstick. Adaptors David Quicksall and Anne Ludlum have turned Cervantes himself into a character, but only brief passages of the book remain, squeezed between thumps and pratfalls.

Fortunately, Act 2 is a radical improvement. The second part of the book resumes after the first part has become a popular success and Don Quixote and his squire, Sancho Panza, are renowned. The narrative turns in on itself with layers of self-referentiality (the sort of thing usually thought of as "postmodern"), which proves to be engagingly theatrical and emotionally complex. Undoubtedly, Act 2 is just as gross a reduction of its source as was Act 1, but being less familiar and more coherent as a story, the result is far more satisfying. The cast turns in solid performances; Wesley Rice as Cervantes and Troy Fischnaller in various roles are particularly sprightly. BRET FETZER