Wreck the Airline Barrier
BROWNBOX Theatre at Rainier Valley Cultural Center
Through April 29.
It's difficult to get purchase on Wreck the Airline Barrier—it's a scattered, impressionistic collection of outsized caricatures and sharp lines that riff on God, bigotry, pop culture, and violence. And it takes place on an airplane. The script is a mess, ranging from brutally funny ("This next song is about how difficult it is to communicate with words; it's dedicated to a friend of mine who committed suicide and didn't leave a note") to pleasantly surreal ("Once upon a time, you can't always get what you want, in the Land of I'm Not Sure I Understand You, they put handcuffs on flowers") to incantatory ("This goes out to all my New Age muthafuckas, all my plane-crash niggas, all my nigga niggas, all my white-trash, Jerry Springer niggas" repeated over and over).
Playwright Adriano Shaplin uses the anxiety of flying to explore the violently racist inner life of white passengers, played by black actors. The lines rattle out with a fury that makes it difficult to keep up. Sometimes we're not sure we want to. One character asks the others: "You guys ever play with Legos or put them in your mouths?" Another character answers: "Me? No. Just my son's cock." Once the shock of the play's vicious language and fractured surrealism take over, it gets funny. And then tedious. And then really tedious—the lines keep spilling out and Shaplin doesn't know when to turn off the faucet.
To its credit (and unlike most other plays that attempt to pin down the greased pig of American racism), Barrier rarely feels sanctimonious. As one character mock-snarls during a crescendo of cussing and threats: "Don't make me mad or I'll... write a play!" BRENDAN KILEY
Seattle Public Theater at the Bathhouse
Through April 30.
The set is appropriately generic for a story that happens entirely inside a lobby, with a metal-frame revolving door and a vapid piece of "lobby art" (some paper-and-ribbon confection) hanging on the wall. The story concerns Jeff, a self-described fuckup who got kicked out of the Navy for smoking pot, fell into gambling debt, and wound up as a security guard on the night shift. His only regular visitors are a pair of cops in love and his relentlessly duty-minded boss, who says things like "If you stick to the rules, we never have to have a conversation about whether you were justified in breaking the rules." (The rest of the play is about each character's struggle with when and how to break rules.) Jeff is a goofball and an irredeemable motor mouth—we love him, his lack of pretense, and how much he irritates the other characters. Then something happens—the boss's brother gets arrested. Anxious because his brother is black and has a slapdash public defender, the boss breaks a rule of his own. The cops get involved, Jeff falls in love with one of them, and moral dilemmas stack up like Jenga blocks.
Kenneth Lonergan's script is tight and tense with well-timed comic punctuations and his hallmark naturalistic dialogue. The four actors are very good and understand the script's high-stakes drama and unexpected comic turns. New performance of late tends toward hybrids of burlesque, vaudeville, and rock 'n' roll. Theatrical mutants may be the wave of the future, but it's still refreshing to see a really well-crafted play. BRENDAN KILEY
What You Sing Might Save You
Through April 30.
A mostly pop cabaret, somewhat inspired by the 1977 film Looking for Mr. Goodbar, this Nick Garrison vehicle relies on several assumptions. One: Nick Garrison is a good singer and a funny guy. (This is true.) Two: The phenomenal success of the Seattle production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which reinserted popular music into the theater musical, was due to its narrative structure, its politically incorrect genderfuck humor, and the appeal of Nick Garrison. (True, if you ignore Sarah Rudinoff. And gummi bears. And glitter.)
What You Sing Might Save You has unmistakable Hedwiggian vibes. Little Nick Garrison, who loves his mother deeply, is happily growing up in some godforsaken outpost (this time, it's an Alaskan island, not Communist East Germany). Little Nick comes into contact with a product of pop culture (Looking for Mr. Goodbar, not American rock music), which broadens his horizons and triggers a fantasy world of blurred gender identity. Delicate subjects (including cripples and "deafies") are not so much broached as humped until all their humor is spent. Songs are sung.
The only reason to see What You Sing Might Save You is the songs—original compositions, familiar tunes with adapted lyrics, and straight-up covers. I'm not sure what Neko Case's "Look for Me (I'll Be Around)" has to do with Looking for Mr. Goodbar, but it's fabulous. The members of SissyFist, who read lines of movie dialogue off their music stands, can't act; the framing device is a groaner. But if you want to see Nick Garrison in a wig, singing his heart out, go to Re-bar. Again. ANNIE WAGNER