Most accounts of Camille Claudel, the late-19th-century artist and notorious mistress of Auguste Rodin, focus on the increasing madness that eventually institutionalized her. The tormented figure at the heart of S. P. Miskowski's intriguing La Valse, however, is not Camille, but her rigid brother Paul, who approves of neither her art nor her life, and helps destroy her when he can't make the sculptress fit the mold he's created for his world.

In Seattle Theatre Project's production of Miskowski's play, Kevin Mesher is a complex, pitiful Paul, lost in memories and torn not only by the past but by his inability to make it behave. Using a strained, Cheshire grin, Mesher achieves a difficult understanding of a man -- and, by Miskowski's extension, a society -- who finds himself frightened by bravery. Paul rails against his sister's unconventional approach to living, never admitting his own desires, while figuratively and literally wrestling with her in a battle for redemption.

Miskowski's smart writing here can be thoughtful to a fault. Many of her intricate, lovely monologues sound overwritten, and by the end, her deliberate shifts in time and tone become too heavy for director Lisa Anne Glomb to sustain the haunting, surreal tension that would have made the piece a complete success. In performance, Susan Riddiford is left alone by both the playwright and her director when it comes to making a clear statement about Camille. Camille is never completely affected one way or another by the debilitating events surrounding her, so Riddiford must -- and does -- keep our sympathies with the unwavering force of her intelligence.

What keeps La Valse from sinking under its grand designs is the care and attention that has been paid to it from nearly all sides. Miskowski's steadfast refusal to cleanly handle Camille's emotional dysfunction is actually an asset, and Glomb leads the rest of the accomplished ensemble to strong, engaging performances (particularly Jim Gall as a surly, captivating Rodin).

"I wish you could see how he occupies the room he enters," Camille tells Paul, in an attempt to explain her aesthetic passions as they concern Rodin. "You're describing a romantic moment, not art," Paul stubbornly replies. La Valse recognizes the fine line between reality and what we make of it, and finds art to be the greater sanity.

EINSTEIN'S DREAMS is a series of reflections about time and its hold on life, love, and mortality, articulated with the kind of professorial tone that usually keeps people from caring about the mysteries of science in the first place. The show, an adaptation of Alan Lightman's novel, falls into the same trap that has felled many other non-linear, experimental Annex productions of late: It has convinced itself that it knows more than you do, and spends an hour and a half preening in the knowledge.

Mark Gallagher's direction is filled with determined movement and multi-media elements, but places the evening at a considerable remove from his audience; the show lacks a feeling of shared discovery. An earnest ensemble of 13 actors, none of whom are really allowed to distinguish themselves, runs about the stage swept up in the idea that Something Very Important is happening and we'd best not disturb the solemnity of the event. Though there is some self- conscious humor and celebration, much of the information -- mostly snatches of third-person narrative or extended hypotheses ("Suppose that time is a circle...") -- is intoned with a gravity usually reserved for presidential addresses. This business of Time is certainly a serious one, yet surely even in the most awesome cosmic theories there is room for a sense of wonder or revelation. One might even argue that wonder and revelation are the ultimate goals of most awesome cosmic theories.

It doesn't help that the piece's disparate creative elements -- Amii LeGendre's fluid choreography and Sandy Cioffi's media design -- have not been organically integrated into the evening. Owing more than a few nods to the Japanese theatrical troupe Dumb Type (whose [OR], a piece dealing with similar themes, toured here in the fall), they sit on top of the work, annoyed by the discomfort. The piece really wants to dance, but, dammit, has to talk. The video footage (by now a tired staple of Annex work) is made with some style, but is usually competing with the movement.

The universe on display in Einstein's Dreams, though made with much effort, keeps its secrets to itself.

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