The Shneedles
Odd Duck Studio
1214 10th Ave, between Union and Madison, 324-1062.
Fri-Sat at 10:30, Sun at 7. $10 donation suggested.

The hard-working Shneedles--mild-faced gents aglow with the flavor of an antediluvian circus and the sheer hard work of physical comedy--offered up a grab bag of parodic stage illusions, Laurel and Hardy-esque glances, and silent skits that really pleased their audience last weekend. Bill Robison and Wolfe Boward (each armed with an amazingly flexible face) breezed through their 50-minute comic romp with very little dialogue. I even heard one audience member complain that the Shneedles' rollicking and brief musical numbers shouldn't have had lyrics at all, or else not in their brand of flat American English, because that tarnished the otherwise Euro/silent film-era flavor of the evening. Still, one of the strange ditties, accompanied by ukulele, recalled American frontier days ("Oh, what do they do on a lonely night in Reno?")--proof of the oddball structure and deliberate non-symmetry of the show. While at times a thin theme seemed to loosely frame the comics' gag-studded routines, it wasn't emphasized, as if the performers considered it dispensable. Structure is superficial in a show that recalls Chaplin and Tati.

All in all, The Shneedles is a fast-paced, late-night delight. Robison--who according to the press kit has opened for "entertainment giants like Frank Sinatra..."--displays the edgy, bewildered look of a lost impresario or a character out of Beckett. His timing is perfection, yet he's not afraid to leave the audience puzzled for protracted, artful moments. Bowart is the large, ham-handed, and goofy foil to the wiry Robison, who portrays the "straight man" in most of the routines. One routine includes a simple music stand, which Bowart and Robison eventually make seem as complex and unwieldy as a giant radio tower. STACEY LEVINE

Under the Gaslight
The Empty Space
3509 Fremont Ave, 547-7500.
Tues-Sun, times vary, through July 9. $18-$26.

No one truly believes, even for a minute, that the oncoming train in the climactic scene of Under the Gaslight will run over the heroic servant tied to the tracks. But it's just as hard to believe any theater company in the year 2000 would produce a two-hour Carol Burnett sketch and attempt to pass it off as a celebration of a discarded theatrical form. Mining laughs from the broad characterizations and histrionic audience pandering of 19th-century crowdpleasers is something high-school kids might find challenging, but watching a professional company like Empty Space embrace this approach baffles and depresses.

Director Eddie Levi Lee stages Under the Gaslight as if it were an actual performance given by a road company in long-ago Seattle, complete with song-and-dance numbers by company members during scene changes. This is historically accurate: Burgeoning American theater giant Augustin Daly's original play was performed this way, re-written for road companies and their casting limitations. But except for audience access to a couple of unremarkable costume changes and a single old-time special effect (that train again), one could be peeking backstage at members of a curiously dressed present-day garage troupe.

Without an overriding interpretation, Under the Gaslight simply never coheres. Performers are left to get laughs whenever and however they can. Jeffrey Treadwell displays exaggerated physicality to occasional comic effect, while female leads Bhama Roget and Imogen Love come closest to developing amusing offstage and onstage personae. The opening-night audience loved both them and the show. In fact, as much as I'd like to believe otherwise, future audiences will also no doubt love this whole smirking, slo-pitch softball of a production--they'll get the jokes and they'll leave feeling superior to the unsophisticated theatergoers of 125 years ago, even if they've learned very little of substance about the plays they enjoyed. In the end, Empty Space panders as much to its intended audience as the original road companies did to theirs. TOM SPURGEON

Money and Run
Theater Schmeater
1500 Summit, 324-5801.
Fri-Sat nights at 11, through June 24. $6, patrons under 18 free.

If you missed the first "episode" of Money and Run, not to worry. It's played in a sequential TV series format; the concept and cast--which includes nuns, ninjas, mad doctors, bandits, orphans, and town drunks, to name a few--is introduced through a manic opening bit that includes a recap of the last episode and painstakingly choreographed "opening credits." This sequence introduces Money, a bad girl with a troubled past (Lisa Neal) and her sexy, one-eyed paramour Run (G. Joshua Sliwa), a couple who get their kicks by knocking off liquor stores and then rushing off to rescue nuns and orphans like an ersatz Bonnie and Clyde. They are pitted against their nemesis, Big Momma Bob (Julie D. Rawley). Momma wickedly plots to dispose of the town's thriving population of parentless children by selling them to mad Dr. Asswagon (the always hilarious Brandon Whitehead), whose experiments are in desperate need of human guinea pigs.

Add to this a capsule of top-secret microfilm and a gang of mail-order ninjas, and it all evolves (or devolves) into a hybrid Three's Company meets Natural Born Killers. In a good way. The humor is smart and furious, the characters appropriately outrageous, and the plot just coherent enough to keep it all together. The cast even managed to work around that bane of all Theater Schmeater productions--a huge view-blocking, neck-kink-inducing pillar that sits smack-dab in the middle of the Schmee stage! All in all, Money and Run, "Episode 2" shaped up to be that perfectly satisfying comedy experience: The players and audience enjoy themselves in equal measure. While you may think you have more entertaining things to do at 11:00 p.m. on a Friday or Saturday night, trust me. You don't. ADRIAN RYAN