At the Union Garage,
1418 10th Ave, 720-1942. Fri-Sun at 8;
$12, $10 students/seniors/Sundays. Through Oct 1.

The Haint is in the best tradition of haunting legends: a portrait of people coping with the backwaters of their own psyches in the guise of a ghost. It's a tight and funny piece of one-man theater as well.

Ghosts make an ideal vehicle for relating to the metaphysical. The aloof gods may confound us humans, but ghosts deal in terms we understand. They throw punch bowls across the room, make us crash our cars on lonely roads, and bring messages and evidence from the afterlife. They spook us to the conclusion that there's something greater than ourselves and more important than our crass materialism. Ghost stories are great in proportion to what they tell us about ourselves.

A successful ghost story, Troy Mink's The Haint at the Union Garage is yet another addition to the recent slew of one-person shows that don't suck (go figure). Detailing the process by which residents of Midway, Tennessee turn a nasty murder/suicide into a contentious cornerstone of community identity (and sometimes income), The Haint tells its tale through a variety of extremely well-developed characters.

An old nurse named Mary--the best friend of Sister Opal, and next-door neighbor to little Carlotta Philpott (the characters' names alone are almost worth the price of admission)--kills her man and herself because she thinks he's two-timing. Midway moves from terror of a post-mortal "Bloody Mary" to appreciation that her legacy could bring in the tourists. For Bucky, Midway's resident spiritualist and all-around sensitivo, the undead murderess is a potential friend and fellow outcast.

From the sniveling mayor to the bitter, chain-smoking town atheist, Mink becomes them all, without any trouble in the transitions. During a séance scene, in total black with no gestures to help identify who was who, Mink performed a five-way panicked conversation, and I never had trouble distinguishing the speakers. That alone is a theatrical feat. BRENDAN KILEY



Support The Stranger

From Theatre Babylon at the Union Garage,
1418 10th Ave, 283-3841. Fri-Sat at 11; $8.
Through Sept 16.

Something deep inside me really wanted to like this production. And many of the signs were good. The woman in front of me in line actually overpaid purposely, explaining that she had seen the show during an earlier run in July and had underpaid then. But as I began to read the program notes, I started to worry. The language was very grandiose and self-congratulatory, using phrases like "How it all began," and explaining the production's oh-so-noble goal: to be a celebration of eroticism and "not a medium of pornography or shock value." It seemed they were taking themselves and this production--a series of shorts and vignettes revolving around sex--very seriously. I began to fear the worst.

When it all boils down, there are three ways sex can be dealt with in theater: abject humor, blatant porn, and total schlock. Because there is nothing--and I mean NOTHING--unique or original to be said about sex, taking a high-minded moral stance and trying to pull off the whole "sex as art" routine is a perilous approach at best, and one that almost always results in the aforementioned schlock. And so it is with The Erotic Divine.

Sure, there were a few relatively funny moments tossed in here and there, and maybe even a scene or two that you would want to recall later when home alone in bed. But the vast majority of this clumsy, halting production was composed of flowery and overdone pseudo-romantic cliché--the kind one might find written in some maladjusted, pubescent goth girl's notebook amid drawings of crying eyes and bleeding roses. And I am not kidding. Imagine a woman wrapped in a towel, sitting alone on stage, pining, "There was only one time he felt like home to me...." Then picture a few way-too-long slide shows of "erotic" images projected onto the curtain while someone plays acoustic guitar. Next, a disembodied voice reads more ridiculous and flowery prose in the dark. Please. Thirty minutes in, the guy behind me started to snore and I actually began to feel guilty about how much I really disliked this show. Gimme some good, honest, all-American porn any day. ADRIAN RYAN



From Earth Tribe Productions and Northwest Actors Studio,
1100 E Pike St, 324-6328. Fri-Sat at 8;
$10, $8 students/seniors. Through Sept 23.

Earth Tribe originates from Skagit Valley College's drama department, and got its name from members' Green commitment to recycling various detritus and crud at the end of theater productions. I never knew theater was such a prodigious source of pollution (okay, well, in some cases it is), but the company lives up to its commitment in another sense here, for this version of Shakespeare's tragedy is from a reworked, renewed script written in the 1930s by a then-22-year-old Orson Welles. The co-founder of the Mercury Theatre saw parallels between 44 B.C. Rome and pre-WWII fascist Italy; indeed, since his version cuts out huge swathes of the play in order to focus on the murder of a political leader, the results have ripe contemporary resonances.

Amid the stylized, pared-down movement and lighting design of Welles' conception, the gem-hard, gorgeous clarity of Shakespeare's language stands out, and in the hands of the four very competent leads, the play is very understandable even to those who haven't studied it. Also following suit from the Mercury production, the actors don and doff big-nosed mesh masks that are interesting-looking and disfiguring--not only offering the audience encoded moral readings of characters, but causing everyone onstage to look slightly like Liam Neeson (not as disastrous as it sounds). David Hogan's crisp, military Cassius has glittering, swarming eyes that belie the illness of jealous greed; he handles the part so adeptly that I began to believe I was in his place, envious of someone who had become more successful than myself.

Joe Osier as Mark Antony gives a lovely, disturbing "Friends, Romans, countrymen" speech, impassioned with some kind of steady depression that's apparent in his face, too. When he cries of his friend Caesar's death, "Oh what a fall was there," he really evokes the despair and moral rot that encircle this play, while remaining far from melodramatic. A surprisingly skilled production. STACEY LEVINE