A Map of the World
Bridges International Repertory Theatre
at Richard Hugo House, 526-1888.
$25. Through Feb 4.

Aaron Levin, the executive director of Seattle's newest theater company, wants Bridges International Repertory Theatre to do more than entertain. He wants nothing less than to "increase awareness, understanding, and acceptance of all people and cultures." To this end, he has chosen for their inaugural production David Hare's A Map of the World, set in 1986 at a United Nations conference on world poverty in Bombay, and also on the set of a film inspired by an event that transpired there.

Victor Mehta (Siddhartha Chakravarti), a novelist who has been asked to speak at the conference, clashes violently with idealistic journalist Stephen Andrews (Jason Cottle) over matters both political and sexual. The African nations that have gathered to negotiate vital aid packages threaten to disrupt the conference because of Mehta's pointed attacks on socialism. Andrews, concerned more with the nature of mercy than with fiction, has drafted a disclaimer for Mehta, which has him outraged.

On a whim, Peggy Whitton (Rachel Glass), a film actress staying at their hotel, offers a solution to the dilemma: A neutral member of the press, Elaine LeFanu (Amy Kim Waschke), will hear the men's arguments and then choose a winner. For one night, the victor will claim the spoils: Peggy.

The cast in this handsomely mounted play is uniformly excellent. Cottle is especially riveting and believable, though his performance occasionally suffers from Hugh Grant-isms. Only Glass grates, with her shrill voice and tired girlish mannerisms. But my favorite moment of A Map of the World was the curtain call, when a truly integrated cast lined up and beamed at the audience. Seventeen actors--black, white, Asian, Indian, Hispanic, and who knows what else--brought this thought-provoking story to life. At that moment, it seemed like Levin might actually lift Bridges up to its noble goal. TAMARA PARIS

Theater Schmeater, 324-5801. $12
(under 18 free). Through Feb 10.

Originally produced to acclaim by New York City's Negro Ensemble Company in 1979, Home has a kaleidoscopic structure that challenges its actors to play seemingly innumerable parts. Most of these are thumbnail sketches of characters from the town of Cross Roads, North Carolina; playwright Samm-Art Williams employs dense, lyrical language to suggest the climate, lifestyles, and folkways of the South. With only a scant suggestion of costume--a scarf, a pair of sunglasses, a hat--actors Deanna Companion, Melvin Ellis, and Selena Paquiet switch among their roles with amazing rapidity and extraordinary clarity, construing the nearly bare stage as a town rife and vibrant with familial struggles, song, sexy innuendo, and cultural traditions dating from the era of slavery. The story follows a son of Cross Roads, Cephus Miles, through his 1950s childhood and into Vietnam draft resistance, then into the lure of Northern cities and 1970s-era street life (Deanna Companion does a hilarious riff on a pimp).

Playwright Williams, a Tony award nominee and former political science student, employs Cephus as a prototype for those African Americans who in past decades came to the North in search of economic opportunity. The unbelievable discrimination and hardship they found often led to homelessness and worse. Williams posits the rural South and working the land as a pure, mythic antidote for the North's ills, a conclusion that is not remotely realistic. As Cephus finds deep satisfaction, love, and a sense of God--in other words, home with a capital "H"--in returning to Cross Roads, I wondered if Williams' message is a conservative one: that in the end, it's best to stay where you come from. Decide for yourself while enjoying terrific performances; Williams' poetic soliloquies on the sounds and scents of the country are ably expressed, especially by Paquiet. STACEY LEVINE

The Tragedy of King Christophe
Seattle Public Theater, 524-1300.
$16 - $19. Through Feb 4.

Aimé Césaire is, like Vaclav Havel, that rare great man who is both an important statesman and a good poet. Not only did he found "Negritude," the worldwide cultural movement in which black people acknowledge Africa as the mother continent of all humankind, but he has been mayor of Fort-de-France, Martinique since 1945. Césaire's The Tragedy of King Christophe is based on the true story of Henri Christophe, a galley slave who became leader of Haiti after it won its independence from France in the l8th century. Christophe is intelligent and sensitive to the oppression his people have suffered under the Europeans; his tragedy is how, along the way to empowering his people, he becomes as oppressive as the foreigners he helped to overthrow. This play is more than just a political tale--like Shakespeare's history plays, it's an exquisitely written epic drama.

Unfortunately, the acting and singing talents of this earnest cast are not always up to the task. Jeff Gilbert's powerful voice and bearing effectively convey Christophe's initial self-confidence; but when Christophe must face his people's dissatisfaction and rebellion, Gilbert keeps up the same bravado. Césaire's text contains some gorgeous, practically Elizabethan monologues for the declining, introspective king, but Gilbert doesn't allow Christophe's quieter parts to come through.

The second lead character is Baron Samedi, a trickster/jester played with great energy by Angie Bolton. Director G. Valmont Thomas makes references to the importance of voodoo in Haitian culture by suggesting that Baron Samedi has some mysterious power over Christophe, and Bolton's physical suppleness captures this well. The other six cast members play multiple parts. Some actors are pretty wooden and ought not to sing at all, but Dawn Plummer and Sylvester Kamara demonstrate particular range.

In bringing King Christophe to U.S. audiences for the first time, Seattle Public Theater, which bills itself as "theater with a conscience," is performing an important cultural service. I hope this production will lead to more performances of Césaire's work. REBECCA BROWN