MATTHEW DURHAM

Hot Grits
Re-bar
Through Nov 8.

It's hard to fathom how, in a world where even Smash Mouth have been the subject of their own Behind the Music episode, anybody would want to create a new story about a rock and roll band. It's all (the drugs! the egos! the in-fighting!) been done a zillion times before. But by defying expectations—a musical about an all-black, all-female, 50-percent-lesbian punk quartet based in Seattle—and underplaying the clichéd drama, Hot Grits shakes off these weighty constraints to become something really entertaining.

Lola (Rachael Ferguson, in-your-face and resplendent in her flouncy green tutu and zebra-pattern stilettos) and Jordan (Nicole Cherie Peoples, cool and competent) are lovers trying to make their mark in a lily-white city that generally ignores black women unless it's feeling guilty about oppressing them. They decide they need to "single-handedly bring Seattle to its mopey, indie-rock knees." After assembling Hot Grits, the ladies confront the usual just-starting-out difficulties: They're not sure if they should be annoyed or flattered that a blog post talks too much about what they look like, and it's impossible to get noticed in The Stranger because it's all "nepotism and who can suck the most cock."

Hot Grits wastes no time on unnecessary introspection—no explanation about why the women are into punk, no speeches about how difficult it is to be a lesbian—but sexual politics are still important to the play. The actors have made themselves into a credible band and the songs are top-notch. Their punk-rock cover of James Brown's "Please Please Please" is damn fine and other songs, with lyrics about man-breasts and how "I didn't marry a white man so I'd have to work," are funny, solid, and just plain good. Unlike so many other fictional bands, Hot Grits would be worth paying to see in a club. And unlike so many other plays about rock musicians, Hot Grits leaves you wanting more. PAUL CONSTANT

Black Gold
ArtsWest
Through Nov 15.

Black Gold begins with a promising premise: A working-class black family man in inner-city Detroit strikes oil in his backyard. Turns out that the neighborhood sits on a vast reservoir that could solve America's foreign oil problems. The world, predictably, goes bananas.

Seth Rozin, of Philadelphia, has written a scattershot play with dozens of subplots and detours, some cheap and some amusing. The president gets blowjobs while giving press conferences, late-night commercials sell DIY oil-drilling kits, Israeli and Palestinian actors produce Lysistrata at Gaza, a young mechanic with a fondness for "Harry Potter burgers" is lured into a white-supremacist organization, and Americans recruit an intifada kid from Palestine to pitch for major-league baseball after seeing him throw rocks at Israeli soldiers on TV. (Rozin also preempted criticism of his play with a review of the Lysistrata: "wooden... preachy... predictable." Well, Seth, you aren't all wrong.) Black Gold aims for Brechtian metatheatrics with seven actors playing dozens of characters, lots of direct address, and keeping the house lights up on the audience, which feels more academic than anarchic.

Whatever the failings of the play, the production made them worse. The seven actors are working hard—way too hard. Director Christopher Zinovitch has them running and jumping and declaiming and shouting and climbing the chain-link set and staring into the audience while delivering the poignant lines ("and 11 innocent people were killed") and declaiming some more. It's as if Zinovitch wants the production to be as unpleasant and cruel as the world it satirizes. Bob Williams, as the family man, was an oasis of calm in a desert of hysteria, but the frantic staging and tatterdemalion sets and costumes have the cumulative effect of a Utilikilt—it wants to be tough and stylish, but it's just goofy. BRENDAN KILEY

Don't You Dare Love Me
Macha Monkey
Through Nov 22.

Will we people ever get tired of writing about/reading about/talking about/watching plays about/watching movies about/watching TV shows about/obsessing every waking moment about our relationships? If, at some point, the sheer volume of pages and ink and pixels speculating about why-he-said-what and where-she-went-last-night will swell to the point where literally everything is covered. Oh, relationships? Yep, got that all hashed out. Infinite monkeys with infinite typewriters–style. Case closed.

Of course we won't get tired of it. First of all, because what would we talk about? (The economy? Psh.) And secondly, because every time the conversation about the mundane intricacies of our love lives starts to get boring, some deft, funny writer like Keri Healey comes along and resuscitates it. Again.

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The issues in Don't You Dare Love Me—the newest effort from local playwright Healey, who previously covered the pathos of online sex in Parrot Fever (Or, Lies I've Told in Chat Rooms) and staged domestic dramas in IKEA showrooms—are not new. Kirk (the funny Shannon Kipp) is a real-estate agent struggling to nail down a commitment from her boyfriend Evan. Evan, meanwhile, flirts with a bartender named Paige, who is the erstwhile lover of Tristan, who flirts with Kirk at an art gallery. Tristan incessantly leaves voice mails for CJ (thinking it's Paige's number), who is juggling an alcoholic brother and a series of fantastically awkward dates with Glen. The alcoholic brother gets drunk at Paige's bar. And so on.

You have absolutely heard these stories before. But Healey peoples her little world with such curvy, quirky, fully realized humans (played, helpfully, by an intensely likeable cast) that the familiarity of the framework is an asset. It lets everyone breathe and grow and fill up the corners with funny, anecdotal conversation: "I found this drill. In my wall. I tore down the drywall and it was right there. It's like my house gave me a gift." Because that's what keep relationships interesting—the people in them. LINDY WEST