Burnt Studio Productions at Northwest Actors Studio,
1100 E Pike St, 324-6328.
Fri-Sat at 8; $10, $8 students/seniors. Through July 29.

Sometimes fringe theater and cheap, meaningless sex can be virtually indistinguishable. Both can simultaneously amuse, bore, delight, and embarrass; and--unless you're a sellout whore--nobody makes any money. ISO...(in search of), the titillating performance art piece that was a sellout smash during this year's Fringe Festival, embodies all of these uneasy emotions in a one-hour show that attempts, through movement and music, to sum up the state of sexuality in modern life--a rather tall order for four actors in stretch pants.

But from the moment the clever lighting kicked in, the energetic and committed ensemble tore off their clothes and gave it their all through a series of vignettes linked loosely by their salacious content. In one bit the actors moan and groan on a pitch-black stage illuminated only at the barest edges by clumsily wielded flashlights, thrusting the audience into the position of voyeuristic park ranger peeking through the bushes for a clearer glimpse of the action.

In another, Samuel Read, the only male actor in the ensemble, recited from a laundry list of dirty words dug out from the depths of his dance belt. While hearing the phrases "butt-muncher" and "muff-diver" might have been groundbreaking during recess or even when Bush was President, now they're nothing you couldn't hear on a typical episode of NYPD Blue. In fact, the entire show, though amusing, suffers from the lack of a coherent purpose. The cast (which also includes Amanda Breed, Michelle Lockhart, and Donna Selle) obviously enjoy each other and playfully use plenty of tricks to keep the audience engaged and even amused, but like a roll in the sack with a stranger, ISO doesn't teach us anything we don't already know. TAMARA PARIS


Hangar 30, Sand Point Naval Base,
7400 Sand Point Way NE, 325-6500 (ticket window).
Thurs-Sun at 8; $15, $9 student/senior; pay-what-you-can on Thurs July 13;
$3 for actors/designers who bring headshots/resumes on July 6 and 16. Through July 30.

An exploration of the various facets of oppression, Closet Land attempts to show that totalitarian governments and sexual abusers are part of the same continuum. This relevant yet difficult play is directed by Tucson transplant A. J. Epstein; playwright Radha Bharadwaj directed a 1991 film version, which critic Leonard Maltin deemed "like a bad play that never went beyond workshop status." Despite that criticism, this production has admirable points, though the 90-minute one-act is exceedingly grim.

In an unnamed country, a children's book author (Shawn Yates) is charged by a government interrogator (Clark Andreas Ray) of writing thinly veiled antigovernment propaganda. Using plain, unadorned speech, the play slowly reveals the author's imaginative inner world, which she has employed throughout her life to maintain equilibrium under duress. She turns to her inner world while her sadistic interrogator manacles, slaps, sexually degrades, and electroshocks her to get her to sign a confession. This ain't Sunday in the Park with George. But Yates (who appeared last year in the campy Derailed Desires) and Ray do well with their material, and Richard Lorig's stage design is especially interesting--under harsh lighting, the theater seating is divided in half, so audience members must face one another and even look into one another's eyes during enactments of torture.

Closet Land's attempts to explore the continuums of human cruelty bring the play closer to home, but seem awkwardly placed, and there's not much depth to the interrogator's character. This material isn't groundbreaking, either: Depictions of totalitarianisms go back decades to Orwell and beyond. Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden also presented an uncomfortable depiction of torture's effects, but with more substance and rounder characterizations. Bharadwaj's sense of social responsibility and outrage over the Disappeared isn't enough to retrieve this play from its one-note quality. STACEY LEVINE


A Contemporary Theatre,
700 Union St, 292-7676.
Sun-Thurs at 7:30, Fri-Sat at 8, matinees at 2 (call for dates);
$23-$42, $10 for 25 and under. Through July 30.

Lisa Kron begins her monologue with a slide show--only the slides are just different squares of colored light. Kron describes the absent images in cunning detail, creating the slide in the audience members' minds. This swiftly and skillfully set up her three interweaving storylines: a pilgrimage she and her father took to Auschwitz, where her father's parents died; a trip her entire family took to Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio, where she's in the midst of making a videotape about her father; and her brother's wedding, at which her mother--whose picture hadn't been taken in 30 years--finally allows herself to be photographed again. Throughout 2.5 Minute Ride, Kron is smart and charming, full of self-deprecating humor and a certain bewildered curiosity about her parents' experiences and foibles.

Midway in the show Kron seems to have a breakdown, overwhelmed by the enormity of trying to describe the Holocaust when all she's really trying to do is describe her father, who's just a man in the middle of it all. It was hard to believe that this could happen in the thick of a show she's been touring for four years, but it seemed genuine, and I started to wonder if the show was going to have to stop--and then a slide clicked on and Kron deftly snapped back into her stories. I don't object to tricking an audience like that; but for the rest of the show, though I still found Kron funny and thought-provoking, her gambit made me too conscious of her acting to allow me to be drawn in emotionally. Though I wanted to be affected--particularly remarkable was the story about her father recognizing that if he hadn't been a Jew, he might easily have become a Nazi--all I could do was admire her skill. BRET FETZER