Dirty Little Secrets

Annex Theatre, 1916 Fourth Ave,
728-0933. Thurs-Sat at 8, Sun at 7,
added performance on Wed Sept 6;
$12. Through Sept 9.

When a play is called Dirty Little Secrets, it is reasonable to expect, well, dirty little secrets. Unfortunately, although this play may be new, the "tabloid fodder" it draws its material from isn't. It's a pitfall inherent in the very fabric of this production: A play takes time to research and write, and the public's attention span is short and fickle. The stories that comprise this show are sensationalistic but not venerable--easily forgotten. All of the stories are more than a little dusty, and all were widely and well publicized. The revelation that Michael Jackson is a deranged fruitcake who shacked up with Elvis' daughter to cover up his penchant for little boys is a story well into its sixth year, and easily repeated by any average American kindergartner. And what red-blooded Americans haven't worn out their VCR's "pause" button watching Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson's homemade porno tape?

None of the brief scenelets--four in all, bouncing from one to the other, Love Boat-style--were explored in any more depth than was commonly available in the popular press. Nothing new was revealed. So what Secrets amounts to is dramatic interpretation of celebrity scandal; imagine four actors reading from dated tabloids and you have a pretty good idea of what I mean.

This production's saving grace is that the dramatic interpretation is actually very good; each member of the four-person ensemble deserves equal praise for his or her performances. Paul Budraitis alternated seamlessly between a dying Frank Sinatra and a raging Tommy Lee, and each of the three female cast members juggled several characters with convincing ease. With virtually no costume changes and a Spartan set, the actors managed very distinct and vibrant characters--an honorable achievement in a play that requires each actor to play several different parts. When the storyline began to drag, I was shaken awake by the skill and comedic timing of the actors; a good performance is always interesting in its own right. Even though the stories were less than fresh, with acting this good, it was still fun to see them played out. ADRIAN RYAN

The Chairs

Intiman Theatre, Seattle Center,
201 Mercer St, 269-1900. Call for
times; $23.50-$42. Through Sept 9.

The Chairs portrays an elderly, isolated couple who catalogue their regrets, which primarily consist of the old man not having accomplished much of anything. A series of invisible guests arrive, invited to hear an orator that the old man has hired to express everything he has to say about life. Are these guests figments of senile dementia? A mutually agreed upon game? A piercing metaphor about the loneliness and absurdity of life? These questions would be more compelling if playwright Eugene Ionesco were interested in genuine human experience, rather than symbols and ideas. If he is trying to create characters, as opposed to mouthpieces for an intellectual concept, his writing is too broad; all that the old people can remember are generic parent-child conflicts or vaguely Biblical allusions (they were, at some point, cast out of a garden). As their guests arrive, the couple put out more and more chairs, until the stage is clotted with them. It's a symbol both vague and pre-digested; its meaning is obscure, but its meaningfulness is so transparent that there's no pleasure in trying to interpret it.

For director Kate Whoriskey, The Chairs seems to be primarily an opportunity for visual images. Stacks of white books, occasionally used as furniture, artfully litter the blue stage; as each guest arrives, a little boat floats by in a channel of water around the stage; while fetching chairs, the characters pop in and out of different-sized doors in a wall covered in AstroTurf. At one point, red balloons and confetti tumble down as the elderly couple welcome an invisible emperor--maybe this is meant to be some wry comment on our own political conventions. The Chairs is attractive to look at, its best moments the silent ones, when the design (and despite their best efforts, the actors amount to little more than design elements themselves) can be enjoyed without Ionesco's bland, pedantic words getting in the way. BRET FETZER

And Everything Nice

Odd Duck Studio, 1214 10th Ave, 324-
1062. Thurs-Sat at 8 pm, through Sept
2. All performances pay-what-you-will.

These four performances, originally performed this summer in the annual Mae West Theatre Fest, have little in common aside from a bare stage behind the performers. A guitar duo (Kate Brown and Clay Rosenthal) cheerfully warm things up, then three solo performance pieces by women ensue. The obvious highlight of the evening is Keira McDonald's Showerhead, an examination of body image that's so engrossing I forgot to take notes. McDonald begins with a free-form critique of her character's body, but we get the idea that this character, while pinioned by the ways the culture tells women they should look (i.e., thin), has an awareness that these pressures are not rooted in absolute truths. With comic rapidity, the talented McDonald (a Texas native) makes her body parts speak her inner/unconscious thoughts, mostly in thick New York accents. The result is hilarious: Her upper arms, belly, and piece of skin below her bra on her back all take on distinct personalities. When the character faces off with her own insecurities over her ex-boyfriend's new sweetie, McDonald's build of tension is admirable. Somehow, the writer/actress is able to convey the ways that age-old gender roles make us all small, rather trapped creatures with fewer options than we realize.

Mistress of Milk, written and performed by Zoe Wright, a former student of solo performer Susy Schneider, is about a prissy woman who is also affected by the body-image problem, but seeks recourse by starting a club for women disappointed in their breasts. Toward the end of the piece, she asks, "Why do I care so much about these things?" but her performance does not provide the answers or self-reflection that McDonald's does. The evening finished off with Christina Black's White-Knuckled Bride, about which the less said the better. STACEY LEVINE