Seattle Fringe Festival
Various venues, 322-2018, or
Through March 18.

"Would you like a god's eye?" When a pack of youths in matching pink T-shirts hand me the Popsicle-stick-and-yarn creation, I know I'm close to the 11th Annual Fringe Festival parade. The clever promotion is for Eye of God. "Is it a comedy?" I ask innocently. "No!" they shout in unison. Nice kids, but I manage to lose them in the crowd gathering in front of the Broadway Performance Hall.

Nurses with giant papier-mâché goldfish on their heads, near-naked cavemen, chain-smoking clowns, babies smeared with face paint in strollers trailing streamers--it's like we're walking all the way to Burning Man. I'm not sure if we'll make it, though, since most of the actors, writers, directors, producers, technicians, and supporters here all look hung-over, exhausted, and startled to be awake before noon. Hell, we'll be lucky if we can stagger as far as the festival's unofficial clubhouse, the Elysian Brewery.

Nine of Seattle's finest lean against their motorcycles and sip nonchalantly at their coffees, waiting to guide the festivities safely up Broadway. When I ask one of the officers if he'll be attending any of the shows promoted today, he shakes his head. "I gotta coach my little girl's basketball and then I gotta take my wife out to dinner for her birthday." Momentarily jealous of his apparently idyllic life, I don't bother telling him that the festival offers 450 separate performances of around 93 different productions over the course of two whole weeks. But his response does reaffirm my belief that the festival should rename itself "Accessible and Entertaining Theatre Festival." Don't these freaks know anything about marketing?

A few days after the parade, I'm drinking a Caffrey's in the cool, dark refuge of Barça, a tavern conveniently located approximately three feet from all the festival venues. A glittery, zaftig figure dashes past the open door, and I leap to my feet. It takes only a moment to coax Spare Change writer and director (and Stranger co-worker) Pauline Luppert to join me for a drink. "It's out of my hands now. Right? It's up to my actors. Jesus, I'm so damn nervous I'm going to have heart failure," she mutters, dragging on her cigarette with the eloquence of an MGM movie star. "But what could go wrong?"

Two nights later, something goes wrong. I'm sitting next to Pauline, who is clad in a shantung sheath and clutching her opening-night bouquets. The house lights are up and people in the audience are still leisurely finding their seats, when somebody in the booth slips in, not the pre-show mood music, but the song that cues the start of the show. The actors leap into action despite the muffled shouts of "No!" from the booth and the little shrieks of panic from Pauline. But you know what? That's just how it is with Fringe. It all got worked out and the show was a delight. If the other 90-odd shows are as accessible and entertaining as Spare Change, somebody should seriously consider my name change for the festival. At the very least, it might encourage the cops to come. TAMARA PARIS

Another Jackass Tries a One-Person Show
Shoogie Shoog Productions

If you're like me and you find it excruciatingly amusing to watch a sad clown high on crystal break into his ex-girlfriend's house, steal her drugs, read her diary, and stop himself from "paging her from her own phone," all in rhyming verse--then baby, has this jackass got a show for you. Demented, fearless, confrontational, bubbling with self-loathing and thwarted desire, and apparently born without bones, Mark Boeker has crafted an hour of pure insanity that left me hoarse and dizzy from laughter. Damn, this shit is funny. TP

...among the ruins: Ten by Kafka
Defibrillator Productions

Terrific. The young, local ensemble troupe that adapted these tales succeeded in a way that the recent and dreadful ACT/Philip Glass adaptation of Kafka's "In the Penal Colony" did not. Minutes before the ubiquitous house manager came on stage to tell us the locations of the bathrooms and exits and to ask us to turn off our cell phones, the ensemble was already performing an elaborate choreography of pushing paper through an office. Each of the eight cast members was dressed in the black pants and white-shirt uniform of some stultifying office (like the Workers Accident Insurance Bureau where Kafka toiled throughout his entirely miserable office-worker life). The useless busy work that recurs throughout Kafka's writing hovers around this sharp production, too. These guys GET Kafka. Joby Emmons, who plays the Messenger, is amazing in a non-speaking version of the paranoid creature in "The Burrow." Spencer Thorson is also particularly good in "Rejection" and "A Country Doctor." REBECCA BROWN

Anonymous Productions

There are some plays that are so distressingly stilted, unimaginatively staged, and outright look-at-me precious that the unstated Fringe contract between charitable, indulgent audience and eager-to-please performing company becomes null and void. Save yourself the potential embarrassment of leaving early. TOM SPURGEON

Eu, Voce e Todo Mundo

Solid actor, mediocre show. Brazilian actress Juliana Jardim rattles and preens through her multi-character performance with astonishing clarity, making use of an unfamiliar but evocative actor's vocabulary. But the show never transcends its adjective-heavy qualifiers--as a woman's show, or a worthy cultural exchange--to capture its audience as pure theatrical experience. TS

The Bride's Tales
Dappin' Butoh

Joan Laage's Dappin' Butoh ensemble has revived this work for what may be the group's last performance, as it "will undergo reorganization" soon. Women in tuxes play men, men in wedding gowns play women in these seven dance vignettes about marriage. The carefully stylized movements work for as long as they remain suggestive. But when they get literal--as if trying to illustrate puns--they go too far. In "Adam's Apple," someone tosses an apple from off-stage so Adam/Eve can take a big, crunchy bite out of it. In the performance I saw, the dancer didn't catch it, so they had to throw another apple out. "Wedding Feast" ends with the voracious guests chowing down on the bride/cake/victim. Get it? It's an interesting effort to try to marry Butoh movement with Western narrative, but the mix didn't work for me. RB

Cherry Cherry Lemon
Round, Firm, and Fully Packed Productions

The best-written new piece I've seen; an intelligent, funny, and moving exploration of love, friendship, and sex, by Seattleite Keri Healey. This two-woman show depicts the friendship between a divorcée who can't get over her former husband and a party gal who can't find anyone worth the trouble it would take to settle down. Sure, this may be run-of-the-mill material, but Healey's writing is so beautiful, wise, and hilarious, it may as well be the first time this story has ever been told. Amy Augustine and Keira McDonald are fine actresses with excellent timing. I saw them each slip from the stumble of a gal who's had a few too many at a party to the sadly spaced-out monologue of things you can only ever think to your most miserable self. These two actresses were also great at imitating, the way spurned lovers do, the stupid mannerisms of their exes. Aaron Loidhamer's sexy, funny solo guitar accompanies the whole excellent show. RB

Eye of God
Pucker Up Productions

Craig Zagurski is frighteningly believable as Jack in this Tim Blake Nelson play, which was the most substantial script I saw. Nelson seriously grapples with questions of faith and love and how we live with our pasts in a serious play that is refreshingly free of po-mo irony. But it's also very, very intense. Be prepared to be bummed out. RB

Is This Your Duck?
the Baggy Pants

If you're going to ape someone, you can do worse than David Shiner and Bill Irwin. Is This Your Duck? builds around the kind of broad, vaudevillian clowning made famous by that pair in Fool Moon. The individual set pieces presented here are fine, if overlong, but the performer-authors kill the show dead with an extended finale that depends way too much on audience affection for characters only briefly introduced. Ian Fraser and Christopher Bange the performers need to put Ian and Chris the writers back to work and fire Ian and Chris the directors outright in favor of someone who will tighten this promising if unoriginal show. TS

The Lesson
Next Step Theatre

Do not go see it unless you're a friend of someone in the cast. RB

Mother Load
Eat Your Peas Productions

Louise Carnachan and Camille Wooden's tribute to divorced mothers of the Donna Reed era has all the fringe value of a taping of Northwest Afternoon. But its sympathetic Friday-evening audience rhapsodized over material mined from the performers' similar pasts, despite the hokey comedic motifs and relentless observation-observation-blackout structure. Carnachan and Wooden deserve credit for not shying away from the incredibly bleak portions of their shared emotional landscape, and one gets the sense the performers are stretching themselves--even if the audience is not. I might take my mom, but she'd owe me big time. TS

the Degenerate Art Ensemble

The DAE is a reincarnation of the amazing Young Composer's Collective, which was always up to some cool exploration of new music. In Nymph, the nine musicians back dancer Haruko Nishimura in a Butoh-inspired movement piece. Nishimura is amazingly plastic--she can twist her face and arms and hands like a Gumby. I kept trying to figure out what the title had to do with the music, video, and movement, but I couldn't. The presence of the helmeted boy scout on the tricycle didn't help. I'm guessing he represented some kind of clowny Western dumbness, but I don't know.... There were also lots of scissors, a big book, a scratchy radio, and a rolling chest of drawers in this piece. You walk out of the theater wondering if you've just had a revelation or nightmare or if you've been the butt of a joke. RB

See Me Naked
Open Circle Theater

See Me Naked has a simple dramatic premise: The nameless protagonist may or may not strip by play's end. Maria Glanz's warmth and charm as "She Who Would Be Naked" obscures the play's unremarkable to dull investigation of body issues and sexuality. The only dramatic tension comes from the changing relationship between audience and lead and how that affects one's desire for the potential outcome--not the cultural Cliffs Notes and bland anecdotes making up the show's unattractive narrative body. TS