Seattle Public Theater
at the Bathhouse Theatre facility on Green Lake,
325-6500. Through June 10.

Melodrama, in Olga Sanchez's production of Bandido! The American Melodrama of Tiburcio Vasquez, Notorious California Bandit, means much more than stereotype and overacting. In order to understand the resonance that melodrama lends to Sanchez's production, one has to consider melodrama in the context of Latino culture: its populist appeal in things like soap operas and comic books, its political influence via folk tales, its ceremonial religious importance.

These are heavy lenses through which to view what is, on the surface, merely a humorous musical, but Luis Valdez's script fuses heavy and light with disarming ease. Ban- dido! tells the legend of the last of the "Mexican" bandits to terrorize California--although, as the playbill avers, in reality, Tiburcio Vasquez was a Californian-born poet, and "cut an unassuming figure in- capable of eliciting terror." The play, using the structure of a "play within a play," attempts to deconstruct the truth and romance of Vasquez's adventures, which run the gamut from adultery to robbery to, in the public's eyes, murder and rape.

Vasquez sees himself as a revolutionary figure--therefore he is doomed to martyrdom or condemnation. As Vasquez, Chris Boscia portrays this with admirable gravitas, as around him the mostly amateur cast members wobble through their song-and-dance numbers. The two main female characters are well cast, with Faye Summers as dewy-lashed whorehouse ma'am California Kate, and Nitzi Arellano as a Disney-voiced Rosario Leiva. As for the rest, perhaps singing and dancing are not their strong suits, but given that it's a melodrama, amateurism does not seem inappropriate. What Bandido! serves up is an evening of politics that's fun--and while the style may appear so silly as to be meaningless--in the end, as one character observes to Vasquez, "the moral vagaries of your life, sir, confound the melodrama." TRACI VOGEL

The Racket
A Theater Under the Influence
at the Union Garage, 720-1942.
Through June 9.

Theater, nowadays' is soft. Seems like everywhere ya look there's some recovering alcoholic mime doing a one-person show. If crooked cops, hard-boiled reporters, and smart-talking molls with nickel-plated hearts are more your style, this revival of the forgotten gem The Racket will make you happier than a showgirl with a credit line at Cartier.

Bartlett Cormack's 1927 drama takes place at a police station on the outskirts of Chicago. The stubborn Captain McQuigg (played by Tom Fraser) has been reassigned by his superiors for standing up to the mob boss, Nick Scarsi (played by Brad Cook). Meanwhile, three newspaper reporters play cards and drink the captain's bootlegged whiskey, waiting out the inside scoop with the patience of scavengers around a quickly cooling corpse. For the first few moments of the play, men in rain-spattered fedoras with cigars clenched between their teeth rush resolutely around, exchanging dialogue with the rat-tat-tat of a Gatling gun. The effect is delightfully dizzying, though almost entirely devoid of meaning. But quickly, as your ear adjusts to the outdated slang and the frantic pace, this convoluted story of Prohibition-era political corruption becomes as clear as a cup of moonshine.

For serious film fans, this terrain will seem familiar, and rightfully so. Cormack, a newspaperman who answered the siren's call to Hollywood, helped pen the screenplay for The Front Page, which at last count has been remade five times--the third as the screwball comedy classic His Girl Friday. I've probably seen that film 20 times; with each viewing, my longing to enter into its world--populated with handsome men in smart suits and wise-cracking gals who can light a cigarette without taking off their gloves--just increases. Happily, director James Venturini and his talented cast have successfully evoked this vanished era, complete with wet wool, whiskey, and smoke. My only regret was that, when the lights inevitably rose, I was plunged back into the realm of Gore-Tex, lattes, and Altoids. TAMARA PARIS

We Are Not Good Girls
The Liberty Deli on Alki Point, 935-8420.
Through June 30.

The dinner part of the We Are Not Good Girls dinner/theater show is really, really tasty. There are two great salads: an ungloppy spinach salad, and, according to my girlfriend (who is from the Midwest and knows about these things), "the best cole slaw I've ever had in my life." The cabbage is sliced very thin, there's pretty bits of red and green pepper, and there's no gross, greasy mayonnaisey taste. There's a fantastic Northwest-style (by which I mean it contains neither sausage nor any other unidentifiable mystery meaty byproducts to frighten you away) jambalaya, and, as scary as it sounds, an extremely yummy catfish-shrimp casserole. There's sweet, heavy cornbread and chewy, crusty brown bread. If one has no shame, one can seriously load up one's self-serve plate. If one is brazen, one can even go back for seconds. There's also beer and wine for purchase--I'd pay the 10 bucks for this spread in a minute.

Then after dinner, there's the show.

The first act is set in a cramped dressing room where five contemporary female blues singers--portrayed by Kate Hart (a longtime blues aficionado, who's also the playwright), Doris "Peaches" Gray, Meg McLynn, Patricia Oglesby Henderson, and Sabrina Prielaida--trade barbs and jokes and stories of the hard lives they've had on the road, while Nick Vigarino comments on the action as a sort of preacher/chorus. Despite lots of snappy one-liners, the women's stories are the rather predictable ones of lost love, abuse (sexual, emotional, and alcoholic), and too much work for too little money; the characters don't develop or surprise. But in the second act Vigarino accompanies the women on acoustic slide guitar as they sing, and there are some spirited vocals, particularly by "Peaches" Gray. I kept wishing they'd skipped the first act altogether, had better mics, and sung more sweaty blues. REBECCA BROWN n