Money & Run
Go Hawaiian

Theater Schmeater, 324-5801. Through Aug 18.

Young artists often trumpet passion over professionalism--usually because they can offer a lot of one and little of the other. But in the case of theater, the kids may be onto something. You can find professional theater all over Seattle: well-regarded Equity companies doing first-run works from major playwrights, and a battery of independent voices filling garage spaces with local plays. But the theater scene, rather than sparring across Seattle's artistic landscape, burbles like a friendly cocktail party. At its worst, the shows start to blend into a bland blur of competent performances.

Monotony is a particular shame for theater, as stagework depends on human beings relating to other human beings in real time. For an object lesson in how passion adds punch to the theatrical experience, we turn to an unlikely source: Money & Run Episode 5: Money & Run Go Hawaiian. In putting on his latest serial episode, playwright and co-director Wayne S. Rawley draws on four underutilized strengths of theatrical art to create a vulgar, ultimately forgettable show that, for sheer ability to hold an audience's attention, kicks a lot of tasteful theater squarely in the ass. Here's how:

Money & Run is serial entertainment. Serials do the populist gruntwork in loads of other media, so why not in theater? Serials are particularly good onstage because they reward an audience's devotion. Rawley skillfully peppers his Hawaiian caper with references to past episodes from the series; no one feels slighted, but diehard fans clap as if such asides were written particularly for them, which they were. The end result is an audience hooked into the text, even if it's just to hear the equivalent of their own name being shouted.

Money & Run depends on good-natured satire. By setting his stories in a '70s-TV-show reality, Rawley speaks a language audience members understand--a language to which they feel superior. At the same time, Rawley's approach undercuts nostalgia by reminding us that most of the gritty pop expressions of three decades past were flat-out crap. Rub those two sticks together and you have instant thematic depth. The Hawaiian episode, at least, is artistically limited in that the satire never takes on much of an edge--the show lacks the savage, façade-ripping glee that gives this kind of satire its bite. But at this point in the endless devour-regurgitate cycle of destroying American good taste, does anyone need to be lectured anymore?

Money & Run shamelessly humps the crowd's leg. Multiple dance numbers and audience participation spell "stay away" for many theatergoers. But for what Rawley and company intend, the Al Jolson version of narrative integrity will do: When all else fails, drop to a knee and start singing your hit. I'd rather see a show that pokes me with a stick than one that constantly takes my temperature. One doesn't have to find any of the bits funny to enjoy the bouncy energy that results from its lack of proportion and modesty.

Finally, Money & Run embraces the physical. In an era when many dramas are staged like a forensic debate, Rawley and his cast indulge in fistfights and run around like happy three-year-olds ditching their garments for a romp in the grass. None of it shines, but the focus on movement reminds us that theater is as much about bodies interacting as about actors embodying dialogue. It's just easier to watch theater that keeps this in mind.

None of these things make great art. But shows like Money & Run Go Hawaiian are review-proof; if you like this kind of thing, you're not only going to see it, you probably already have. If you don't like it, then nothing I say will stop the cramping. It's one of the more endearing elements of theater culture that a show like Money & Run Go Hawaiian can display a grasp of a few fundamental strengths of form that Pulitzer-winners and critics' darlings rarely recall--it's like rediscovering poetry through a well-told fart joke. Money and Run's latest caper only aspires to be sturdy fun, but at least it has the strength of its own convictions. May its white trash heroes stay ahead of the bad guys forever.