Shades of Parkland
Vodvil Theater, 329-9198.
Through Dec 1.

When Curtis Taylor (who modestly credits himself only with Shades of Parkland's "mise en scène") pulls together the various and tremendous talents of his friends, the result is, with all due respect, more a work of art than a work of theater. Its pieces fit together in the odd, oblique ways of brain-teasing puzzles, rather than the functional mortise-and-tenon joints of a box. Loosely arranged around the Sonnabend obliscence principle--which is that we are already forgetting the things we're experiencing as we're experiencing them--Parkland is a kind of opera, with light comedy, philosophical and moral riddles, and excellent visual tricks. "Shades," in this case can mean ghosts, and it can also mean nuances, or the way some characters are only steps away from becoming others. Many of its questions go unanswered--or you must answer them yourself. Why is the Policeman suddenly barefoot? Well, perhaps he's dead. Paradox is natural. Time flies past, as per Sonnabend, but is also unnavigably circular, reappearing without clarification as dream or memory. Space can be as flat as a scrim, or can recede in infinite layers.

Do I contradict myself, then, if I say that much of Parkland is unforgettable? Such as Janna Wachter's sweet mezzo-soprano, which can be earthy or refined as she sees fit? Or Eve Cohen and Lisa DeFrance's costumes, which give a bit of Art Nouveau Orientalism to the vague 1930s archetypes of Policeman, Widow, and Bride (the women's hats are extraordinary)? Or the soliloquy by Friese Undine, delivered in his slightly frighteningly precise tones? And as you remember these elements, they shift and rearrange and shift again, testing memory's assumptions, often failing.

What if I suggest that the underlying current of the play reminds us that nothing--especially once memory is involved--is as it seems? What if Sonnabend doesn't really exist? What then? What? EMILY HALL

Subterranean Homesick
Theater Schmeater, 325-6500.
Through Dec 14.

I was immediately charmed by this script, set in a basement apartment in Portland. An unemployed pothead named Tom (Alex Samuels) is roommates with Carter (Stephen Loch), a middle-management salesman insecure about how he can advance in the company. The pothead's sister Helen (Terisa Greenan) lives with them, works as a baker, and is romantically involved with Carter. What a marvelously familiar Northwest formula for absolute misery. This, if anything, is how Northwest literature should be written. Not surprisingly, playwright John Moe grew up in Federal Way and honed his skills in Walla Walla (where he attended Whitman College) and Missoula, where he was involved with the Children's Theater of that pot-loving town.

Enter Jack (Jerry Lloyd), a businessman in a slick suit visiting from Tampa, Florida, who claims to have known the father of Helen and Tom. He quickly identifies the three characters' desires (Carter wants to be respected at work, Helen wants to be respected at home, Tom wants to smoke hella weed and chill) and encourages them to indulge. Because he carries himself with confidence, he instantly controls the weak-willed Portlanders. Carter gets a raise, but Tom and Helen screw up their lives with Jack's influence. You'll have to see the play to see how it resolves.

Because it so successfully tapped into my pathetic, pot-and-"just-tryin-t'make-it"-influenced Seattleite soul, I am appropriately hard-pressed to give Subterranean Homesick a "review." The acting can seem insecure, but this is the fiber of the Northwest characters they portray. The script can be predictable, but it's just tryin' to do its thing. It's not bad. Hey, who am I to judge? At the end of the play, the actors make a flustered, genuine plea to the audience to see if they could donate some money to Theater Schmeater. Oh Northwest, you pain me, I love you, I'll stay with you forever. BRIAN GOEDDE

Theatre Company No. 3 at Union Garage, 720-1942.
Through Dec 15.

The Halloween candy corn has barely begun to gather dust and already 'tis the season for holiday-themed plays. The first one under the tree is Hellcab, the Seattle premiere of the Chicago play that has run continuously since its premiere in 1992. Much like excitedly unwrapping a present and finding a boring old pair of warm socks, this utilitarian offering is unfortunately uninspired.

For 70 intermission-less minutes, a succession of deeply unlikable characters come and go in the back of a taxicab during one 14-hour workday just before Christmas. Each vignette lasts just a couple of minutes before the blackout brings another crack addict, pervert, or racist into the backseat for their vitriolic monologue. There is no through-story whatsoever, and even the cabbie (an amiable everyman nicely played by James Venturini) reveals neither his name nor the circumstances that have reduced him to this unpleasant occupation.

Though the reason for this play's runaway success in Chicago is obscure, its popularity with actors everywhere is obvious. Six actors portraying over 30 characters is a great chance to pull out the wigs and really put that theater degree to use! There are some standout moments--Brad Cook is riveting as the Crack Head, Lori Lee Haener nicely wraps her novelty-flapper voice around Stoned Girl, and Julia Leonas is fearlessly absurd as a middle-aged nymphomaniac. But the most often the cardboard-cutout quality of the characters gets the best of the cast, and the acting choices made are rarely surprising.

If you believe, as I do, that the task of theater (and, in fact, of all art) is to take the cacophony of everyday life and shape that white noise into a story with music and meaning, you might as well take the ticket money and ride a taxi across town--you'll learn just as much about humanity, and you'll even end up where you want to be. TAMARA PARIS