Northwest Actors Studio Cabaret

1100 E Pine St, 324-6328. $10.

Through Aug 31.

Here in good old liberal, godless Seattle, we still underappreciate the American South. Caricatures of the inbred and the fat bigots are not without their truths, but they negate our ability to see the delicate beauty and gothic horror south of the Mason-Dixon.

Of course, references to the South's literary ambassadors (Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor) can be just as clichéd, but they have their own truths. The point? If nothing else, Three-Tenn-One will remind you that the South is more complicated than Jesse Helms and kudzu.

A collection of three Tennessee Williams one-acts, Three-Tenn-One examines the familiar Tennessee topography of lame men and disappointed women. Beneath this dialogue of archetypes, Williams sifts through longing, violence, love, and a (sometimes not-so-) sublimated sadomasochism. The borders between violence and sexuality aren't very well patrolled in Williams' world, and while he presents us with a more dynamic, humane view of the South, there's plenty of sultry evil to go around.

In the great revue tradition, some pieces soar while others stink. The best of them, 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, gives us the South as pure Williams territory. The characters weave polite small talk that conceals deception, and revenge festering under a veneer of formal etiquette: Machiavelli meets Emily Post meets George Wallace, all on a front-porch swing.

However, Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen is, as the title intimates, a heady snoozer. Composed of two lengthy monologues, its poetics are, I'm sure, far more compelling on the page in the afternoon than in front of an audience at a late-night show. But, as more than one critic has noted, we can probably learn more from Williams' failures than from many playwrights' greatest successes.

On the whole, it's good performance fare. Sit back, drink a beer, and take a good look into another social geography. You'll find more than simple belles and stumbling bubbas.

by Brendan Kiley