Vagabond Alley

Through Oct 26.David Mamet's Oleanna is a fascinating backhanded indictment of higher education, sexual harassment, and the hyper political correctness that exists in society today. The audience witnesses a seemingly innocent interaction between college professor John and his failing student Carol. Attempting to inspire Carol's desire to learn, John's teaching method is misinterpreted as a sexual advance, and he finds himself slapped with charges of rape.

Mr. Mamet is arguably one of the best composers of words and dialogue that represent a genuine American voice. His words stutter, stumble, and repeat. The frustration (or joy or anger or ambivalence) of a Mamet character is not so much expressed by what he or she says, but in the interrupted, rolling rhythm of the words. The success of a production depends on the actors' ability to embody this rhythm.

Actor David Glowacki (John) understands Mamet's rhythms implicitly; his performance is controlled and the words actually appear to be his own. However, actress D'arcy Harrison completely ignores the nature of Carol's language, and in turn derails the play with her lack of subtlety. Harrison's inability to control her baffling outbursts and spastic gesturing is disappointing, if not shameful; she appears to be acting in some other play. Rather than a philosophical boxing match, the production seems to portray a reasonable man dealing with a raging schizophrenic. As a result, the climax of the play, when John's frustration boils over, is rendered implausible by Ms. Harrison's failure to grasp her character.

This miscarriage of dramatic development could have been stopped if the play were not directed by committee. Of the three (yes, three) directors listed in the program, surely one should have seen the lopsided interpretation and set things straight. The play Oleanna is sublimely deceptive in making the audience doubt in the second act what occurred in the first. Ms. Harrison and the directors succeed in making the audience doubt the whole thing. GREGORY ZURA

When Grace Comes In

Seattle Repertory Theatre

Through Nov 10No, you're not imagining things--Heather McDonald's When Grace Comes In is confusing as hell. I'll go out on a limb and say that the confusion is actually a good thing. At the risk of sounding pointy-headed and psychobabbly, this story details (perhaps overdetails) an individual's deep inner process of spiritual reawakening--a process which should, by definition, be largely unfathomable to onlookers. The individual's name is Margaret. She's a senator's wife and an ex-painter, and she's going through a midlife crisis. Quite often her three children will stop playing to regard her, offering sage editorial narrative in eerie reverb voices, and her dead relatives periodically pop in to deliver obscure messages while dressed in otherworldly drag.

There's no doubt that this show has to be appreciated in terms of its poetry, not its prose. When Grace Comes In is full to bursting with watery dreams, clunky Jungian symbolism, and misty emotional meanderings. Only occasionally does the action take place in real time: Most frequently it seems you're seeing events as they are interpreted and experienced through the emotions and personal psychological symbolism of one unique individual, not as they objectively occur.

The imagery is thick, wet, and often sorely obvious (symbolism should be a gentle whisper, not a screaming neon sign), and at two and a half hours, the show is at least 30 minutes too long. Still, the poetry of the script and the undeniable elegance and ingenuity of its staging had me enthralled. I was drawn into the dreamy reverie and emotional urgency of Margaret's story, and charmed by this moving, deftly acted piece. Once I finally figured out what the heck was going on, of course. ADRIAN RYAN

A Terribly Spooky Money & Run Halloween Special

Theater Schmeater

Through Nov 2.If, like me, you're the kind of damn fool who hasn't yet seen an episode of Money & Run, reform thyself with quickness. An "action adventure serial for the stage," this is a necessary theatrical event, in no way serious, highfalutin, or alienatingly experimental. The comedy is down-home, full-throttled, and wonderfully, endearingly cheap.

A freakishly imaginative comedy-bomb from the brain of writer and director Wayne S. Rawley, the series follows the weird doings of a lovable antihero outlaw couple in the nonspecifically Southern Cudrup County. This episode, well into the series, leaves many whys and wherefores unaddressed, but 10 minutes into the show, when you're already laughing so hard that your stomach hurts, it hardly matters.

A Terribly Spooky Money & Run Halloween Special features our antiheroes, the town drunk, a mad scientist, local liquor-store khan Big Momma Bob, and fisticuffs with monsters--but description is futile. There's nothing you need to know about Money & Run except that it's reckless, raucous comedy for an appreciative clutch of devoted audience members, and you can bring your martini into the theater for a little sip-laugh-sip.

Some bits fly, others flop, but nobody gives a damn. Everyone's in the house to hoot and holler late into the night. This is the kind of theater that wins converts, a balls-out, unharnessed late-night carnival everyone can enjoy--critics, fellow actors, and the folk who think they'd rather be watching the latest innovations in reality television. I've not heard a bad word about the series, and only regret getting in on the act so late. Thank the good Lord that Theater Schmeater mounts reruns. BRENDAN KILEY