R (The Swashbuckling Tale of Anne Bonny and Mary Read)

Macha Monkey at Chamber Theatre

Through March 8.Alterna-pop-cultural feminism too often engages in the insane chase for reprehensible female heroes. In a confused pursuit of revolutionary culture politics and anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better-ism, some misguided women's studies warriors promote wretches like Medea and Valerie Solanas to a dubious pantheon of "badass babes."

Given that regrettable tendency, let me heap praise upon Kristina Sutherland and Desiree Prewitt for their fabulously titled and well-executed R (The Swashbuckling Tale of Anne Bonny and Mary Read). They wisely avoid all temptations to romanticize or wax sanctimonious in their two-woman show about famous 18th-century female buccaneers. Instead, they offer a compelling, straightforward story about the rise and fall of two women who preferred piracy to petticoats.

Well-written and well-paced, R suffers only from a general lack of grit. The guts of a production are often in the details, so I've compiled a short list of suggestions to help the cast conjure the proper swashbuckling mood: (1) When you spit on your swords, the floor, or each other, put some sputum into it. As my intimates can attest, a little phlegm works wonders for a heated exchange. (2) That rum jug should contain some actual firewater to drool down your chin and spit on the floor. (3) Let that leg hair get shaggy--you think they kept Nair in the brig?

Between the well-balanced biographies, lively swordplay, and Sky Lynn's outstanding live musical accompaniment, these women have a good thing going. With a little more vim and vigor, you could graduate from above average to flat-out great. BRENDAN KILEY

Wounds to the Face

Union Garage

Through March 15.Wounds to the Face is a thoughtful, intense, moody, broody piece of theater. It's a "serious artistic statement," certainly, and I thought it was swell. But don't go barreling out to see Wounds to the Face just because I recommend it, because you have to be in what they call a certain "head space" to really enjoy it.

Why? It's a lot to take at times: stylized, serious, on the verge of buckling under its own artsier-than-thou symbolism. Composed of 17 loosely connected, highly choreographed vignettes, Wounds to the Face takes as its subject the human face (ergo identity, ergo vanity, ergo, somehow, fascism for god's sake), which can be a surprisingly touchy subject.

However, nothing leavens a weighty subject matter like masterfully humane acting, and there are some absolutely gorgeous performances here: Aimee Bruneau intrigues, Sarah Malkin delights, and Beethovan Oden smolders. Further praise must be lavished on Michael Savage and Grace Hearn, who provide a deeply evocative background soundtrack to the artsy action, and must be given credit for creating and sustaining a healthy portion of the mood and dramatic tension.

So do I recommend this show? Yes, I do. Does that mean you should see it? If you're up for a heady, unapologetic Theatrical Statement, don't miss it. ADRIAN RYAN

Boys Gets Girl

Seattle Repertory Theatre

Through March 23.If the premise of this politically naive and dramatically inert play is to be believed, romantic comedies and exploitation movies turn regular guys into psychopathic stalkers. And to think that I believed Ted Bundy when he blamed pornography! Bright and brittle single girl Theresa (played by Liz McCarthy) is a successful magazine writer who clicks around purposefully as her high-rise office and Ethan Allen showroom apartment slide on and off stage to the predictable oohs and aahs of the subscription audience. (How come none of these "everywomen" ever work in insurance?) All is well until, after one uneventful date, unbidden flowers, phone calls, and then death threats unfurl in short order--forcing our heroine to change her name and move to Denver to become a sports columnist. The End.

Oh, if only it were that quick and painless. After a fairly engaging first half, the second act collapses into a paralyzing and formless miasma--leaving a stage full of talented actors with nothing left to stand on but a big pile of ham. Who can blame them for making sandwiches? Stephen Payne, as a thinly veiled Russ Meyer stand-in, even manages to shape his blatant contempt of the entire proceedings into a transcendently hilarious AND touching performance. Wringing each line for a chortle or a gasp might be exhausting to watch, but at least they're trying. That's more than can be said for this apocalyptically boring mess' director, who seems not just misguided but completely absent. TAMARA PARIS

Escape from Happiness

Theatre Babylon at Union Garage

Through March 15.Canadian playwright George F. Walker's play, touted as a throwback to the screwball comedies of the 1930s, is a supposedly humorous work, with dark twists involving a family entrenched in a "battle of denial." Attempting to make safe the neighborhood in which his wife and three daughters live, a one-time abusive father has been masterminding an overly complex, and ultimately more dangerous, series of vigilante-spirited acts of crime. When a Sgt. Friday-styled detective and his sociologist/urban planning partner come sniffing around, all hell breaks loose.

The play uses dialogue that approaches the kind Christopher Durang served up in his '80s heyday; the characters speak in a hyperaware, didactic way that separates them from their seemingly humble lives. However, this production does not live up to the potential of Walker's script. Many humorous exchanges are unintentionally cold and the intervening serious moments are pounded flat, due in large part to the clumsiness of the actors in both style and action. Racing through their lines and literally upstaging themselves, the actors never quite capture the emotional unreality of their characters or the absurdity of the situation. The exception is Lisa Viertel, who provides a thoughtful and consistent portrayal of the middle daughter, Mary Ann--but she's only one of 10 people on stage.

Comedy is ultimately about pacing, and yes, usually, the faster the better. But this show starts so out of step, they never find the room to move forward. As a result, the second half suffers, becoming a confused and worn-out unraveling of the first. Never has a show had a more appropriate title. GREGORY ZURA