In Between Bliss
Outcast Productions at Odd Duck Studios
Through Nov 1.

The late-twenty-/early-thirtysomething characters that populate Dan Dembiczak's sardonically comic In Between Bliss (a malcontent lesbian couple, a pair of star-crossed fags, and two breeders hell-bent on breeding) are each lamenting the terrifying possibility that they've plucked probable lemons in the garden of love and misspent the best days of their lives. Punctuated with painfully poignant soundtrack selections (conspicuously deployed between scenes to evoke quiet desperation), this production can wax a wee bit precious at times, even when reaching to shock with plot lines involving polyamorous dykes, water sports, and gay incest. In fact, the play seemed to tiptoe nervously around these ostensibly incendiary issues, never really committing to the weird filth its own plot had engendered--making the attempted golden shower and the brother-to-brother phone sex seem more than a bit gratuitous.

But under the direction of Dan Dembiczak, the production is cleverly executed and well acted (Gary Zinter, Mary Brannigan, and Matthew Middleton give especially smart performances) and the emotional complexity of Dembiczak's characters clearly mark a new chapter of growth for Capitol Hill-based Outcast Productions. In Between Bliss is easily the young company's richest, most well-rounded production to date. Now if they can only work the bugs out of that golden shower.... ADRIAN RYAN

Lady from the Sea
Ghost Light Theatricals at Seattle Center House
Through Oct 25.

In theater, a lack of money can be a creative spur, resulting in simple but evocative staging that brings a play's inner life to the fore. A lack of imagination, however, results in a grueling evening.

Henrik Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea centers around Ellida, a woman married to a doctor many years her senior, who fears (or perhaps hopes) that a lover from her past, a sailor, will return to claim her from her confining domestic life. On the page, the play has a hazy, semi-fantastic atmosphere, full of portents and emotional turmoil.

In Ghost Light Theatricals' production, the doctor's garden--one of the primary settings of the play--is indicated by a small potted fern that sits on the floor of the stage, peeking up from behind a scuffed platform. The producers couldn't afford to create a full garden. Instead, they could have painted a garden on a cardboard backdrop, or put a sign on an easel saying "A Garden," or pursued any number of other theatrical solutions. They could at least have put the fern on a pedestal or in some other way clarified that it was meant as a humble representative of a larger set--really, anything would have more successfully sparked the audience's imagination.

This imaginative poverty pervades the entire production. Some of the supporting actors have a good grasp of their characters and so a couple of their scenes toward the end have some poignance; but beyond that, this production is stiff, lifeless, and barely comprehensible. BRET FETZER

Our Lady of Sligo
Gael Force Theatre at Union Garage
Through Oct 25.

The "lady" is no saint, that's certain. Alcoholic, lively, and profane, Mai O'Hara is the cause of plenty of people's suffering, but she has inflicted most on herself. As she lies dying in a Dublin hospital, her morphine flashbacks and hallucinations illuminate her boozy, brawling, and misspent life through a dark prism.

Sound cheery? Of course not, and Sebastian Barry's speechifying script yelps for some sort of comic relief. But, given a little time, this powerful piece swallows you up and rolls you around in its doleful cheeks.

The portrait of the woman Barry paints may or may not accurately represent the grandmother that inspired his 1998 work, but it does feel true. In a marathon performance, Shellie Shulkin grants Mai the vibrant independence of spirit that makes her both admirable and doomed. Mai's life tracks the rocky formative years of the Irish Republic, from her willful but cloistered youth as a young girl in Galway through her worldly travels to Nigeria with engineer husband Jack (Philip D. Clarke), the man who taught her to drink. Their marriage slips rapidly into a haze of whiskey-sodden, vicious fights, painfully witnessed by their daughter Joanie (Deniece Bleha).

It might be tempting to draw some facile connection between Mai's squandered life and the Irish condition, political, Catholic, or otherwise, but don't bother. Mai offers the best summary herself: "I couldn't save myself. I hadn't the knack of it." The typically Irish embrace of such tragedy is as inexplicable as why it will rivet your attention. GIANNI TRUZZI

ACT Theatre
Through Nov 2.

If you think actively about the state of the world and enjoy theater, and if you know nothing about the play Omnium-Gatherum, then you should stop reading this review now and see this strong production at ACT Theatre, because your experience after reading further may not be as engaging.

Omnium-Gatherum portrays a lavish dinner party, hosted by someone much like Martha Stewart, attended by characters much like Tom Clancy, Christopher Hitchens, Maya Angelou, Edward Said, and others. As they praise the food and argue intelligently and wittily about 9/11, veganism, and whether one should tell a spouse about an affair, smoke billows up from below and gunshots pop in the distance. The acting is solid and the production clear (though the pace could be quicker; working to keep up with these characters would be more compelling than hearing their perspectives carefully laid out). The script skillfully allows none of the well-articulated arguments to go unchallenged, avoiding didacticism.

Yet, though I have no significant criticisms, the production left me indifferent. It may be that once you know even as little information as what's contained in the previous paragraph, the play is self-evident--you no longer need to see it. I don't follow current events carefully, yet the dinner-table conversation held no surprising or genuinely provoking turns of thought. The plot twists were more interesting than gripping. The metaphoric nature of the play makes you so aware of its construction that it's like watching a building go up after you've looked at the blueprint; observing arguments falling into place is not the same as being caught up in agreeing or disagreeing with them. BRET FETZER