The Awakening
Book-It Repertory Theatre at Seattle Rep
Through June 26.

Some 19th-century novels can handle having a shrieky, clappy gospel interlude inserted into their middles. (I quite liked the seaside choir in the pseudo-Bollywood movie Bride & Prejudice.) Others, like Kate Chopin's wispy, mystical novella The Awakening, fall to pieces at the first hint of unambiguous stridency. In Book-It's adaptation, the gospel revival comes when Edna Pontellier hysterically stamps on her wedding ring and dashes a vase against the hearth. Director Jane Jones seems to have been afraid we weren't going to get it. The show is very clear (certainly clearer than the book): Edna is being liberated, and her liberation is lots of fun.

I watched this play with a dumbstruck, accelerating horror. I can hardly imagine a stupid decision that the adaptor, Rebecca Chace, or the director, Jane Jones, or the composer, Myra Platt, didn't make. Contrary to the press release, goofy musical numbers do not "enhance" Kate Chopin's "feminist classic." I don't know what to say about the school-dance-squad choreography (the ensemble flaps their arms, the ensemble cradles invisible babies), except to note that no movement director allowed her name to be listed in the program. The script uses all the flat pronouncements in the novel, letting everything strange or blurry fall by the wayside. The polymorphous sensuality is gone. There's hardly any racism. Two staring singers play allegorical Male and Female Voices of the Sea: a man gripping an accordion and a woman in a corset with sea foam ruffles.

The acting is bad (Myra Platt's simpering, simple Edna is the worst), the casting is bizarre (Melinda Deane as a plump, glowing "mother-woman"?), but what was truly horrifying was the huge enthusiasm the actors poured into every noxious contrivance. (Hans Altweiss, as Edna's eager extramarital love object, was the only actor worth paying attention to, which is ironic. In an explicitly feminist adaptation, the best performer was a man.) The only thing that kept me in the theater was to see how badly they'd botch the end, when Edna walks into the sea. It was just as awful as I'd feared. ANNIE WAGNER

Circus Contraption's Grand American Traveling Dime Museum

Magnuson Park

Through July 30.

Circus Contraption has positioned itself at the forefront of the growing cirque noir phenomenon. You know the type: neo-vaudevillians and burlesque revivalists spawned from a gritty ménage à trois between Edith Piaf bawdiness, Dickensian subversiveness, and Tom Waits panache. The whole scene reeks of the misguided atavism that produced the swing kids, but the Contraptioneers keep a radical undercurrent that gives some bite to their Victorian underclass pose. The bass player, for example, regularly wears a tank top that conveniently reveals his anarcho-syndicalist tattoo of black cat with an arched back and the ladies' bustiers are so very very.

But who cares? They've got a loyal following and their new and improved version of Dime Museum shows they've been studying their circus skills, with improved juggling routines and a stable of increasingly impressive acrobats and aerialists. Acrophelia and Dr. Calamari have cooked up a kickass acrobat routine, Bunny LaMonte's audience-participation bicycle race is hilarious, and Sally Pepper's aerial act didn't get the customary applause for every trick because the audience was too awed to bother with clapping.

This run is a fundraiser to get Dime Museum to Manhattan. No matter what you think of the cirque noir trend, you can get with a little hometown pride-send CC to New York so they can show Coney Island's Bindlestiff Family Cirkus where to stick their juggling clubs. BRENDAN KILEY

Hook the Holy Hollow

White Cat Productions at Chamber Theater

Through June 18.

Hook the Holy Hollow is a cautionary tale of sorts. It's the story of Penny, a Mormon maiden torn between the burning in her loins (her words, not mine) and the religious doublespeak that her parents dispense as sex advice. In her confusion, Penny (or Penelope, if you're into heavily loaded allusions), stumbles upon that gateway drug of burgeoning sexuality: The escort section of the phone book. So titillated is she by such poetic turns of phrase as "Asian pre-op" and "water sports" that she marches straight down to a red-lit den of iniquity called "Donna's Professional Escorts," gets ravaged behind a screen by a masked man (weren't we all?), and emerges a slut with red stockings and a purse stuffed with sweet cash.

I wanted to like this play. Seriously, I tried. Heavy petting? Awesome. Creepy Mormons? I'm there. Alliteration? Sign me up! Unfortunately, Hook the Holy Hollow is more tedious than creepy, and the oh-so-promising dirty parts play out like a field guide on how easy it is to arouse the very repressed. There are a few moments of effectively caustic satire, like when Penny's mom, Pearl, explains matter-of-factly, "We must cloak our shame," or her father, Patrick (caught on to the alliteration yet?), offers the ludicrous suggestion, "Maybe we should just love her... unconditionally." Maya Ray (Penny) is adorable and Elisa Hays (Pearl) is truly excellent. The rest of the cast is mediocre. But if you hate Mormons and love being slowly bludgeoned to death by clumsy metaphor, by all means, check it out. LINDY WEST