Fall Off Night

Macha Monkey Productions and Live Girls! Theater

Through Oct 7.

Even Fall Off Night's scene changes are fun to watch: everything happens on a wide-open stage, with very little set, and the only real sign that a scene is beginning or ending is the actors, running across the stage at breakneck speed, interacting in curious, offhanded ways—a newspaper changes hands three times in less than ten seconds, there is an arrhythmic, directionless conga line, and two people fight over a rolling bench in the background. There are only eight cast members, but these manic attacks make it feel like twenty distinct characters are lurking backstage. Eric Clothier is credited in the program for "movement," and that makes him the MVP: The actors all move so articulately, in character and in tandem, that the play could almost work without dialogue.

Which is not to say that Allison Gregory's script is extraneous. There is some monologue heaviness, where talk about the masses and existence gets so full of air that meaning dissipates, but the story—an uptight, frightened ophthalmological photographer has the worst night of her life—is full of vivid caricatures. And the acting in this show is really quite phenomenal: Rachel Hynes, onstage nearly the entire two hours, meets a number of acting challenges—blindness, a truly weird birth scene—with grace and skill. The supporting players are all excellent. I've never seen such an even distribution of talent onstage. This is a play full of surprises—a homeless woman losing body parts, an obscene helicopter flyby, and a possum describing her own death. Everything goes so smoothly, the production practically hums. PAUL CONSTANT

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Strawberry Theatre Workshop at Richard Hugo House

Through Oct 8.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey, adapted from the Pulitzer-winning novel by Thornton Wilder, is extraordinarily talky, runs nearly three hours long, and involves Japanese-style puppets as actors. It is also extraordinarily good, if you have the patience. I sat with two friends during the performance. One fell asleep. One wept.

Wilder's story (adapted by Greg Carter, artistic director of the Strawberry Theatre Workshop) begins with an accident: In 1714, a monk is in rural Peru, near a famous bridge, when he sees "the bridge divide and fling five gesticulating ants into the valley below." The monk—Brother Juniper—fixates on the five victims and decides that if he learns everything about their lives, he will be able to divine why they were marked for death and, in turn, understand the will of God. Juniper begins compiling an ambitious inquiry into who they were, what they ate, how they dressed, their sins and virtues and secrets. Though most of the victims are strangers, ranging from a drunken countess to an orphan, their lives are commingled by surprising coincidences and mutual acquaintances: a stern abbess, a seductive actress, and a sea captain.

The play combines the virtues of a short story by Borges (the relentless cosmic irony, the comprehensive mapping of five lives), an essay by Didion (falling through carefully designed trapdoors from one place to another), and a screenplay by Charlie Kaufman (nothing in Bridge's world is casual; everything is connected). The five victims are portrayed by puppets, and the cast is exceptionally strong, including Hana Lass, Tim Hyland, and the always-commanding Amy Thone as the abbess. Aside from a few overwrought moments—collective gasps, for instance—Sheila Daniels's direction is commendably unobtrusive. Wilder's story is excellent. BRENDAN KILEY


Paramount Theatre

Through Oct 1.

Few things are more exhausting than teens obsessed with musical theater: the memorization, the blogging, the incessant singing from Les Mis at the choir-camp talent show. And yikes, all those feelings!

Needless to say, Wicked—Broadway's latest smash-hit offering to the gods of alienated pubescence—had me a little annoyed before I even walked through the door. A simplified, fluffy adaptation of Gregory Maguire's darkish 1995 novel, Wicked details the pained adolescence of green-skinned pariah Elphaba "Witch of the West" Thropp. I'm generally against stories about people being beautiful on the inside. It's just too easy—exploitative, even—to pander to the insecurities of the unattractive. Elphie is a born outsider: frumpy, defensive, and misunderstood. She sticks to her convictions in a corrupt world; she's pointedly unwicked. She is totally bursting with the inner kind of beauty, and the hunky prince totally falls for her—after a makeover, of course.

But you know what? Damned if I didn't kind of love the whole thing. Wicked is musical theater on a classically grand scale. The set is dazzling (the immense, mechanical "Clock of the Time Dragon" looms predatory and grim), the singing flawless, the book tidy, funny, and vaguely topical ("the best way to bring folks together is to give 'em a really good enemy," winks the redneck-turned-Wizard). Megan Hilty gets the most laughs as pink pop tart and professional sell-out Glinda the Good Witch. Bottom line: Wicked is fun, and if weepy teens want to paint their faces green and wait for Ozian princes to whisk them away from their wretched suburban coils, who am I to judge? A big dumb grouchy jerk, that's who.Wicked: coming soon to a choir-camp talent show near you. LINDY WEST