Ghost Sonata
Open Circle Theater at All Pilgrims Church
Through May 10.

Open Circle is the young existentialist of theater companies—it doesn't have any money, but loves to brood over ideas, preferably dark ones. In its 15-year history, the company has produced Jacobean bloodbaths, works inspired by Kafka and Cocteau, and annual adaptations of H. P. Lovecraft stories with little more than a few tables, chairs, and folding screens. Their productions demand an audience's willingness to look past the novice acting and Dumpster-diver sets and appreciate their ardor. The artists of Open Circle are true amateurs—their theater isn't always good, but it's always made with love.

Ghost Sonata, then, is a typical Open Circle production. A moody nondrama by August Strindberg about a poor student (Andrew Perez) who gets tangled up with a corrupt bourgeois family, Ghost Sonata wasn't written to make the time fly by. Instead, it sustains a feeling of wicked entropy. An evil old antagonist in a wheelchair (Aaron Allshouse, easily the best thing about the production, jumping from aged calm to pit bull ferocity precisely when it's needed) needs an entrée into the doomed family for some obscure, nefarious purpose. So he strong-arms the student into wooing their daughter.

But their apartment is a vipers' nest of adulterers, thieves, and poseurs—as well as an old woman who thinks she's a parrot and a vampiric cook who sucks all the nourishment out of her employers' food. Some people soliloquize, others die, and Ghost Sonata ends, as it must, with a despairing speech by the student: "There must be a curse on all creation and on life itself. When they say Christ descended into hell, they mean that he descended to earth, this penitentiary, this madhouse and morgue of a world."

Strindberg wrote Ghost Sonata (Spöksonaten in the pretty, original Swedish) in 1908. Spare, somber, and performed in an echoing church, Open Circle's production is an apt, if occasionally soporific, homage to the play's hundredth anniversary. BRENDAN KILEY

Big Love
Balagan Theatre
Through May 17.

Any play that begins with a gorgeous redhead (Kaitie Warren) in a wedding dress heaving herself up onstage, stripping to her underwear, and taking a bath starts out solidly in the "win" column. After she changes out of her wet panties, she's joined by two other gorgeous women wearing slips and they gleefully shatter china while singing "You Don't Own Me"—another definite win. When a man dressed as an old woman, with an Italian accent so thick that it would make both of the Super Mario Brothers blush, sits center stage and starts crushing tomatoes on the floor, you know you're in very good hands.

Big Love has a smart, funny script by Charles Mee working in its favor. (Very) loosely inspired by the writings of Aeschylus, it's the story of 50 Greek women who flee to a wealthy Italian man's island to avoid entering into 50 arranged marriages with their 50 meathead cousins. Thyona (Wonder Russell, powerful and proud) is betrothed to Constantine (Curtis Eastwood, malevolent and cunning), the ringleader of the grooms-to-be. She'd rather kill than be forced into marriage.

The 15-person cast delightfully overwhelms Balagan's small space. They throw food, spew blood, strip down to nearly nothing, and wrestle and scream and throw themselves at the floor like the world's worst breakdancers. Director Jake Groshong expertly choreographed the climactic orgy of sex and violence to feel chaotic. The stage appears destroyed by the end, and the dry-cleaning bill must be in the four figures. It's the perfect play for the belated arrival of spring—sexy and ridiculous and clever. I can't recall the last time I had so much fun in a Seattle theater. PAUL CONSTANT

The Greeks

How my heart was broken when I read that Big Love, reviewed and loved by Paul Constant (see above), is only "loosely inspired by the writings of Aeschylus." I've had enough of loose interpretations of Greek tragedies. I want to see the real thing. I want to see The Supplicants directly as The Supplicants, and not at the great distance of Big Love. This city adores the classics. Elizabethan tragedies, Molière's comedies, Scandinavian dramas thrive in our playhouses. Ghost Sonata is currently running (see Brendan Kiley's review above), and there was a flurry of Chekhov a year or so ago. But when it comes to the ancient Greeks, the bedrock of our theatrical tradition, there has been close to nothing. This is a sad state of affairs. How long can we go on without even one direct production of Antigone, The Oresteia, The Clouds?

Look at what we are missing. In Sophocles's Ajax: After losing a competition to Odysseus, Ajax turns murderous and starts tying up and butchering Menelaus, Agamemnon, and other leaders of the Greek army. But Ajax, who has been made mad by Athena, is ignorant of the fact that he is just butchering sheep. When Odysseus overhears Ajax boast that he is about to kill him, when in reality he is about to kill a bleating sheep tied to a pole, Odysseus says the strangest and saddest thing: "Yet, I pity Ajax's wretchedness, though he is my enemy, for the terrible blindness that is upon him. I think of him, yet also of myself, for I see the true state of us that live. We are dim shades and weightless shadows." For our existential nourishment, we must regularly return to and draw from this deep, rich well of pity. And what of the carpet of blood in Agamemnon? Or the sorrows of Xerxes in The Persians? We must not abandon the Greeks! We need them with us always. CHARLES MUDEDE