TRAGEDY: a tragedy

Satori Group at Little Theatre
Through April 5.

Charles Isherwood, the younger counterpart to Ben Brantley at the New York Times, has a reputation for being a wary kingmaker. Isherwood, it is said, generally distrusts the new and the interesting, but occasionally goes out of his way to remedy this reputation by hyperventilating over a young(ish), inventive(ish) playwright (Mary Zimmerman, Will Eno), who serves as a gimcrack and inoculation against accusations that he is, at heart, timid and conservative. This is the critic who dubbed Eno "a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation." How could anyone buck a Beckett? Isherwood is saying, in effect: "If you don't like Eno, you don't get Eno." Hogwash.

Seattle has seen Eno's Thom Pain (based on nothing) at the Seattle Rep, and now TRAGEDY: a tragedy—getting cute with capitalization is always a bad sign—by new-to-Seattle company Satori Group. Not so much Beckett as bumptious, Eno writes loping, postmodern laments about the emptiness, alienation, and shit-slog that is modern living. Like an adolescent poet, Eno can't see past his own ennui.

TRAGEDY begins with the sun setting, perhaps for the last time, and four newscasters report on the end of the world with all their staid clichés. "It's the worst world in the world here tonight," one intones. "Is the sense of tragedy palpable?" the anchor asks. "Absolutely, Frank," John-in-the-field replies. "You can feel it."

It goes on like this for 70 minutes or so, repetitive but not cumulative, a witty one-liner bobbing to the surface every few minutes. The ensemble—which recently relocated from Cincinnati—is capable but cannot give the text the ballast it desperately wants. The set, by Andrew Lazarow and Clare Strasser, is the best thing about TRAGEDY: The anchor sits at a desk, behind short walls with windows that recall the cafe in Hopper's Nighthawks. TRAGEDY is nothing more than a gloomy farce of broadcast TV—a nontale told by idiots, signifying nothing. BRENDAN KILEY

Stunt Girl

Village Theatre
Through April 26.

At the turn of the century, Nellie Bly's muckraking, undercover-girl-journalist columns for the New York World made her famous and a feminist icon, so it's doubly depressing that most people have no idea who she is anymore. Peter Kellogg and David Friedman intend to rescue Bly and spruce up her legend with their new musical Stunt Girl, and, in that respect, it functions admirably.

Never mind that the first routine, "That's the Headline," with its dancing newspaper salesboys, inspires traumatic Newsies flashbacks: As soon as Sarah Chalfy strides onstage all is forgiven. Her plucky and ambitious—but never shrill—Bly immediately charms Joseph Pulitzer (the hilariously gruff John Patrick Lowrie) into hiring New York's first girl reporter: "I can do what no male reporter can do. I can be underestimated!" It's a gloss over Bly's real-life exploits, of course, but it's a charming gloss.

As with most biographical musicals, Stunt Girl has pacing problems. By the intermission, Bly has had herself committed to an institution to expose the atrocious conditions there, blown the whistle on a black-market baby scam, uncovered police corruption, and fought for worker's rights against evil corporations, not to mention circled the globe in an homage to Jules Verne. The second act—where all the character development happens—can't help but squander that breathless momentum. Witty numbers, especially "Don't Bore Them" and "I'm in Hell," are fine musical fodder, but Stunt Girl would be greatly improved by cutting half an hour; the young girls in the audience who should be paying rapt attention are squirming in their seats by the curtain call. PAUL CONSTANT

Tanja Liedtke: Construct

On the Boards
April 2–4.

This is not a review.

Last August, young choreographer Tanja Liedtke had a case of insomnia. She got up for a 2:00 a.m. walk around her neighborhood in Sydney, Australia, and was struck by a garbage truck. She died alone. Construct, her final work, is a North American premiere and may be your only chance to see Liedtke's choreography. A vigorous piece for three dancers with a score by DJ TR!P, Construct is a critically celebrated—and apparently funny—piece about a love triangle and the relationship between making a performance and making a home. BRENDAN KILEY

The Merchant of Venice

Seattle Shakespeare Company
Through April 5.

All that matters with The Merchant of Venice, and this is the weakness of the play in general, is a strong Shylock. If you have that, the whole battle is won. To worry about the other main characters in the play (Antonio, Portia, and Bassanio) is to worry about the gas of words and actions that burns up the time between the hard and core moments—those moments have the Jewish moneylender on the stage. That said, let's turn to Seattle Shakespeare Company's current production of the tragedy. (It is not a comedy!)

Directed by John Langs, Merchant is on the side of success because Charles Leggett's performance has real substance. He manages to bring the necessary weight (the right amount of real life) to the only human character in the play, Shylock—if you pricked him, he would bleed; if you tickled him, he would laugh; if you poisoned him, he would die. Leggett's Shylock has the density of a human being; he is neither good nor evil, but a sympathetic man with legitimate grievances. And he expresses these grievances not with great emotion or meanness, but with a sense of hurt. The rest of the actors are almost incidental. When Leggett is not onstage, we are only waiting for him to come back. The other characters do not need an ounce of human life because they are essentially unbelievable. The best way to see the play is as a story about one man and his phantoms.

A final point: SSC's production sets Merchant in the time around the stock-market crash of 1929, but it would have been more meaningful to set it around the current crash. What our economic crisis has that the other lacks is, of course, Bernie Madoff. CHARLES MUDEDE