Theater Schmeater, 1500 Summit, 206-325-6500. $12-$15 (under 18 free). 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. Also 2 p.m. Sun. matinees Dec. 8 and Dec. 15. Ends Sat., Dec. 21.
Claire has to remind her houseguest and fellow expatriate Colm not to call people "gobshite"—in San Francisco, she tells the Belfast thug, you say "asshole." She doesn't want the clench-fisted patriot recognized as an IRA bomber, but doesn't mind if his abusive language gets him shot from road rage.
Ambivalent contradictions are strewn throughout Megan Condit's play, in which an underground peace network helps Colm (Roy Stanton) flee justice in Northern Ireland. In dreams and a freebase haze, he step-dances with the phantom of his younger brother Daniel (Brandon Whitehead), reliving his self-made tragedy. The Cause, however, lives on in Colm's shaven head, rankling his patron, Claire (Clare Aronow), as she struggles with her own frayed links to home's "troubles."
The play's title is a misty isle of Irish legend where the spirits dwell, and an awkward, truthful depth emerges out of the moral fog Condit creates. Claire is harboring a monster, but it's not Colm, and it's the illusion of righteousness that inspires her young helper Scott (Evan Mosher) to seek his own violent adventure. You can quibble with the occasional descents into shouting matches, but this rich text speaks to anger, frustration, and loss, and—in the aftermath of 9/11—more ghosts lurk here than appear onstage. GIANNI TRUZZI
Center House Theater, Seattle Center, 206-464-9113. $10-$15. 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat.; 3 p.m. Sun. Ends Sun., Dec. 15.
The full title is Franz Kafka's The Castle, but don't let that fool you: This is Kafka twice removed—an adaptation of a dramatization of a novel—so at best, it's Kafka with a heavy filter. Still, the basic elements of the novel remain, including the unwitting protagonist named K (Aaron Wagner) who wants to gain entry to the local castle, only to find himself foiled by an absurd, otherworldly local bureaucracy. As he struggles to gain respect from the authorities, he meets a collection of characters too cruel to be eccentric; they defer his hopes for acceptance and, by play's end, drive him mad.
As existentialist parables go, this one is pretty transparent. It's also funny, sexy, and haunting, because director Avriel Hillman understands the comic value of melancholy. The production doesn't quite hold together—it seems to lose focus and momentum from time to time, and a few of the performances are a little too broad for my taste—but when Hillman and her cast hit upon something, the play fairly glows with the discovery of Kafka's vision, piercingly funny and totally askew. CHRIS JENSEN
THE LIZZIE BORDEN PLAY: A SPECULATION
Union Garage, 1418 10th, 206-720-1942. $12. Pay-what-you-can every Thurs. 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. Ends Sat., Dec. 21.
Playwright Robin Roberts' original piece considers the murky unknowns behind one of America's most notorious crimes—it's not nearly as murky as it would like to be, though Theatre Babylon's production from director Ilene Fins certainly holds your attention.
Taking its cue from the script, the staging mocks the sensationalism that both heightened and obscured the ax murders of Lizzie's parents by moving back and forth through the events as though they were on a carnival midway—complete with a cast of barkers hollering and blowing whistles—that places Roberts' unconventional Lizzie in a "cage" at center. The energy created, and the central pull of the Borden mystery, gives the evening real momentum.
But Fins can't make up for what isn't in the text, and isn't pushing hard enough at what is. Roberts' supposed societal motivations for his central characters—Lizzie (Jennifer Perrault), her sister Emma (Kelly Lloyd), and devoted maid Bridget (Sara Forsythe)—only scratch the surface, and, given the climactic revelations, Fins hasn't upped the ante on the complete evocation of their ambiguities; Lizzie's ambitiousness and lesbian overtones are fumbled, as is Emma's desperately class-conscious spinsterhood. Still, Perrault has presence in the lead, with Lloyd and, especially, Forsythe offering fine support. STEVE WIECKING
Chamber Theater, 915 E. Pine St., fourth floor, 206-325-6500. $14-$16. 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Ends Sat., Dec. 21.
Sam Shepard's oft-performed 1981 play is often classified as a comedy. This is strange. It's brilliant, and I guess some people think it's funny, but it puts me right into the fetal position. I mean, whatever: If you prefer your comedies with a pair of rivalrous brothers who despise each other, compete for attention, and finally erupt into a murderous rage, then, hey, guffaw all you want.
This production is the work of Insight America, a Seattle-based touring company intent on spreading "goodwill" across the globe—perhaps we can quibble that Shepard's brutal work may not be the best vehicle for international diplomacy, but it's pretty silly to complain when the results are this good. Matt Slinger is the big draw here in his performance as Lee, a petty thief who suddenly finds himself a screenwriter; it's the kind of charismatic, incisive work that would make the show worthwhile even without strong support from the other two cast members. It helps, too, that the show's pacing is nearly perfect—each scene ending with the sort of crispness this piece requires—and that the finale is just as violent and abrupt as it ought to be. CHRIS JENSEN