The talented Brad Cook has continuously designed remarkable sets for both A Theatre Under the Influence and Theatre Babylon, including the lower-middle-class kitchen triumph on


Brief Encounters

The talented Brad Cook has continuously designed remarkable sets for both A Theatre Under the Influence and Theatre Babylon, including the lower-middle-class kitchen triumph on view here in Babylon's Escape. That set is, however, the only solid thing he's built this time around.

George F. Walker's script doesn't give director Cook much of a foundation, anywayit's a thin black farce with a few laughs and the aggressive monotony of extended sketch comedy. Daffy Nora (Julia Leonas) presides over a suspiciously punch-drunk husband (Stuart Greenman) and three struggling daughters. They're all drawn into chaos when younger sister Gail (Sarah Papineau) finds her husband, Junior (Josh Hartvigson), in a bloody heap beneath the kitchen table. Some wacky thugs are involved, and some corrupt police officers, and, oh, a lot of other nonsense better suited to a UPN sitcom (including a treacly, climactic sentiment that actually has everybody talking about "the strength of love").

Cook ends up replacing "funny" with "frenetic." His actors spend a lot of time stomping and screaming to let us know how madcap this all is; if it were madcap, it wouldn't feel like every minute of its two-and-a-half-hour running time. Wasted are the few pathetic glimmers of what Walker might have been trying to do: There's a dark suggestion of a very lost family here, embodied by Lisa Viertel, in the show's sole deft performance, as dazed middle daughter Mary Ann. Her trampled sweetness suggests a spirit about to implodeit's a real emotion without mooring in a roomful of forced silliness. -Steve Wiecking

In my line of work, hyperbole is a risk, but I'll chance it: Unless I've repressed some other, more horrifying experience, Wounds to the Face is the most aggressively unpleasant theatrical performance I've ever seen. No, reallyI am not nearly clever enough to muster even cursory praise for any aspect of this show. (Um, OK, I'll try my very hardest: I liked the spiral staircase, and the guitar player wasn't bad. There.)

Wounds is one of those avant-garde spectacles full of politics, social commentary, and arty tableaux, with humorless actors uttering their dialogue like Richard III at a Marxist labor camp. What's more, all of the actors are so seriouseven when saying lines like "the world is thick with the slippery paste of mutual understanding"that, from time to time, I started to wonder if Wounds was perhaps a brilliant parody, the kind of straight-faced comic bull's-eye that mocks itself relentlessly. But, no, it's just bad.

The play is "a series of interlocking vignettes that examine various aspects of the human condition," or so says the program. And, yes, Howard Barker's script explores "various aspects" of humankind, especially our obsession with mirrors, our need to identify with entities larger than ourselves, and (of course!) the ongoing clash between art and the state. But he writes with such numbing liberal naﶥt闡nd the actors, bless their hearts, perform their roles in such a vein-popping frenzy of misplaced convictionthat the result is only slightly less florid than a college peace rally. -Chris Jensen

Anne Bonny (Desiree Prewitt) and Mary Read (Kristina Sutherland) were two 18th-century originals who wore men's clothing and were determined to conquer their traditional world as pirates of the Caribbean. Their attempt is engaging in Prewitt and Sutherland's dramatization, even though it doesn't really get sailingyou never get a cathartic, Thelma & Louise high from the women's singular form of liberation.

Part of the problem is the actors themselves, who have written a nice outline for a longer, thoughtful consideration but who don't, if you'll excuse me, quite have the cojones to fill in performancewise what's missing. Morphing gamely back and forth through all the characters, they seem more like articulate, embattled suffragettes than a couple of cutthroat rebels. Prewitt does OK by her haughty Southern spitfire, but her presence doesn't have enough weight. And while Sutherland, ironically, shows vigor as Anne's male lover and a stuffy prosecutor, she's strangely wan as Mary (and she can't say "aye" convincingly, a bit of a nuisance in these salty circumstances).

But the evening does kick around in your head afterward, because director Sarah Shipley gives it a nimble fleetness and energy, and the playwrights are smart enough to suggest the struggle for any woman to live her life as she chooses. You'll remember the audaciousness of their plight, though you'll wish all concerned had managed to kick your ass. -S.W.

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