Opening Nights

Damn Victims

Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave., 718-1883, $18–$25. 8 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 3 p.m. Sun. Ends Oct. 7.

Jeanne Misha Martinez Carter's play explores the complexities between victim and criminal through the eyes of five women in federal prison who have been found guilty of various crimes. They all approach their common situation in different ways, from points of view realistic or idealistic, searching for their own personal truth while confronting one another's radically different perspectives. Their stories reveal a tangled relationship between decisions, betrayals, and shame, calling their true culpability into doubt. As the women bide their time in the prison dayroom, they discover their counselor has appeared on a talk show promoting her latest book—about them. Are they actually criminals with a "gene for violence" and no hope for a cure or redemption? Or are they being victimized once again by an authority figure with an agenda? When she arrives to see them, unaware of their new knowledge, the tables are turned and the prisoners uncover the counselor's personal prison, her own victimhood, and her role in a horrible crime. The play's emotional rawness and earnest message are sometimes obscured by awkward transitions and the odd clichéd line, yet Damn Victims contains gems of insight and remains a fresh and moving testament to the convoluted relationship between victimization and unethical behavior. NEIL CORCORAN

Halcyon Days

Bathhouse Theater, 7312 W. Green Lake Dr. N., 524-1300, $15–$24. 7:30 p.m. Thurs.–Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Ends Oct. 21.

A mildly gratuitous play about spin control and self-preservation in Washington, D.C., during the Reagan era, Steven Dietz's Halcyon Days chronicles the events—or, rather, some fictionalized series of events—leading up to the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983. It is also, of course, a not-so-subtle parallel to more recent American invasions abroad. Eddie, played commendably by Scott Plusquellec, finds himself somehow stuck in the quagmire of his son's dealings with the incumbent administration. A full-scale attack on Grenada unfolds while Eddie is busy fighting his dueling impulses—avoiding corruption and chicanery on the one hand, and the desire to spare his crooked son from danger and debacle on the other. Though often ridiculous, Halcyon Days is both intimate and funny, including fake blood, short-shorts, and a fair bit of soliloquizing about moral turpitude. The script is a kind of aspiring Catch-22, attempting to lull the audience into a false sense of security through satirical humor in order to make the ending's punch all the more profound. The result is slightly bifurcated and jerky. Still, winning performances by several among the cast (Amber Wolfe as Ruby and Angela DiMarco as Linda are excellent), a great soundtrack, and the relative obscurity of the topic, lost among other political bumbles of the past two decades, make it a play worth seeing. VIRGINIA ZECH

The Importance of Being Earnest

Taproot Theater, 204 N. 85th St., 781-9707, $25–$32. 7:30 p.m. Wed.–Thurs., 8 p.m. Fri., 2 and 8 p.m. Sat. Ends Oct. 27.

Taproot Theater gives Oscar Wilde's mistaken-identity (or, more accurately, concealed-identity) farce the hard sell. The actors seem comfortable with the nimble elegance of the language, but put a great deal of un-Wildean effort into it—gesturing, mugging, line deliveries that don't exclude shouting, and frantic blocking—as though they don't quite seem to trust the laugh lines to land on their own. Any humor dependent on the satirical incongruity of hearing Wilde's subversive, stood-on-their-head epigrams in the mouths of stylishly constrained, formally behaving Victorians ("Once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties he becomes painfully effeminate, does he not? And I don't like that. It makes men so very attractive") is dampened, though the evergreen epigrams themselves retain their tartness. GAVIN BORCHERT

My Name is Trazar

Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, 4408 Delridge Way S.W., 800-838-3006, $12–$15. 8 p.m. Fri.–Sat. Ends Oct. 6.

Amontaine Aurore's self-penned one-woman performance would presumably be a biographical account of Josephine Baker—if only Baker had lived in the future and found herself imprisoned by evil robots. Exactly why Trazar, the fictional vaudevillian performer, has been incarcerated is unclear, though any number of explanations would suffice: She's a woman, she's a performer, she's a freethinker, and she seems to enjoy pissing off the robots. Whatever the reason, she's been in her cell, which doubles as a dressing room, for five years, and now she needs to talk about it. The play certainly doesn't lack ambition. Aurore covers a lot of ground, including, but not limited to, feminism, sexuality, performance art, media, fame, redefining oneself, and what appears to be a terribly bleak future. With such a vast array of sociopolitical statements, though, My Name Is Trazar leaves us without any overarching artistic vision. Aurore is a talented actor, but her performance objective is too broad; between the lesbian lover, the anxiety over her forced performances, and (once again) the robots, I wasn't sure what she wanted me to think. BRENT ARONOWITZ

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