As If 9/11 Weren't Enough

A shell-shocked family has to deal with the approaching apocalypse in SPT's comedy. Plus: gems from PNB and C-bombs from Ghost Light.

End DaysSeattle Public Theater, 7312 W. Green Lake Ave. N., 524-1300, $15–$25. 7:30 p.m. Thurs.–Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Ends Feb. 22.If I could option a script, I would pounce on this newest piece from Deborah Zoe Laufer, getting its first Northwest production at Seattle Public Theater (with an off-Broadway premiere next month). Call it the formula that launched a thousand sitcoms: Take a gaggle of mismatched principals, each deeply invested in his or her own skewed worldview, and force them together. Hijinks and hilarity ensue, of course, but eventually common humanity trumps individual quirks, and the inevitable lovefest leads to the happiest of endings. Trite, perhaps. Winning? Bet on it.End Days details the slow rapprochement of the family Stein, each shaken to the core on September 11, 2001. Dad Arthur (Keith Dahlgren) lost all 65 of his co-workers that day, and now has no appetite and no ability to sleep until sunrise. Momma Sylvia (Heather Hawkins) has given her life to Jesus. Daughter Rachel (Carolyn Marie Monroe) is now a black, bow-lipped Goth of the highest order, making Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice look like Hannah Montana. Once the family relocates to the suburbs, there's also a schoolmate determined to win Rachel's heart: Nelson Steinberg (Anthony Duckett), a fellow who's been wearing the same Elvis costume since losing a parent. He's King all right—King of the Nerds—yet it's his irrepressible optimism that turns the family around. When Mom gets word from On High that the Apocalypse will be arriving sometime after midnight Wednesday, she pulls her gaggle of nonbelievers close and they wait out the storm together.Director Carol Roscoe keeps the mood and pace light and fast—despite the play's herky-jerky episodic nature. Still, it's the relationships that make or break a show like this, and she and her superbly chosen performers nail that effortlessly. In watching End Days, you can't help but be reminded of the best-cast TV shows and the way so much of their humor and warmth derives from the interaction of well-written characters rather than punchlines. Although this show does have the feel of someone learning to drive stick rather than cruising through the gears on automatic, what's well done is so much so that it's also possible to feel where the tumblers all fall into place: Lights (Sean P. Begley), sets (Dan Schuy), and costumes (Mandy Mueller) are as sturdy as a '50s pinball machine, allowing for maximum fun when the characters begin ricocheting off one another. KEVIN PHINNEYJewelsPacific Northwest Ballet at McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., 441-2424, $25–$155. 7:30 p.m. Thurs.–Sat. Ends Feb. 7.This is only the second time PNB has presented a full production of George Balanchine's neoclassic masterpiece, but you couldn't tell that from the performance's opening weekend. Balanchine created three stylistically distinct sections using three different composers—and PNB does ample justice to each.In "Emeralds," the dreaminess of the Gabriel Fauré excerpts is translated into the airy pointework and curving arms of the French Romantic era—it's like Giselle with the storyline removed, leaving the perfume of love and loss. The lead role fits the natural style of principal dancer Louise Nadeau, who recently announced her upcoming retirement. Although she (supposedly) has only the standard number of joints in her arms, she looks as though she might have more while she undulates gently, giving an underwater look to the sea-green setting. In the same part on another night, Carla Körbes has a different sense of the air around her, emphasizing the light and flirtatious nature of her solo.Ariana Lallone and Maria Chapman are a similar study in contrasts. On the same program as Körbes, Lallone's performance has a more settled and regal feeling. In an unusual sequence, she ticks through a series of staccato gestures, breaking a single smooth lift of the arm or leg into tiny parts, like a set of royal commands. Chapman has a more liquid quality, hitting all the right spots without the same edge."Rubies" is set to Igor Stravinsky at his splashy, raucous best. For him, Balanchine has made a fast-moving, athletic romp—bold and blatant like the American style it represents. In the solo woman's role, Lindsi Dec looks like the best cheerleader around, giving a bright and zesty performance with extra-high kicks and an extra-bright smile. In the same part, Lallone is more Weimar than Broadway, exuding a kind of drop-them-in-their-tracks sexuality that owes as much to her performances as the Siren in Balanchine's Prodigal Son as to his Stars and Stripes.In the duet, Jodie Thomas and Jonathan Porretta have really settled into their roles since the last time PNB did this work. Their physical banter, spiked with images from horse racing and boxing, contrast with some ultra-stretchy partnering; he pulls her as far off her center as she can go without entering another dimension. Their motor is constantly running—even when he holds her close there's a little pulse underneath, so that they're gently bouncing in time."Diamonds" is a pocket example of the Russian classical tradition with its formal deliberation. Balanchine returned to Tchaikovsky again and again, and it's easy to understand why—he composed the scores for most of the significant Russian classics in the repertory, like Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, which were the jumping-off points for Balanchine's neoclassic developments. "Diamonds" clearly evokes those earlier ballets, quoting signature phrases and borrowing from their structures.Both Körbes and Carrie Imler carry off the regal nature of the main female role, exhibiting the gracious kind of power that we wish all leaders might have. As their partners, Stanko Milov and Batkhurel Bold manage to be deferential without being reduced to assistants. Bold (who his colleagues in the company sometimes call "Air Bold") has great height in his travelling jumps, without the resulting thumpy landings that often happen. Milov, dancing with Körbes, is especially tender, particularly in a series of supported turns, bowing his head to her with each rotation. At the end of their main duet, he kneels at her feet with her hand to his lips; at the performance I attended, there was a collective sigh in the audience. And at the end of the ballet, the two principal dancers stand downstage with their arms framing the rest of the ensemble, matched in gravitas while the gems on all the costumes sparkle. SANDRA KURTZThe MisanthropeGhost Light Theatricals at Stone Soup Downstage, 4029 Stone Way, 800-838-3006, $12–$15. 7:30 p.m. Thurs.–Sat., also 2 p.m. Sun., Feb. 8. Ends Feb. 8.Ever wonder why Molière's most famous work never seems outdated? Let's see: Its protagonist believes in his art so fervently that he cannot offer even the slightest social nicety when confronted by dilettantes, and his one Achilles' heel is an unfathomable devotion to a sexpot from whose mouth those same baubles drop like gumballs from a penny machine. Every generation sees that pattern repeated somewhere, from Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe to Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie. Make it a party game to pick your favorites.Now Molière's tale has been reset in the post-grunge '90s by Ghost Light Theatricals. The results are disappointing, however, because it's impossible to tell here who the real misfit is. Is it our plucky guitar hero, Alceste (Matt Lyman), who refuses to praise would-be lyricist Oronte (Michael Oaks) and winds up on the receiving end of a slander suit? Or is it the string of dysfunctional women who admire him from afar but are unable to turn his gaze from the slutty social climber, Celimene (Molly Mahar)?The Misanthrope is touted as the French playwright's most high-handed and moralistic tale, but in Lauren Goldman Marshall's very loose reinterpretation, "based on a concept by Alan DiBona," Molière's indictments are blunted by Marshall's anachronistic situational ethics. If Alceste is such a man of principle, how can he not be revolted by Celimene's sleazy behavior? And ultimately, in a world overrun by wannabes who proclaim their allegiance to art but are really just angling for their 15 minutes, who is untainted?Had Ghost Light's production asked these questions, it'd be a real jawbreaker of a treat—something to ponder, gnaw on, and argue over. Instead we're given an evening of incessant pissing and moaning, kind of like a feature-length version of The View. The ensemble under the direction of Jessica Stepka seems more concerned with making the show look current than ensuring it remains relevant. The result is a fashion parade of grunge wear and murky motives, broken by someone occasionally dropping the "C" bomb. KEVIN PHINNEY

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