Opening Nights: Prudery vs. Sensual Abandon

Also: Cold War paranoia and Victorian imperialism get sent up, and cartoon wizards come to life.

PICK: Revenge and Sorrow in ThebesStone Soup Downstage, 4029 Stone Way, 800-838-3006, $15. 8 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Ends July 26.The House of Cadmus is a mess. Few believe that Dionysus is Zeus's son, so the spurned god of pleasure sows seeds of revolution throughout the ill-governed city of Thebes, sending its women into a sensual frenzy on a nearby hilltop. Among the women is Agave, the mother of current king Pentheus. Her appetites, once unleashed by nephew Dionysus, prove terrifying. This premiere of poet Persephone Vandegrift's adaptation of Euripides' The Bacchae delivers absorbing, deeply human archetypal drama on a shoestring, in language that is elevated, timeless, and comprehensible. Resourceful directing transforms the small performance area into a terrain of psychic battle between the fundamentalist tyranny of the ego and the perils of pure sensual abandon. Matthew Riggins' Dionysus embodies full-lipped, soft-bodied, irresistible carnality, while Tom Dewey's Pentheus menaces his subjects with purse-lipped prudery—an uptight thug. Our proxies Agave and blind seer Tiresias ping-pong between them. The large cast includes a range of ability, but they own their roles and the majority manage some form of meaningful connection. MARGARET FRIEDMANPICK: The Sorcerer's ApprenticeVolunteer Park, Free. 5 p.m. Sat.–Sun. Ends Aug. 9.As a lighter-fare alternative to Shakespeare in the park, Theater Schmeater has put Goethe in the park. Mary Hall Surface's script for The Sorcerer's Apprentice is based on the poem of the same name, though it more closely mirrors the story's most notable adaptation, in Fantasia. (The distinguishing factor in this version is that the sorcerer is extra-evil.) While the 1940 film had no dialogue, we can easily imagine a nervous and squeaky Mickey Mouse intimidated by the booming voice of his angry master. And this is exactly what we get in Julia Griffin's lively children's production. The characters are exaggerated, cartoonish figures brought to life with visually appealing, movement-based theater. The most enjoyable part of Apprentice is the small, athletic ensemble who use dance to form a sprightly trio of magic personified. Constantly in motion, their bodies recreate the sense of enchantment once felt from animation. BRENT ARONOWITZThe Twilight Zone: LIVE!Theater Schmeater, 1500 Summit Ave., 324-5801, $12–$18. 8 p.m. Fri.–Sat. Ends Aug. 8.In 1959, Americans welcomed science fiction into their homes with Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone. It's hard to remember exactly how those early audiences may have received it, but today—at least in Theater Schmeater's ongoing series of stage adaptations—the effect is purely farcical. For this running, company co-founder Tim Moore returns to direct three episodes from the cult series, as well as to play narrator Serling, to mark the 50th anniversary of the show's first broadcast. Mixing the bizarre with the serious, Moore examines the hysteria that characterized the mid-20th century. (It's hard to take a performance seriously when the narrator sports noticeably fake eyebrows.) To further heighten your awareness that this is only a performance, each episode is spotted with live commercials; the Schmee continues to engage the audience with their recreation by conscientiously separating them from it—the essence of sci-fi. IRFAN SHARIFFUtopia, LimitedBagley Wright Theater, Seattle Center, 341-9612, $12–$32. 7:30 p.m. Thurs.–Fri., 2 & 7:30 p.m. Sat. Ends July 25.With Saturday's matinee of Utopia, Limited, I carved the final notch in my belt—I've now seen performances of all Gilbert and Sullivan's 13 extant operettas. Much of the credit for this goes to the Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society, which doesn't neglect the pair's least popular works in their rotation of annual summer productions. And Utopia, from 1893, is decidedly a problem child. Gilbert's satire of Victorian society—and the extent to which his barbs are still applicable to our own—is a large part of the fun of these shows. But in this, the pair's 12th collaboration, he seems to have been too tired to come up with anything other than satire, neglecting to embed it in a plot with even the slightest urgency or narrative momentum. A sleepy tropical isle, convinced of the superiority of British institutions, adopts them, until everything goes wrong and they stop. It's a cute premise—a comic clash of two worlds, similar to the way Gilbert set fairies and the House of Lords to cross-purposes in Iolanthe—but here he pads it with the most tepid romantic subplots in the G&S canon. Composer Sullivan didn't offer much help, except for an infectious second-act patter chorus that sounds like nothing so much as a Virginia reel (and even there, this taste of Americana was apparently Gilbert's idea). But with elaborate tambourine choreography and funny updated lyrics by KIRO's Dave Ross, this number alone is a reason to see this show. Ross plays the King of Utopia, dryly zippy as usual and splendidly matched by Jennifer Elise Hauge, in a sophisticated screwball-comedy turn as his daughter Zara, and Parker Albin, comically and vocally nimble as Captain Fitzbattleaxe, her English paramour. GAVIN BORCHERT

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