Opening Nights: A Pale and Lovely Place

Life rules from three mildly satanic characters.

Fifteen years after its debut at the Seattle Fringe Festival, this is the fourth revival of Kevin Joyce's stylish and creepy one-man cabaret, directed by longtime collaborator Kevin Kent. Joyce is a compelling, talented performer who, if not creating characters onstage, would probably be doing it in the supermarket aisle. The arresting intensity of his mime-expressive face and icy blue eyes makes his command of the Pale and Lovely material feel masterly, compulsive, and inevitable. On the other hand, it helps to have seen that material in a previous staging. (Newbies are advised to study the program notes before the show.)

In brief, Joyce is playing three mildly satanic characters, Announcer, Hunter, and Charmer, each signaled by different types of light (deftly designed by West of Lenin's proprietor, AJ Epstein). His performance is embellished with offstage voices (by Christian Heilman), the hypnotic ticking of a metronome, musical numbers with piano and accordion, and lots of one-on-one address to audience members. (Some are invited onstage or used to inspire ad-libs, as Joyce has often done for Teatro ZinZanni.)

The hour-long show is structured by Joyce's "Rules of the Covenant," each of which he cryptically announces. "Train With Pain," "Trick Your Body," and "Be Somewhere Else, Now" may sound like insufferable psychobabble, but don't worry: After Joyce gets done with them, they're not. He illustrates each rule with a squib of narrative so understated yet bizarre that it'll make you rethink the nature of cliché.

For example, in the vignette "Take What You Hate and Make It a Present to Yourself," a man goes shopping for makeup for his wife's mother's corpse and meets a bruised young woman who's unable to find a makeup match for the unbruised side of her face. Outside, the Hunter scoops someone else's blood from the sidewalk to mix her an appropriate shade. She's delighted with the symmetry, and so are we.

The same is true for most of the show—even the confusing parts.

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