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Friday, August 12, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Theater Previews

On stage this week, a trio of fringe novelties

Seattle Times theater critic

The splashiest news onstage this week is the 5th Avenue Theatre's grand opening of "Princesses." The new, multi-million dollar musical has its official debut on Wednesday, and is being prepped for Broadway.

If you're craving some theater action that's less mainstream, quirkier and more intimate, however, Seattle's fringe scene offers some un-glossy alternatives. Here are a few of the week's novelties that caught our attention:

"Rope"

Hitchcock aficionados know all about his 1948 celluloid version of this taut little stage thriller, based on the Broadway play "Rope's End" by Patrick Hamilton. One of its main claims to fame is that the director shot his version in only nine takes — a tiny fraction of the usual tally of shots for a feature film.

Now the young troupe The Vicinity Players is dusting off this chilling story of a pair of upper-crust, sociopathic school chums plotting the thrill-kill of one of their own — just to see if they can get away with it.

Previews tonight; runs tomorrow through Aug. 28 at Northwest Actors Studio, Seattle (206-325-6500).

"Footloose"

For pure mindless mirth, there's nothing like The Brown Derby Series, the brainchild of comic writer-performer Ian Bell.

The gambit for this every-other-month series at Re-bar is basically this: Unearth the screenplay of a campy movie, recruit a team of skilled stage zanies to do a gender-bent staged reading of it, and let 'er rip.

The new Brown Derby season is devoted to "our favorite 1980s dance movies." It kicks off with "Footloose," the no-degrees-from-Kevin Bacon 1984 screen hit, which features Bacon as a big-city teen who gets the townfolk in a repressed Bible Belt burg to kick up their heels at the senior prom.

In place of Bacon, Sarah Jessica Parker, John Lithgow and the other original stars, the Brown Derby's adaptation features Seattle cut-ups Nick Garrison, Tim Gouran, David Gehrman and Brandon Whitehead.

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So can "Dirty Dancing" and "Flash Dance" be far behind?

Plays Monday-Wednesday at Re-bar, Seattle (206-233-9873).

"The Elsinore Diaries"

It's a lurid yarn, rife with royal politics, murder, suicide, incestuous passions and bloody revenge. And it might have made one heck of a tabloid spread, if paparazzi had existed back in the Middle Ages.

Instead, some Elizabethan playwrights nabbed the legend of Hamlet and ran with it — most notably, William Shakespeare, who channeled it into a monumental dramatic tragedy.

But we won't let the poor titular character alone. The inky-cloaked Prince of Denmark is also the subject of "The Elsinore Diaries," an irreverent "mockumentary" play by Seattleites Frank Lawler, Daniel Flint and Jason Marr.

A crowd-pleaser at the 2003 Seattle Fringe Festival, the show returns in an expanded version which has eight actors playing 22 characters enmeshed in Hamlet's saga.

Opens Thursday; runs through Aug. 28 at Center House Theatre, Seattle (800-838-3006).

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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