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Friday, September 30, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Theater Reviews

Real-life woes crash into picture-perfect rooms

Seattle Times theater critic

You are minding your own dang business, having a cup of java in a Redmond cafe. Or grazing at the SuperMall in Auburn. Or checking out a book at a local library, or testing out new couches at Ikea.

Then ... wait a minute! Are those people over there saying and doing something a little, well, strange? Hey, are they actors? And what is this, a play?

Could be they are performers. And what they are emoting in unlikely retail hubs or other public settings is part of a "site specific" work offered by a new King County Performance Network project.

The idea is to bring theater, music and performance-art events to people who might not otherwise be exposed to them. And along the way, if these close encounters of the artistic kind can reflect on the vicissitudes of modern life and relationships, so much the better.

Sponsored by 4culture (aka King County's civic arts commission), the program began quietly in late August. But it's cranking up this fall with "The Ikea Cycle: Tiny Domestic Dramas," a quirky series of mini-dramas by local playwrights Keri Healey and Bret Fetzer. They unfold several nights a week, through Nov. 9, in the showrooms of the popular Renton store.

Produced by the energetic troupe Printer's Devil Theatre, "The Ikea Cycle" is composed of seven, 10-minute playlets. The vignettes (three are performed a night, at regular intervals) stand on their own. But they are also interconnected enough to collectively reflect on a cluster of middle-class folk who live in the same neighborhood — and obviously share a yen for the sort of trendy-but-affordable goods which make Ikea a home-furnishings mecca.

On an evening visit to Ikea this week, few of the store's employees seemed aware the plays were scheduled. Keep asking, though, and you'll be led to the right showroom and offered a program. After a little flourish on a toy xylophone, a scene unfolds before a cluster of standing patrons.

Now playing

"The Ikea Cycle" is performed in installments on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday nights at Ikea through Nov. 9. 600 S.W. 43rd St., Renton. FREE. Schedule and other info: www.printersdevil.org or call 206-860-7163.

The two dramatic tidbits I saw, against a backdrop of gleaming kitchen displays, were quirky and engaging. In one, Stephen Hando played a sort of metaphysical telemarketer who bursts into a winsome ballad of suburban loneliness.

In another, a gangly teenager (Trevor Smith) breaks into the kitchen of a woman cop (Tina Kunz), who strikes an unusual bargain with the boy after she finds him wolfing down her breakfast cereal.

The actors keep their focus well in distracting circumstances. And Healey and Fetzer, both practiced long- and short-form writers, know how to snag your interest quickly, and upgrade a comic sketch with a dollop of angst.

Not surprisingly, it's just as interesting to watch the reactions of unsuspecting shoppers as they stumble upon these scenes. Their expressions of delight, curiosity, annoyance and, on occasion, total obliviousness, are fascinating. And their engagement with (or dismissal of) this sort of art happening is an integral element of the experience.

For a schedule of all the theatrical, musical and visual art events in the King County Performance Network site-specific series, go to www.4culture.org.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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