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Thursday, September 7, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Theater Review

Mastodon bones? A ménage à trois? It's all on display

Seattle Times theater critic

First, let us go directly to the set. Washington Ensemble Theatre's world-premiere mounting of "The Museum Play" has a really nifty one.

The company's ace resident designer, Jennifer Zeyl, has tucked a solid-white bedroom on one end of WET's small stage.

Taking up more space is a corner of an odd museum, boasting display cabinets chockablock with animal skeleton parts, a mounted stag head, pinned butterflies and a profusion of other familiar and unidentifiable miscellany from the natural world.

Watching "The Museum Play," a new hour-plus comic work by Bainbridge Island-bred playwright Jordan Harrison, one's attention may regularly drift over to those Joseph Cornwell assemblage-like exhibits. Picking out and naming what's in those glass cases is a diverting game.

More consistently diverting, alas, than Harrison's play. Directed by Marya Sea Kaminski, the script is intriguing at first but soon bogs down as it melds the two realities Zeyl's set evokes into one — with a central metaphor that's overworked.

It's understandable that WET would want to open its 2006-2007 season with something by Harrison. He's a young playwright on the rise, a gifted wordsmith with an imaginatively quirky streak.

In "The Museum Play," he sets up a promising romantic triangle: Jame (Marc Kenison), an obsessive museum worker, is suddenly informed by his live-in lover Vin (Lathrop Walker) that the latter has just acquired a female fiancée, Lila (Elise Hunt).

Now playing

"The Museum Play,"

by Jordan Harrison. Thursdays-Mondays at Washington Ensemble Theatre, 608 19th Ave. E., Seattle; $10-$15 (www.washingtonensemble.org or 888-838-3006).

It seems Lila and Vin aren't casting out the shocked, hurt Jame. They want him to stick around for an unlikely ménage à trois, details of which are enumerated in some humorously bizarre exchanges.

But the prospects for that arrangement are soon subsumed by some ominous doings at the natural history museum where Jame works, with an unnamed, ambitious curator (stridently played by Mikano Fukaya) and Lucy (Patricia Nelson), a strange young woman raised in museum captivity.

There is a filament of a mystery here, involving the disappearance of mastodon bones and other exhibit items. And the WET actors do what they can to keep things lively.

But Harrison's script develops a case of acute postmodern monologue-itis, with considerable time devoted to surreal declarations and verbal replays, and not enough to active, evolving relationships.

The point is made (repeatedly) that we humans would rather entrap, stuff and enshrine other species, and one another, than confront the scary unpredictability of our own nature, and nature itself. Or something like that.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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