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Friday, February 6, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Mixed-Media `Funhouse' Puts The Audience In The Act

Seattle Times Theater Critic

------------------------------------------- Theater review

"Funhouse," conceived and directed by Paul Magid and Ron W. Bailey. Stage show written by Magid; teleplay written by Magid and Alex Metcalf; musical direction by Mark Ettinger. Presented by A Contemporary Theatre and TheatreVision, at ACT, 700 Union St., Seattle. Runs today through Sunday. 206-292-7676. -------------------------------------------

Well, "Funhouse" isn't a complete house o' fun, but it has its moments.

The show has an interesting concept and at times you can see how well it could work. The main problem is it needs more time to gel.

The concept behind "Funhouse" is this: The cabaret space the audience steps into is actually the Chien Du Mort, a millionaires' club owned by the beautiful Ilsa. But soon, the millionaires are herded out and the audience learns the club is really a secret fun house for its waiters and assorted other entertainers.

This is a fantastic way to pull together many of the talented performers in this town, from actors to vaudevillians to movement artists. (The show features more than 30 performers.)

Among those who get to strut their stuff in individual acts are guitarist Baby Gramps, opera singer Darcy DuRuz, dancers from the Pat Graney Dance Company and the weirdly cool Christian Swenson, whose mimicking of animal movements is eerily dead-on. Buffoons from the movement-theater troupe UMO Ensemble add a touch of surreal fun

throughout the show.

But the acts don't mesh into a greater whole and, aside from the opening and closing song-and-dance numbers, neither do the cast members. The transition from act to act is slow and interaction between cast members, and between cast and audience members for that matter, sometimes feels awkward.

"Funhouse" isn't just stage acts - it also features several story lines. The club's maitre 'd (played by Paul Magid, one of the Flying Karamazov Brothers) has a flirtatious relationship with Ilsa; he's also got two ex-wives who work at the club, one of whom is having a torrid romance with a doctor. But again, none of it is well-developed, or well-incorporated into the show.

"Funhouse" is being filmed for a television pilot (Magid hopes to turn it into a series), and in a large overhead screen in the cabaret, you can see how well that might work.

A television crew films the show each night and some of the scenes are shown on that screen. The character interactions in the story lines, which get lost amid the buffoonery of the stage show, look great on screen. And the segmented structure of the show - jumping from one entertainer to another, to various story lines - just might work well on television, in a "Benny Hill" sort of way.

In fact, the whole enterprise has the potential to be a real fun house. It just isn't one yet.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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