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Thursday, March 26, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Alligator Tales' Is Absorbing End To Rep's Season

Seattle Times Theater Critic

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

"Alligator Tales" by Anne Galjour. Directed by Sharon Ott. Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St. Tuesdays-Sundays through May 2. 206-443-2222.

Hurricanes loom large in "Alligator Tales," Anne Galjour's one-woman show about people living on the edges of a Louisiana bayou.

Apt enough, for Galjour, herself, is something of a one-woman performance hurricane as she weaves in and out of eight different characters, spinning engrossing tales involving alligator patrols and turtle sauce piquant.

Galjour, who captivated Seattle audiences in years past with "The Krewe of Neptune" and "Hurricane" ("Alligator Tales" is a reworking of "Hurricane" and another one-act, "Mauvais Temps"), proves again that she is an enchanting storyteller. Her quirky characters (two sisters, one of whom wears saints' medals on her bra and is lusting after a man who's a lightning-bolt magnet; a neighboring couple; and assorted others) face challenges both physical (storms, floods, alligators) and metaphysical (apparitions of Jesus Christ).

Galjour has a wonderful ear for dialogue and a knack for blending humor and pathos, even tragedy, as her characters deal with everything from incoming Hurricane Wanda to romance to death.

As vivid as her characters are Galjour's descriptions of a bayou teeming with life, from the alligators, fish and mosquitoes, to the weather - almost a character in its moodiness and omnipresence. When she paints a word-picture of two characters in a boat waiting out a storm, we almost smell the damp heaviness of the marsh.

Her evocation of life in the bayou is well matched by Kate Edmunds' simple set (a chair, driftwood, an abstract background), Stephen LeGrand's subtle sound effects (rainfall, thunder and, best of all, chimes to evoke the shifting of leaves in the wind), and a beautiful lighting design by Kent Dorsey.

The play's only major shortcoming is in the second half when the characters go through many of the same travails (an oncoming storm, the encroachment of oil companies) that they've already been through in the first half. Now and then in this second act, the play threatens to slip into a soap-operalike "and then this happened to the character" type of storytelling. More focus on overarching themes might have helped. (For as often as it's mentioned, the infiltration of the oil companies doesn't really seem to go anywhere.)

Still, Galjour grounds all the action in such specifics of character and region that the situations never become generic. And director Sharon Ott keeps the pace and mood nicely modulated - from fast and furious during the storms to delicate and deliberate during quieter moments, including an ending that is poignant, almost mythical.

Seattle Rep could not have chosen two more different plays to close its season: the sparely staged, personal stories of "Alligator Tales" and the sumptuous 19th-century comedy of Oscar Wilde's "An Ideal Husband." Be glad it did, for each play is richly absorbing and utterly delightful in its own way, doing what the best theater pieces do: taking audiences to different times and places, exploring the fertile minds of talented playwrights. And best of all, touching the human heart.

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

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