Opening This Week

Brainwaves Improvisational Comedy
Improv utilizing props from the audience. Brainwaves, at the Hollywood Theater, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd, 796-9550, Fri-Sat 8 pm, through May 11, $12

Jerusalem; Nat Turner's Uprising
The story of healer, preacher, and prophet, Nat Turner, who, 100 years ago was hung for obeying the mission God spelled out for him: set slaves free. Hand 2 Mouth Theatre, 1829 NE Alberta, 235-5284, May 2-5, 9-10, 16-17, 23-26, $8

Puppets VS People
Improv comedy competition between puppets and people. Comedysportz Arena, 1963 NW Kearney Street, 236-8888, Sun 4 pm, through May 12, $10, or $9 with can of food

Roundabout Utah
Long form improv based on audience suggestions. Your Other Left, at the ComedySportz Arena, 1963 NW Kearney, 236-8888, Sun 7:30 pm, through May 19, $8, $7 with can of food

The View From Here
A romantic relationship explored through physical theatre, unpredictable acrobatics, and absurd comedy. Nomadic Theatre Co, at the Russell Street Theatre, 116 NE Russell St, 358-3441, Fri-Sat 10:30 pm, through May 18, $10

One Week Only

2002 Choreographers' Showcase
New works from emerging and experimenting choreographers. The Dance Cartel, at Echo Theatre, 1515 SE 37th, 972-7709, Fri-Sat 8 pm, Sun 7 pm, $10-12

Closing This Week

* Chainsaw Spaceman
The run of this show has been extended until May 4, and that is a wonderful thing. John Breen and Loren Hoskins understand that the best comedy is bred out of characters, not situations. The characters that populate their sketch comedy are not playing the crowd for laughs, but are examining themselves and their problems with real concern and sincerity. It is this sincerity that makes characters, like the farmers who are obsessed with their power tools and the cockney good ol' boys obsessed with the "wee baby Jesus," so very, very funny. One doesn't laugh AT these people, (an expression of hate), one laughs WITH these people, (an expression of love). I love the characters Hoskins and Breen have created. I love Hoskins and Breen. Hoskins & Breen, at CoHo Theater, 2257 NW Raleigh, 242-0202, Fri-Sat 10:30 pm, through May 4, $10

Saved to Blasted
Lightbox continues its string of readings by contemporary British playwrights. This week's featured text is Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychosis. Lightbox Studio, 1306 NW Hoyt, Suite 407, 231-0839, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, free

David Schmader's one-man rant on the dangers of gay-conversion therapy. Stage Direct, at CoHo Theatre, 2257 NW Raleigh, 274-1373, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, $12

Current Runs

A Bicycle Country
Three Cubans build a raft to sail away from their poverty-stricken village. The emotional turmoil of the oppressed meets the high suspense of an ocean adventure. It's a premise that seems almost foolproof, and yet somehow The Miracle's production of A Bicycle Country still manages to fall flat. It's certainly not the fault of director, Andres Alcala, who maximizes the staging potential of the tiny, claustrophobic platform that must serve as both a house in Cuba and the raft. His cast is also not to blame, as all three put in stellar performances, with Kyra Zagorsky standing out strongest as the beautiful amd fiery Ines. No, the main problem here is Nilo Cruz's script, which forces romance between Ines and the much older Julio, and then tries to use their poorly developed relationship as a focal point around which jealousy-infused drama on the raft must circulate. Cruz stretches this weak conflict as far as it will go, then runs out of things for his characters to do and so falls back on trite "descending into madness," soliloquies that feel recycled from a thousand other castaway stories. The Miracle Theater, 525 SE Stark Street, 236-7253, Thurs 7:30 pm, Fri-Sat 8 pm, through May 11, $15

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Shakespeare's greatest acid trip. Tygres Heart Shakespeare Company, 1111 SW Broadway, 288-8400, Thurs 7 pm, Fri-Sat 8 pm, Sat-Sun 2 pm, through May 19, $11-36

Greatest Hits Volumes III & IV
Two different shows of sketch comedy, presented over two different nights. The 3rd Floor, at the Miracle Theatre, 525 SE Stark, 258-1681, Volume III is Fri, Volume IV is Sat, both shows 11 pm, through May 11, $9 per show, $16 both shows

The Birthday Party
The play that put Harold Pinter on the map is a fascinating power struggle between a man named Stanley and two mysterious galoots who mess with his mind. The Profile Theatre Project at Theater! Theatre!, 3430 SE Belmont, 242-0080, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm, through May 26, $12-20

Vitriol and Violets: Tales Form The Algonquin Round Table
Tales from the Algonquin Hotel in 1920s New York, where soon-to-be-famous writers and artists met to party down on a regular basis. Cygnet, at the Russell Street Theatre, 116 NE Russell St, 493-4077, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sun 7 pm, through May 18, $15

What the Butler Saw
Farce about a British psychiatrist who runs an asylum and tries to keep up with the demands of his sexually frustrated wife. Triangle Productions, at Theater! Theatre!, 3430 SE Belmont, 239-5919, Thurs 7:30 pm, Fri-Sat 8 pm, Sun 5 pm, through May 25, $15-19