Pseudoquasiesque: Psuedoquasiesque

Stage Frightening

Anyone who knows me knows I'm an avid theatergoer. A regular Johnny First-nighter. And whether it's something new or a revival, Shakespeare or Simon, one wo/man show or full-blown revue, you'll find me in the front row (right where you want to be should there be any nudity in the show).

The season just getting underway promises to be one of the finest in recent years. With a heady mix of touring Broadway shows, regional premieres and ambitious local productions. Of course, some tickets will be hotter than others. Here's a heads up on the openings that have stage buffs bubbling with anticipation:

Oaklahomies: A community theater Rap "revival/reworking" of the classic musical Oklahoma. In this version — set in the inner city of present day Oakland, Calif. — a fly honey is gamed by both a phat banger and a def gangsta. Then things get wack. Just the way Rogers & Hammerstein wrote it, and just the way you remember it!

Songs include "Oh, What a Beautiful Motherfuckin' Mornin' " and "The Brotha With the 'Fro on Top."

I Come When I Call: Regional premiere of an absurdist drama by Skru Ue, a Balinese playwright who, as a young man, maintained close contact with his idol Samuel Beckett (through hundreds of prank phone calls) and was later employed by Harold Pinter to cut the crusts off of his sandwiches. The play opens on a darkened stage; an unidentified man sits, alone, making explicit phone sex calls. The man discovers he's so dependent on and fulfilled by these calls, he marries the telephone and they settle down in the suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisc. But, because he's white and the phone is black, the couple is shunned by their neighbors. In the final scene, in despair, he and his touch-tone bride call Information and inquire as to the meaning of life, at which point they're told this can only be revealed if they're willing to switch to MCI as their long distance carrier.

Chernobyl, Chernobyl: Touring company of the bright, flashy new musical based on the Soviet nuclear accident and its aftermath. Produced and directed by Julie Taymor, the creative force behind Disney's The Lion King. In her greatest stroke of stagecraft yet, Taymor has actually irradiated and mutated cast members for an ultra-realistic-yet-surrealistic flavor. Not to be missed.

What's That You're Eating, Nikola?: This true, absorbing drama of Serbian genius Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) recounts how he nearly went mad struggling against the accepted limits of pastry to invent the Croissandwich.

The Mighty Quinn: Having "adapted" (among other source material) a book of poems (for Cats) and two movies (Phantom of the Opera and Sunset Boulevard), Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber now draws on American television. Here, he brings together Cannon, Barnaby Jones, Quincy, Mannix and other title characters from various Quinn Martin-produced hour dramas of the 1960s and '70s to musically solve crimes. Lyrics are actual dialogue from the original series, all set to Webber's immensely popular "blandiose" melodies. First staged in London, last fall The Guardian gushed, "... Sir Andrew has successfully taken the 'tube' out of 'boob tube.' "

dot-comedy: Promises to be the feel-good hit of the season, particularly for those left behind by or unable to cash in on the "new economy." Basically a conceptual piece, the dot-comedy cast consists of scores of real-life "smarter than the market" tech stock investors and former dot-com millionaires who, one-by-one, walk to the footlights and divulge how many millions s/he's lost since the bottom fell out of Internet stocks. The b-i-i-i-g numbers combined with the chagrined looks on the formerly smug mugs is a hilarious e-pie in each face. The "script" changes nightly, so, for the biggest yuks, go on a down market day.

How Much Would You Expect to Pay to See a Play Like This?: The mesmerizing Ron Popeil performs his scrumptious one-man show of back-to-back-to-back "info-one-acts": Rotisserie, Pasta Maker and Food Dehydrator. When it opened on Broadway, The New York Times wrote "... imagine Willie Loman possessed with the showmanship of Nathan Lane." The Post raved, "... makes you wonder why Spaulding Gray never made turkey jerky." The night I saw it, Mr. Popeil was called back on stage, only to further dazzle us with his timeless set piece, Pocket Fisherman.

Riverdance of Tears: A smash in London, this unflinching drama tells the true story of Irish stepdancers who were imprisoned by greedy theatrical impresarios, then forced to breed, raise and train more Irish stepdancers in order that there might be a separate, dedicated Riverdance touring company for every major city in America.