by Michael Bowen

Ringing in the New Year is all about playfulness, and playgoers will have several options during the First Night festivities.

The adult version of Express Theatre Northwest will be able to draw upon its recent production of The Gift of the Magi and The Littlest Angel to entertain you during its 7 and 7:45 pm shows at 1019 W. First. Express Theater for Youth-Northwest will perform 4 and 5 o'clock shows at River Park Square, in the Kress Gallery. Both branches of ETNW allot a percentage of roles to actors with disabilities.

Pipkin Family Puppet Theater, fresh from a recent tour of county libraries, spins some marionette magic at 4:30 and 5:30 pm in the confines of Art at Work, 123 N. Post.

The Blue Door Theater, 122 S. Monroe, will offer a kind of readers' theater experience as four poets -- Greg Delzer, Scott Poole, Jason Olsen and Jennifer Reid -- read from their work (7-8:30 pm).

Over at the Spokane Regional Business Center, 801 W. Riverside, an ad hoc group led by Ann Russell and calling themselves "Small Actors" will present A Reduced Christmas Carol. The idea is that they'll perform the tale of Scrooge, Marley and Cratchit in just 15 minutes -- and then in five, and then in just one. There are three show times for this condensed comic romp: 4, 5 and 7:45 pm.

As entertaining as these shows will be, the headliner among First Night actors has to be Tim Behrens as Pat McManus (a single show, 9-10 pm, at the Fox Theatre, corner of Monroe and Sprague). If you don't know the backwoods Idaho characters of comic writer McManus or the one-man-show antics of actor Behrens, then you're in for a treat -- or some kind of abdominal strain, depending on how much belly-laughing you do. Behrens will perform Scrambled McManus, the fourth of the McManus comedies and a comic compendium of all of the humorists' familiar characters: rural varmint Rancid Crabtree, Crazy Eddie Muldoon, addle-brained Mrs. Swisher, Pat's cousin Buck (only slightly smarter than celery), Goombaw, and the best-looking girl in school, Melba Peachbottom. Audiences new to Behrens' comedy can enjoy the show as much as those who have followed his bestsellers for the last 16 years and more, though McManus aficionados will recognize such stories as the First Date, the Grasshopper Trap, the Last Camping Trip and the Night the Bear Ate Goombaw.

Behrens' cavorting about the Fox stage in comic agony may put you in mind of more artistic forms of dance -- and First Night offers many. From 7 pm until midnight, for example, you can sway to the hot and sultry rhythms of salsa music. Upstairs at the STA Plaza, 701 W. Riverside, the dance wizards of the Avalon Dance Center will teach you how -- or, alternatively, you can put on a sizzling Caribbean performance of your own.

The Dance Time Theater Company, which specializes in dances that illuminate some historical period, shares the excitement of the Gold Rush era in two shows at the Odd Girls Hall, 1017 W. First, at 5 and 7:45 pm.

Theatre Ballet of Spokane has 5 and 9 pm shows at the Met (Sprague and Lincoln): the latter is Ballet and Bubbly, and the former is Ballet Without the Bubbly. The performance is divided between classical and jazz, and two of the dancers have come all the way from Charleston, S.C. (which has a First Night of its own).

The Academy of Dance (820 W. Sprague) and Dance Theatre Northwest join forces to present an evening of dance entertainment, dance lessons and a New Year's Ball. Children will enjoy Hansel and Gretel from 4:30-5:15 pm. Later, there are two Dance a la Carte shows at 7 and 8 o'clock. Lessons and ballroom dancing fill the space at 9 and 10 pm.

In the River Park Square Atrium, the Hyper Formance Dance Club will do some snazzy jazz steps at 4 pm only. The Spokane Valley Highland Dancers perform Celtic routines in the same space at 4:30 and 5:30, sandwiched around the 5 o'clock show by child dancers of Ballet Classique.

Later on, the Atrium is devoted to the Silver Spurs Youth Folk Dancers for three shows: 7, 7:45 and 8:30 pm. This group has an international flair, performing as it does dances of Mexico, Romania, Japan, Germany and other nations.

In fact, international dance seems to be a motif of the terpsichorean offerings on First Night. Aisha Azar, for example, an Egyptian-style bellydancer, will rattle and roll her considerable and voluptuous charms at 4:30, 5 and 5:30 at 1019 W. First.

You can become an honorary Scot by watching the Spokane Scottish Country Dancers, an affiliate of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society based in Edinburgh. They'll perform their jigs and reels at 4:30 and 5:30 in the Magic Room, upstairs at 123 N. Post in the Art at Work space.

Deirdre Abeid will lead the Haran Dancers in authentic Irish dances at Lamonts (Riverside and Wall). This troupe is so impressive that they have actually won numerous awards for Irish dance in Ireland itself, having competed in the Irish Dance World Championships. Music will be provided, appropriately enough, by the Celtic Nots.

Yet another cross-cultural dancing experience will be available to First Nighters as they are invited by the Erdely Ensemble into the remote villages of Transylvania. The group wears traditional folk costumes as they weave Hungarian, Romanian and Gypsy dances. They'll present two shows, 7 and 8:30 pm, at the Odd Girls Hall, 1017 W. First.

Erdely, like the Academy of Dance and the Avalon Center masters of salsa, offer their First Night revelers some opportunity for stress-relieving audience participation. But if, after heavy doses of Afghanistan, you feel the need to laugh your way out of 2001, then you have at least three options for comedy on First Night. The Blue Door improv troupe, 122 S. Monroe, offers three shows on New Year's Eve (8:30, 9:30 and 10:30 pm), and SpoComedy presents four (at 8, 9, 10 and 11 pm) upstairs at the Magic Lantern Theater, 123 S. Wall. The Blue Door folks will be able to draw on their recent, fully improvised show, "Flip, the Bird," while the SpoComedians have hundreds of games they can play within the format of the nationally standardized, competitive skits of ComedySportz. Meanwhile, over at 1019 W. First, you'll be able to take in the standup comedy of Bobby Delerious, who's doing four consecutive shows (every 45 minutes, starting at 7 pm).

Moscow Drive-In Movies @ Kibbie Activity Center

Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. and Fri., Oct. 30, 7:30 p.m. Continues through Oct. 31
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About The Author

Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.