Garden of the Wild
Raleigh Little Theater
Through May 20

Six black figures writhe their way off the ground. Their simple white masks are on the rear of their heads, giving the eerie illusion that their spines are bending backward. In this scene, the accompanying band sounds like a Nine Inch Nails folk cover act. Two acts later, the same band is playing for a jolly pig hoedown as a hilariously oversized sheriff tries to corrupt their good time. The acts showcased in Garden of the Wild are varied, but the feeling they emit is consistent: an appreciation of the simplicity of art and performance.

Self-proclaimed activists, celebrants and puppeteers, the Paperhand Puppet Intervention performers obviously love what they do. The size of the giant puppets, the impressiveness of the stilt walkers, and the care with which the puppets are handled all have the same calming effect as standing in front of a very old tree.

The Raleigh Little Theater, comfortably nestled in its outdoor cove, provides the perfect backdrop for this presentation of nature’s serene, colorful beauty. Birds fly across the performance, while the breeze ruffles the giant puppets’ garments. Garden of the Wild is a show for the child in the child, and the child’s wonder that lingers in the breasts of adults. Megan Stein

North Carolina Theatre
Through May 20

It’s easy to get nostalgic about high school: the first crushes, locker room chats, raging hormones and prom night. Still, today’s teen scene, with its MySpace, text-messaging and cell phones, can seem remote from the pastuntil one stumbles upon a delightful old treasure like Grease, the ultimate high school musical.

After spending an afternoon with Sandy, Danny and the leather-clad T-Birds and silk-scarved Pink Ladies, we learn that although the mediums of communication may have changed, the same problemsand solutionsstill remain. Sandy and Danny still can’t get it together, and the cast spends most of their time trying to fit in and find love. Rock ‘n’ roll invades the high school halls, and every ill can be turned into a four-chord love song and dance number.

In a new production playing in Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium, Matthew Hydzik plays tough-guy Danny Zuko with pizzazz and even throws some added humor into his solo “Alone at the Drive-In Movie” by adding a few extra “doo-hoos” at the beginning. Co-star Hollie Howard is equally skilled at portraying the saintly Sandy, but sometimes overwhelms the audience with her wide-eyed innocence and shrill vocals. The true merit of this play comes from side players Laura Beth Wells, who plays gangly Rizzo with snappy tenacity, and the bee-hive wearing Lynda Clark as Miss Lynch, who actually comes out into the audience between acts to scold playgoers and ask them for their hall pass!

The North Carolina Theatre’s production includes all the banter, energy and humor that give Grease its name and reputation. While some of the musical numbers are dragged down by inept vocals and an inexperienced cast, the theatrical mettle is there in full force as the cast gives the production a youthful exuberance. Kathy Justice

The Gratitude of Wasps
Deep Dish Theater Company
Through May 19

The Gratitude of Wasps is the first world-premiere production from Chapel Hill’s Deep Dish Theater Company. The script, by playwright and Indy contributor Adam Sobsey, is billed as a “comic drama” and boasts a perfect setup for either tears or laughter: The Vacation Gone Bad.

Over a day and night, five friends (two married couples and the 17-year-old daughter of a third, never-seen couple) drink, reminisce and intellectualize about cosmic issues and petty resentments, and reveal their flaws and resilience. Moment by moment, the talk is witty and engaging, but the play tackles so many themes, and gives them such equal treatment, that its central message gets lost.

The production’s chief assets are Paul Frellick’s surefooted direction and the ensemble acting of the five-person cast, particularly Jeri Lynn Schulke’s tightly wound but goodhearted wife and Julla Yarwood’s conflicted teen. The Gratitude of Wasps doesn’t quite equal the sum of its parts, but those parts offer entertainment enough. (Reviewed May 2.) V. Cullum Rogers

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant
Common Ground Theatre
Through May 19

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1972 play is a sad and savage meditation on love and personal freedomor lack thereofand the unhappy (inevitable?) brews that result in their names when selfishness, cynicism, lust and the desire for power become their body doubles. Adapted and directed by versatile theater artist Katja Hill, the play showcases the considerable talents of six area actresses, including Hill herself.

Petra von Kant, played here by the powerful and fearless Rachel Klem, is a middle-aged-and-fighting-it fashion designer whose success has come at a high price, and whose unsatisfactory relationship with her mother (Lenore Field) she is replicating with her daughter (Meredith Sause). When the beautiful Karin (Gigi DeLizza) appears, narcissistic Petra falls for her like she falls for her own mirror image each morning.

Generally, the story flows well, but the lack of certain background and Hill’s directorial style force an overplaying, an emotionality, that at times is overscaled in such an intimate setting. The final scene, in which the mute Marlene makes a great change, is a jaw-dropper, even if you know the story. If you are interested in either love or theater, this is a play you will want to see. (Reviewed May 9.) Kate Dobbs Ariail