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by Lucy Komisar

Photo from 'The Play About the Baby'
Birth parents vs. adoptive parents in Albee's "The Play About the Baby." Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Contents: March 4, 2001:
(1)"The Play About the Baby"
(2)"More Lies About Jerzy"
(4)"The Unexpected Man"

"The Play About the Baby"
by Edward Albee, directed by David Esbjornson
Produced by Elizabeth Ireland McCann, Daryl Roth, Tery Allen Kramer, Fifty-Second Street Productions, Robert Bartner, Stanley Kaufelt in association with the Alley Theatre
111 East 15 Street
Opened February 1, 2001
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar January 31, 2001
In either event, the theatrical experience is stunning, but depending on the prism through which you look, Edward Albee's "The Play About the Baby" tells two different stories. In one, he observes the loss of innocence in the face of worldly cynicism and cruelty. In the other, he issues a cry of pain at the trauma of adoption. In that version, Albee is the baby.

The very stylized, surreal production takes place on an austerely bare stage with just two giant pink and blue baby blocks, a huge teething nipple, and, hanging from above, an old wood rocking horse and a straw baby buggy. John Arnone's set could be an exhibit at the Whitney. The direction by David Esbjornson is wry and piercing, giving just a hint of menace behind the bright patina of ordinary lives.

The characters have no names, but are called Girl, Boy, Man, Woman. They seem real enough, but it's clear from the start that the events are symbolic. The pregnant Girl (Kathleen Early) declares calmly, "I'm going to have the baby now." She goes offstage, delivers blood-curdling screams, then walks back and grins. Characters talk to each other, about each other and to the audience: there's no fourth wall.

On the face of it, it's an odd morality tale about a young couple who've just had a baby and an older couple who come to take it from them. It seems a fable about youth living in Garden-of-Eden innocence, here emphasized by their guilelessly gamboling in the nude, then confronting the horror, heartbreak and cruelties of life represented by an older, worldly couple who steal their child.

The older couple are sophisticates. The Woman (Marian Seldes) in her chic purple outfit reminisces about a painter-lover. The Man (Brian Murray) in his well-cut gray suit and patronizing attitude, cloaks himself with the false humanism of caring about art. As the Woman charmingly recalls her affairs, the Man sits on a child's block and grimaces to the audience, "Do you believe any of this?" as if they were chatting at a cocktail party. But culture for both of them is a sham.

Seldes is superb as she sashays and poses, saying as much with body language as anyone else could with a script. Murray is devilishly brash, with always a sense of underlying menace. The two, who have appeared together in other plays in recent years, are an excellent stage couple.

The Girl is an innocent in her simple pink shift, though Kathleen Early's sweetly scrubbed portrayal suggests a maturity conferred by the responsibility of motherhood. David Burtka's Boy is a joyous naif in jeans and t-shirt and a voice with a teen upswing. He pleads, "We're happy. We love each other. I'm hard all the time. We don't even understand each other yet. So give us some time please."

"Time's up," declares the Man. This is about good people having their hearts broken. It's the way of the world, the man reminds them, telling the Boy, "If you have no wounds, how can you know you're alive?" The Boy's artlessness already got him a broken arm inflicted by some toughs, and but the emotional pain that's coming will be greater.

That interpretation is a nonspecific one about the pain of life. One sees an entirely different work through the eyes of an adopted child. My theater guest was B.J. Lifton, who wrote about Albee in "Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience." If you know the code words, the play becomes a graphically personal memoir.

The Man and Woman are Albee's adoptive parents. He hated his adoptive mother, a self-absorbed actress, who treated him as a toy and largely ignored him. The Man laughs when he recalls how at a party he introduced a guest to some friends and didn't realize the guest was his mother. He quips that not remembering is not the same as forgetting. When the Boy is frightened, he suckles at the Girl's breast. She is the mother Albee never had.

Albee adoptive parents owned vaudeville theaters, and his mother was a showgirl always bragging about her body. The Woman declares she's not an actress but admits to being a trifle theatrical. She is vain about her body, especially her breasts. Treating the young couple's fright as a bit of a joke, the older couple breaks into vaudeville: "Yes, sir, where's our baby?" They mock the youths' sexuality: "Roll me over in the clover!" (Albee's parents' reaction to his homosexuality must have added to the pain of his childhood.)

Adopted children often fantasize that as infants they were stolen from their parents by gypsies. The Boy tells the Girl not to take their baby to the gypsies, because they'd steal it. When the Woman and Man first intrude, the Girl says, "Maybe they're gypsies" come to steal the baby. "They might injure us beyond salvation." Later, the Woman mimics being a gypsy.

Mothers who give up babies for adoption are persuaded to forget the children ever existed. When the Girl demands, "What have you done with the baby?" the older couple replies, "What baby?" The empty blanket the Girl shakes out represents the obliteration of the memory of the child.

Young mothers are told that their baby would be better off with a couple with the means to take better care of it. The Man insists, "If there is a baby, who is to say you have a right to it, that it's yours?"

The Man repeats, "Oh what a wangeled teb we weave," wryly inverting the consonants and alluding in ironic baby talk to the heartbreak caused by adoption.

"More Lies About Jerzy"
by Davey Holmes, directed by Darko Tresnjak
Produced by Vineyard Theatre
108 East 15 28 Street
Opened January 21, 2001
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar January 20, 2001
In Davey Holmes' fascinating, splendidly staged play about novelist Jerzy Kosinski, a reporter wonders why nobody ever investigated the truth of the shocking life story the author claimed. "Why didn't anyone find out?"

Why didn't they discover that he had invented a child's horrific experiences, a fantasy of a 7-year-old beaten, sexually brutalized and starved by cruel peasants as he wandered alone through wartime Poland, and had promoted it in a novel as his own autobiography?

The answer is obliquely suggested in the play by the refusal of a New York Times editor to print his own reporter's expose because Jerzy was the editor's friend. It's a question that goes to the heart of our celebrity culture, which has blurred the distinction between truth and fiction.

I knew Kosinski when he was president of PEN in the late 1970's and I was a member of the board. He was a smarmy, egotistical fellow, and he was lionized by the glitterati for whom the worst sin wasn't being a fraud, it was not being famous. They were easy to fool, because they lacked the courage to challenge trendy power and because they wanted their friends to be celebrated. The halo around one brightened the glow around the rest.

Holmes correctly divines that Kosinski knew being brash and arrogant and supremely self-assured was the best strategy. The opportunistic celebrity literary world is not made up of people who take stands that have personal costs. They circled the wagons.

For ten years after he'd won a National Book Award they ignored rumors about his plagiarism and use of ghostwriters. They didn't wonder about the startling differences of style in "his" novels. In the play, when a Times reporter finally documents Jerzy's lies, his editor refuses to publish the expose, and he quits, to run the story in the Village Voice.

In fact, "Jerzy Kosinski's Tainted Words," was published in the Voice in 1982 by staffers Eliot Fremont-Smith and Geoffrey Stokes. Fremont-Smith had been tipped to the story by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, the Times book critic.

The Voice writers declared that Kosinski had employed secret editors and ghostwriters to write "The Painted Bird," "Steps," and "Being There," that he'd plagiarized from a Polish novelist, and that while he'd claimed to have been in Poland alone as a child for seven years, he'd lived with his parents the whole time.

The Times had run a glowing magazine cover story on Kosinski, which described how his first, break-through novel truly related his wartime suffering, and his friend, Times editor Abe Rosenthal, attacked the Voice article and assigned reporters to refute it.

Kosinski's subsequent works were rejected by major publishers.

Ironically, he wrote what is possibly his only true book, "The Hermit of 69th Street," about a successful author who is shown to be a fraud. It was panned.

Kosinski ultimately admitted to the charges of fakery. Then, in 1991, at 58, he climbed into his bathtub, gulped a handful of sleeping pills, washed them down with vodka, and pulled a plastic bag over his head.

He was found by his wife, Kiki, who had typed his manuscripts even as he brought home lovers or took girlfriends to sex clubs. (One truthful aspect of the sadistic and pornographic "Painted Bird" is its reflection of Kosinski's liking for abusive sex. Rosenthal's biographer recounts how the Times editor joined him on nightly prowls that included an S&M bar.)

Playwright Davey Holmes wisely deflects the controversy over Kosinski by calling his play "More Lies About Jerzy," leaving the viewer to decide whether the other "lies" are Jerzy's or his critics'. This play instead is an absorbing riff on the nature of megalomania and artistic celebrity as well as a mystery and literary thriller.

Jerzy's nondescript grayish apartment, a blue couch, a writing desk, and an office table are the stage props for the life-play he has invented.

Everyone at first is taken in by his extravagant persona. When told Jerzy's book is a true story, Times reporter, Arthur Bausley (Daniel London) embellishes his review, then writes a gushing interview. London captures perfectly the demeanor of the self-confident young journalist who lets awe cloud his judgment.

The attitude of the women in Jerzy's life is most troubling. Times researcher Georgia Fischer (a sweetly sensual Gretchen Egolf), a 26-year-old Sarah Lawrence lit grad (in real life, Wellesley), quickly falls into bed with him. Jerzy (Jared Harris) steals her diary to cannibalize for a book, in real life, "The Devil Tree." When she finds out, she is upset, but sticks by him.

His ex-girlfriend, Isabel Parris (Lizbeth Mackay, charming as a warm, loving, almost maternal devotee) is happy to type his manuscripts. When she finds out the truth, she keeps silent.

The producers who have optioned a movie, couldn't care less, of course. What's one more fantasy exposed? Better box office.

The Polish costume designer (Gary Wilmes), whose own history as a boy alone during the war turns out to be what Jerzy appropriated, offers the only sympathetic explanation of the falsification.

"Anyone who lived under German occupation had to accept that certain lies were necessary for survival," he tells the reporter. Kosinski's biographer notes that his Jewish family survived the war only by pretending to be Christians, and this may have instilled in him a propensity to dissemble.

The excellent Harris expertly recreates Jerzy as an obnoxious, slimy, frenetic, predatory seducer and manipulator. You feel glad to see the phony exposed. It's only at the end, when he seems a nervous, cornered animal, that you feel a soupcon of pity.

There's no mystery about whether Jerzy will get away with it. We know the ending, though Holmes telescopes the time. But director Darko Tresnjak imparts a taut edge-of-the-seat pacing that heightens the tension about what really happened in the village where Jerzy spent the war years and how he will be unmasked. It's rather like following the intriguing steps of a mystery investigation, as little by little, small clues begin to pull apart the novelist's painted-on life.

That includes an interrogation by Author's Guild attorneys about claims of plagiarism and a visit to Brooklyn to see Rysiek (finely portrayed by Boris McGiver), the dignified, perturbed Pole who lived in Jerzy's village.

The play preaches a moral message about journalistic courage. Arthur Bausley, the reporter, seems at first to embody the famous Times arrogance, affording himself an "objectivity" as "an observer, an outsider" that his behavior belies. But he soon proves to be a real reporter, committed to finding the truth and willing to sacrifice his job to do it.

Unfortunately, that part of the play turns out not to be true.

written and directed by John Patrick Shanley from the Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, translated by J. Addington Symonds
Produced by Second Stage Theatre
108 East 15 St Street
Opened February 12, 2001
Closes March 4, 2001
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar February 14, 2001
Somewhere along the course of John Patrick Shanley's overwrought play about 16th century Florentine goldsmith and sculptor Benvenuto Cellini, I wanted to yell at Reg Rogers to drop the hokey bad Italian accent and at Jennifer Roszell to stop coyly prancing around in nothing but a just-long-enough accordion-pleated blouse and get dressed.

For a work that aspires to chronicle an artist's sacrifices for the integrity of his art, Shanley has mined every warmed-over trick in the book. Boisterous overacting, gratuitous nudity, and a final frantic scene that involves characters climbing onto a giant scaffold turns the piece into near caricature.

That is too bad, because Shanley the director has detracted from the accomplishments of Shanley the playwright-art historian. And from the autobiography of Cellini, on which the play is based.

Cellini sounds like he must have been a monumentally spirited man, as we hear him through the volume he dictated to a young assistant. "Your work is all you have, your work is you," he says, declaring that the book will describe "How I was created, how I returned the favor." It will tell of a hero, a man sorting out his own complexity.

The issue we see is whether the arrogant, macho, self-anointed artistic genius who speaks truth to power can manage to get and keep patrons before insulting them to the point they throw him over and worse. Quick to do violence of word and deed, he has killed two men, one who slew his brother and a goldsmith who insulted him by saying they were "the same," thus denigrating his stature as an artist.

Cellini calls the Pope a bile-oozing snake and ends up in the dungeon of Castle Sant' Angelo. There, he finally learns a lesson about controlling rage. Art, he discovers, requires discipline to dominate pride for the sake getting freedom and money from patrons to create.

In 16th century Italy, that meant pleasing popes, kings, and dukes. One sees here in personal terms what we know from art history: that great painting and sculpture were created for the flattery of princes of the realm and of the church. There are some fascinating insights into the politics and jealousies of the worlds of artists and aristocrats, with lesser lights ready to stab the more talented in the back.

We also learn in detail about Cellini's greatest works, an intricate gold salt cellar done for the King of France and a large statue of bronze Perseus holding the head of Medusa and standing on her body, which stands in a piazza in Florence. It's absorbing history as it unfolds in designer Adrianne Lobel's striking set, a domed workspace with walls of concave arches, a raised walkway, ladders, barrels of old wood, and a Spanish-style red leather chair.

But the artistry stops there. Rogers as Cellini, in black leather pants, full-sleeved blouse, black velvet vest, and black boots, looks like he stepped out of a period dueling movie. When he opens his mouth and starts talking like someone who just got off the boat in Little Italy, it seems like a joke. Cellini presumably spoke good Italian. Why portray him speaking bad English? Especially since his Italian contemporaries in the play don't all have the same immigrant accents.

Some of the dialogue is so silly as to be ludicrous. Cellini's French model, Caterina (Roszell) stretches out stark naked and declares archly, "Posing; I am posing." The king complains that his mistress is beautiful and troublesome, and Cellini commiserates, "The two often go together." At one point, Cellini comments, "I've learned to endure." Caterina ripostes, "Not in bed you haven't." If this were vaudeville, one would yell, "Get the hook!"

When Rogers finally oversees the pouring of his famous Perseus into a pit surrounded by a scaffolding that's been moved with pulleys, his eyes are bleary and glazed, and he storms and screams in melodrama verging on parody. It is not without entertainment value, but Cellini deserves better.

"The Unexpected Man"
by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton, directed by Matthew Warchus
Produced by Julian Schlossberg, Ben Sprecher, Ted Tulchin, William P. Miller in association with Aaron Levy and Morton Wolkowitz
The Promenade Theatre, 2162 Broadway and 76 Street
Opened October 1, 2001
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar October 1, 2001
The French are noted for self-indulgent, pretentious flights of pseudo-intellectual fancy, and Yasmina Reza's play is a good example. Where her "Art" was filled with bright, clever moments, "The Unexpected Man" is a study of tedium, making us feel as if we are in real time sitting on a boring train ride from Paris to Frankfurt (not yet having reached Strasbourg), passing the moments musing on life's dreams, failures and accomplishments and on friends and acquaintances, their slights, quirks and inadequacies, and wondering about the person sharing the compartment.

The mundane reflections take place on a striking set by Mark Thompson, a series of wood folding chairs set over a glass platform through which one sees a track in its bed of pebbles. The backdrop is the outside of a train.

>From the thoughts and demeanor of Paul Parsky (Alan Bates), eminent writer, one perceives a man who is self-important, obnoxious, crude, depressed, dyspeptic, bitter, a word he repeats. He likes women in bed who don't interest him in life: "the black girl at the Plaza." He is contemptuous of his trade: "all those idiots shoveling out opinions ... who turn up on the books programs."

He's in his 60's and upset at his daughter getting married to a man of 51. He's snide about his friend Yuri, whose younger Japanese lover is, he repeats, flat-chested. He complains about constipation. Parsky is bitter at growing old and envies men who relish life. Bates is a bearish, gruff, fuming author. He seems physically unable to sit still, twisting and hanging over his wooden chair.

Across from him sits Martha (Eileen Atkins), his contemporary, svelte, refined, elegant, but not altogether secure. She's glad she's wearing her good suit. Atkins plays her as mild, giddy, but controlled. It's hard to think of her experiencing emotion.

A widow, her closest friend Serge has just died. She has Parsky's latest novel, "The Unexpected Man," in her bag. It's an obvious allusion. She imagines herself talking to the author, who she recognizes. She sees life and joy in the vitriolic rage of his books. She also goes on for interminable minutes with repressed annoyance remembering her erstwhile attentive friend Serge's absorption in his new son. She can't get herself to speak to Parsky.

The event of the play, which one of them articulates, is, "You manufacture yourself and then lay it over to the unexpected." They're both lonely and want human contact. Can they overcome their failures of nerve? The notion has charm, and the denouement is a delight.

Director Matthew Warchus speeds along brightly as fast as the TEE. The problem is that most of the 75 minutes are devoted to rather boring ruminations that the characters probably wouldn't impose on each other, but do inflict on the audience.[Komisar]

Theater critic Lucy Komisar gives pre-show briefings and post-show discussions for theater parties to enrich playgoers' experiences. She'll also help find an appropriate show and make or advise on arrangements. Interested parties may telephone (212) 929-1610 for information.

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lk01031c.jpg Name: lk01031c.jpg Type: JPEG Image (image/jpeg) Encoding: base64 (4) ject: bizarre comedies night & day, paradise Island, the wax Date: Sun, 4 Mar 2001 17:22:24 -0500 From: "lkomisar" To: "Jonathan Slaff" who did the photo, you or Dixie Sheridan? wasnt sure so left credit out Teaser: Bizarre Off-Broadway comedies: A revival of Tom Stoppard's "Night and Day" in which a self-important British press confronts an African rebellion; and quirky newcomers Simon Block's "Paradise Island," about mothers' and daughters' expectations and disappointments; and Kathleen Tolan's "The Wax," which rips the comical truth off marriage. Komisar's Curtain-Raisers - New York Theatre Wire
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by Lucy Komisar

Photo from 'Night and Day'
Angela Madden and Jolie Garrett in Tom Stoppard's "Night and Day."
Contents: March 4, 2001:
(1)"Night and Day"
(2)"Paradise Island"
(3)"The Wax"

"Night and Day"
by Tom Stoppard, directed by Ernest Johns
Produced by Jean Cocteau Repertory
Bouwerie Lane Theatre, 330 Bowery
Opened December 17, 2000
Closes March 22, 2001
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar January 5, 2001
Tom Stoppard has the amazing ability to be clever, funny, political, arcane and entertaining at multiple levels to multiple audiences who would never nod to each other on the street.

To comprehend the subplot about "the Trots" who are running the union at The Globe, a venerable British daily, you have to be British or at least a subset of 1960's American. (It means Trotskyist.) To relate to a bored colonial wife who'd like to bed every new man in sight, it's enough to be breathing.

In the midst of all of that esoteric politics, "Night and Day" puts forth the radical notion that, as rotten as much of the press is, especially the gutter variety, it's better than the alternative.

We are in the new African country of Kambawe where the local paper at independence was owned by a British millionaire who filled it with girly pictures. What is the alternative? The president of Kambawe describes that as "a relatively free press" -- one that is run by one of his relatives. The contrast is posed by a fresh-faced, young reporter who believes that a free press is the protector of liberty.

That's getting ahead of the story, which in the case of Stoppard would be a pity, since it is rich fare, indeed. In 1978, a rebellion is being mounted in the African country of Kambawe, which is run by President Mageeba, brilliantly portrayed by Jolie Garrett as a tough, charming, brutal, literate, musical-comedy sort of thug who went to the LSE (ah, the inside Brits again: the London School of Economics) and knows when to brandish bright words and when to use his walking stick.

Richard Wagner (Jason Crowl) has arrived "in country" for The Globe, only to find that Jacob Milne (Taylor Bowyer) a British freelancer, has scooped everyone with an interview with the rebel leader. And published his story in The Globe!

Those two and the paper's photographer (Tim Deak) descend on the household of Geoffrey Carson (Harris Berlinsky), a mining engineer who has befriended Jacob. Carson, who deals with all political sides, is worried about his mines and is transmitting messages between the conflicting parties. This provides an opening for Wagner, who will do anything for the next scoop.

Director Ernest Johns has mounted an ironic, lively production with Robert Martin's excellent set, a living room with slate floor, white sofas, lush green plants, louver doors, and African masks and statue.

There's lots of clever repartee. The government flack announces that the Adona Liberation Front doesn't exist and the army has got it completely surrounded. Then, he asks if The Globe is "objective for" or "objective against." As he says, he may be stupid, but he's not stupid. Newsweek, in a funny parody, is aptly described as "all writing and no facts."

The most interesting character is the correspondent, given a meaty portrayal by Jason Crowl, who is the perfect journalistic charmer -- nasty, jealous, cynical, manipulative. Jacob, the naive young provincial, is actually the hero. Speaking for Stoppard, he preaches that newspapers' celebration of nonsense, their "hackneyed melodramas," is the price you pay for the part that matters.

Stoppard's weakest character is Ruth, the wife, a caricature of the bored, sexual predator who will sleep with anything that moves. In 1978, Stoppard should have been more sophisticated about women. Angela Madden, however, gives a complex performance, including a witty send-up of Elizabeth Taylor.

Stoppard's lines are icing on this cake. Calling the reporter Strauss instead of Wagner, Ruth declares, "I knew it was Richard." When Wagner asks, "What do I call him, the president?", she replies, "He likes to be called boy." The gun-toting chief of state is described as having played Othello. It will be revealed he played Caliban, but hey, how many parts in Shakespeare are there for blacks?

In addition to fine performances by Crowl, Madden, Garrett and Bowyer, Max Wolkowitz does a nice turn as the preppie kid from Ascot.

"Paradise Island"
by Simon Block, directed by Michael Sexton
Produced by MCC Theater
120 West 28 Street
Opened January 23, 2001
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar January 24, 2001
"Paradise Island" is a fascinating, beautifully acted, two-person play that plumbs the complexities of a mother-daughter relationship which descends into mutual backbiting when a mother can't deal with disappointment at her daughter's failure to find a good man or a good job.

Playwright Benjie Aerenson gives the appearance of having seen such goings-on up close. His dialogue and the direction by Andy Goldberg are completely natural.

Emma, expertly portrayed by Lynn Cohen, is a well-meaning mother who can't figure out why her daughter doesn't shine, and Terri, finely drawn by Adrienne Shelly, seems defeated by life and beyond explaining it to her mother. Theyare on a Bahamas gambling holiday, and from the hotel room, to the restaurant, to the beach, to the casino, every moment is filled with tension.

The hypercritical Emma fuels her daughter's misery. Even her compliments are backhanded. Terri, 32, has had a series of dead-end jobs. Emma, a woman in her 60's with a husband and house in Miami, reassures her, "You're so pretty" and "You've got so much to offer." Then a dig, "You don't like the nice ones, that's your problem; you go for the creeps."

Unable to communicate, they lash out at each other. Emma criticizes Terri's clothes, her hair, how she leaves the room a mess, even her misplacing the VCR remote. Terri ripostes with spite and an almost defiant self-destructiveness. A diabetic, she sneaks candy and cake.

They talk with warmth only about people who live outside their lives on daytime television. Terri likes Oprah because she "really cares about people." They discuss Cher and the characters in the O.J. trial. One rejoices when the other wins at the slot machines.

It's clear that behind all the unkind remarks, there is love. When Terri tries on a spaghetti strap sundress in the resort shop, Emma looks at her with real delight and pride. When she muses to herself about Terri as "the baby all the nurses loved," you feel the contradictory emotions of her love and her wrenching disappointment.

"The Wax"
by Kathleen Tolan, directed by Brian Kulick
Produced by Playwrights Horizons
416 West 42 Street
Opened January 7, 2001
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar January 9, 2001
NEW YORK - Kathleen Tolan's new play is a combination of good sketch comedy and slapstick. Though the premise is not terribly remarkable, the play is laced with funny bits, including the modern version of classical pretension -- a lot of academic, psychological and cultural pseudo-discourse. And after hundreds of years, audiences still chuckle at deceiving husbands and wives slamming in and out of doors or hiding under beds and in closets.

The production is enhanced by some excellent comedians, including Laura Esterman as a dumped wife and Mary Testa as a bored one. Director Brian Kulick correctly plays the script as a classical farce. The result is that you laugh a lot.

The plot is the least of it: a bunch of old friends have met at a seaside hotel prior to the wedding of a couple we never see. What we do see raises some questions about the vigor of marriage, which has left them all in some way dissatisfied. The unhappy partners see sex as both the problem and the solution. Tolan subtly suggests that that's not as essential as communication. Or that the latter problem obviously affects the former.

One husband and wife can't communicate and aren't sleeping together. Another couple has split, with the male ending up with a boyfriend. A housewife-and-mother wants "some fun," which she, for no obvious reason, interprets as a lesbian affair. The wild cards are a self-analyzing scientist (female) and a sensitive redneck (male), who seem wistfully looking for human connections.

None of this is meant to be taken too seriously. It's done mostly for laugh lines and slapstick disrobing. Does Kate (Karen Young) have a marriage in trouble? She needs an affair while they're working it out. Is Angie (Mary Testa) coming on to Kate? Her own marriage suffers from DINS; "dual income, no sex." Is Maureen (the enormously comic Laura Esterman) furious at the expose novel published by her estranged husband, Hal (David Greenspan)? It's because she's not in it.

The two still have an unspoken connection: Maureen has the delicious habit, when she is distraught, of tuning into grand opera on the boom box she totes. Hal has charming moments of imitating the notes of emotionally resonant pieces of music.

The hotel room of Kate and Christopher (Frank Wood) becomes the stage for the arrivals, departures and antics of the wedding guests and visitors. In addition to the above, they include Bert (Gareth Saxe) the very funny black leather-jacketed, flaky fellow Kate picks up at the bar, and Amelia (Mary Shultz), a sweet, quirky, non-stop-talking scientist who analyzes thoughts and feelings as she would molecules in a lab.

The best parts are the furious, comic encounters where various parties reveal their emotional desires and despair. Yes, it's been done before, and every moment doesn't sparkle, but hands coming up from under to grab objects on the bed or a character hiding in a closet that is already inhabited still set you giggling.

The play bogs down with a story narrated by Ben (David Greenspan), Hal's music critic lover, whose tedious reminiscence of how he and Hal met seems to take as long as the event itself. Ben is cleverer when he sticks to telling how British class divisions promote critical faculties and artistry or parsing Irish plays as built on "the drunken sods" and "the sentimental detours."

Wood is funny as the mild, dry, dull, methodical scientist who suddenly scales cultural heights when he declares, on hearing his wife use a metaphor from "Wozzeck," that he's "the misunderstood Marie who loved you."

The "wax" refers to the substance used by a Russian lady (Lola Pashalinski) who arrives to clean up Kate's bikini line. Stripping away harsh reality or dramatizing the closeness of pain and sex? It's so bizarre, that even when you flinch, you can't help laughing. who did the photo, you or Dixie Sheridan? Teaser: Bizarre Off-Broadway comedies: A revival of Tom Stoppard's "Night and Day" in which a self-important British press confronts an African rebellion; and quirky newcomers Simon Block's "Paradise Island," about mothers' and daughters' expectations and disappointments; and Kathleen Tolan's "The Wax," which rips the comical truth off marriage. [Komisar]

Theater critic Lucy Komisar gives pre-show briefings and post-show discussions for theater parties to enrich playgoers' experiences. She'll also help find an appropriate show and make or advise on arrangements. Interested parties may telephone (212) 929-1610 for information.

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