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The Wind on the Water

Reviewed by Irene Backalenick

Presented by Common Ground Stage and Film Company, at The Greenwich Street Theatre, 547 Greenwich St., NYC, Oct. 8-31.

"The Wind on the Water," now at The Greenwich Street Theatre, deals with the coming of a Messiah (a Savior) as we approach the Millennium. Playwright Andrew Ordover has combined the two ideas in an intriguing, though muddled, new work.

A young Jewish investment banker named David Lazarus awakes one Christmas morning to find, to his dismay, that his hands are bleeding. It is the classic example of the Stigmata-emulating the wounds which Christ suffered on the Cross. Rushing to a doctor for treatment, David insists that he had been partying the previous night, that the wounds resulted from a fall. And even when the event recurs, he refuses to buy into it, seeking to maintain his "normal" life.

But soon the word gets around, and David is besieged on all sides, as Christians and Jews alike write their own scripts. He is the Christ, or anti-Christ, of the Fundamentalist Christians-and the Messiah that Orthodox Jews await. Most of all, he is the darling of the press, creating front-page headlines with every move.

Ordover plays with an intriguing conceit, and he sets it up nicely in the first act, with ideas that come through clearly: the need for Jews to understand their heritage, the dangers of rabble-rousers, the emergence of messiahs at millennium time. We are introduced to David, the girl who worships him, the level-headed doctor, the cynical reporter, the demagogue preacher.

But as the play moves into the second act, one wonders where Ordover intends to go with this drama. That David will become a hero, a sacrificial lamb, seems inevitable. But what is the ultimate message? Here we get into muddy waters, and the playwright would do well to sharpen his play and clarify his theme.

Performances and direction are also disappointingly uneven, except for Howie Ravikoff and Amy Beth Sherman, who were impressive as the appealing young lovers. Ordover, who directs the play himself, does not create an ensemble effect, with one character (Stu Richel as the doctor) weakly fading into the background while another (Bob Romano as the preacher) is raging nonstop. Davyd Dean as the reporter also needs to be reined in.

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Beeping Henry

Reviewed by Victor Gluck

Presented by As Per Usual Productions at the 30th Street Theatre, 259 W. 30th St., NYC, Sept. 15-Oct. 9.

I don't watch much television, being at the theatre so often, but aren't there quite a few shows in which men hang out at a local bar in order not to face up to reality: "Cheers," etc.? Author Robert Fox has written in "Beeping Henry" a play that could be a poor episode of a continuing TV drama named "Thirtysomething," or of "Men Behaving Badly" or some other such clich . Although he compares four kinds of men who are avoiding the responsibilities and commitments of adulthood, the play, which is mercifully presented with no intermission and runs 64 minutes, ends exactly where it began, with no growth in any of the characters.

John Davis Pollard's realistic setting divides the set into three playing areas. In the bedroom on the left, Steve Ferguson, unsuccessful filmmaker, is complaining about his failures to his understanding girl friend Lily. In the living room on the right, lawyer Michael Garrett is nixing the house in the suburbs that wife Karen has found. Eventually, we see both men at the bar (upstage center) at which they hang out as often as possible with school chums Danny and Nicky, who are completely unattached and at loose ends. In the end, bartender Dale, who is still grieving for his late wife of 15 years, throws them out.

There is nothing much wrong with the performances that Brian R. Adams has obtained from his ensemble cast, except that no one is very interesting. Since all the men are cases of arrested development they are blander than their age implies. Ivan Martin, Michael Jannetta, Brant Spencer, Keith Crowningsheild, and Doc Dougherty are believable without being memorable. Ironically, Alecia Hurst and Andrea Peterman as the women in their lives are much more interesting than the men, even as minor characters.

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Give Me Your Answer, Do!

Reviewed by Jane Hogan

Presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company, at the Gramercy Theatre, 127 E. 23rd St., NYC, Oct. 5-Jan. 2.

Brian Friel's "Give Me Your Answer, Do!," receiving its American premiere at the Roundabout Theatre Company, under the direction of Kyle Donnelly, is billed as a play about writing. But it's really about one's expectations of life, and life's inevitable disappointments-our present situations are merely substitutes for a set of other pains and disappointments we would have encountered on another road. Friel has filled this uneven work with some wonderfully written lines expressing this observation and others, but neglects to fully develop his characters.

The play takes place in present-day Ireland, in an old manse. (Meant to be decrepit, Thomas Lynch's design is anything but.) John Glover and Kate Burton (in a lovely performance that conveys her character's deeply felt inner agonies) are Tom and Daisy Connolly, a married couple whose adult autistic daughter has been institutionalized. Tom is a respected writer whose novels aren't exactly best-sellers-the latest is taking years to finish-and Daisy has taken to drinking in the afternoons. Tom has invited a representative from the University of Texas, who might pay well for Tom's archive, to visit.

Having already accepted, and paid for, the works of rival writer Garret Fitzmaurice, the rep (played by Michael Emerson, who quietly conveys his character's emotional fragility) has accepted Tom's invitation. Gawn Grainger plays Fitzmaurice (a successful writer with little artistic integrity) and Helen Carey, his wife. As Daisy's troubled parents, Lois Smith and Joel Grey round out the cast.

The tiresome theme is of long-suffering women who have given up their careers and sublimated their wants for their men. But Burton excels as a woman determined to keep her own vocabulary and not, as she sees in other writers' wives, take on the language of her husband. Still, the play lingers on the surface of its characters' lives. Tom and Daisy's marriage in particular is left undefined-and the impact of the play's ending is considerably lessened because of it.

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Jean Vitrano and Nami Yamamoto

Reviewed by Lisa Jo Sagolla

Presented by and at Dance Theater Workshop, 219 W. 19th St., NYC, Sept. 28-29, Oct. 7-8.

The shared program of choreographies by Jean Vitrano and Nami Yamamoto, presented at Dance Theater Workshop, begins with two solos-a mesmerizing piece by Vitrano and a wearisome work by Yamamoto-that foretell the nature of each artist's subsequent offerings.

It's the movement of Vitrano's arms that, initially, make her such a bewitching performer; she moves them quickly, yet lyrically, demonstrating an unusual combination of speed and flow that dancers rarely find natural or easy to achieve. In her second solo, "Confounding Grace," she reveals an amazing kinesthetic affinity for curves, embodying circular, swirling movements in the most organic manner. Even as her mood and steps grow agitated, she avoids sharp-edged actions and conveys her edginess through arcs.

Vitrano's physicality is unchallenged; her technique is so solidly ingrained as to give her that unerring control which allows a dancer to move with complete abandon, confident that any authentic movement will be aesthetically striking. With the premiere of her solo "Love's Body," Vitrano seasons large, powerful actions with fleeting hints at jazz-dance moves that invest the choreography with a playful sexuality which mirrors the accompanying musical collage of love-related tunes, wittily assembled by Sonia Roubeni and Joseph Khakshouri.

Yamamoto's contributions to the evening are largely self indulgent and tedious. "Right/Left," an unremarkable solo of sports-based movements-running, tumbling, swimming, and broad-jumping-is made interesting by the wildly invigorating sounds of Test, a quartet of live instrumentalists that seems to have been directed to focus on Yamamoto at all times, shifting their body positions accordingly as they play. While the band's diagonal-line formation and angling movements certainly clarify Yamamoto's centrality, the staging seems to unnaturally separate the music-makers from their music-making.

Collaborator Mollie O'Brien (credited with directing Vitrano's "Confounding Grace") performed and co-created Yamamoto's "Trace." Though O'Brien dances the piece with great care, concentration, and articulation, the choreography is slow-paced and built of simplistic vocabulary that fails to ignite. The only engaging movements are the falls, made especially dramatic by the height of O'Brien's tall body and her fearlessly dynamic execution.

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Angels Don't Dance

Reviewed by Irene Backalenick

Presented by Gene Feist, Muriel Peters, and Tony Sportiello, at the Neighborhood Playhouse, 340 E. 54th St., NYC, Sept. 29-Oct. 23

"Angels Don't Dance," a new drama at the Neighborhood Playhouse, deals with all-too-familiar themes-namely, multiple personalities, doctor-patient relations, child abuse, buried memories, and shaky marriages.

Certainly these themes have provided the grist for many a modern play, film, and novel. But this particular drama is unique in several ways. First, "Angels" is the work of a husband-wife team-playwright Richard Brockman and director Mirra Bank. Secondly, the playwright is himself a practicing psychiatrist, and one assumes that he knows whereof he speaks-in fact, the play has the ring of authenticity. And thirdly, the plot's twist involves a cure for the doctor as well as the patient.

Brockman has skillfully intertwined past memories with the stark present, dreams with realities. He takes a case study of a young woman (possibly culled and distilled from his own files) and follows her through treatment and cure. Jamie, as she is called, had been found dazed and bruised, wandering the streets of New York. She is brought to Bellevue's Emergency Room, where Dr. Jones takes over. Eventually a second persona surfaces-the hostile, brazen Angella ("the dark side of the moon," as she calls herself). The doctor's own dark memories hover in the background, explaining his intense bonding with Jamie and his obsession with the case. Ultimately, in healing Jamie, he, too, is healed.

What is fascinating in this psychiatric drama is the love-hate relationship between Jamie and Angella, the two characters who emerge from one human being. Director Bank has actresses Eliza Foss (Angella) and Dreya Weber (Jamie) work together beautifully, whether they battle and challenge each other or lie intertwined in the bed. The two contrast and complement each other nicely. As to other cast members, Holly Hawkins is appealing as Dr. Jones' beleaguered wife, with a face that registers every emotion. Jeff Sugarman creates a doctor who is appropriately thoughtful and detached. Yet if he had revealed more of his inner angst earlier in the play, the ultimate denouement would have been more believable. Performances of Fidelma Murphy and Brad Calcaterra round out the generally good work of this cast.

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Contact

Reviewed by David A. Rosenberg

Presented by Lincoln Center Theater, at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 150 W. 65th St., NYC, Oct. 7-Jan. 2.

Oh, the joy! Pouring her love for the power of dance into a three-part concoction, choreographer-director Susan Stroman offers a restorative for a society fast dissolving into an atomic void. In "Contact," at the Mitzi E. Newhouse, she and writer John Weidman create a brilliantly funny, yearning, and humane entertainment hard to beat for originality and the kind of exuberance that causes audiences to never want to leave the theatre.

The one constant is desire for connection. Stroman and Weidman explore physicality as a path toward emotional health. Throughout, they conjure a world where youth and vibrancy never die but merely lie dormant, embodied in an omnipresent Cupid statue. Part I, "Swinging," set in 1767, is a youthful joke, both athletic and sensual, crossing a Fragonard painting with "Lady Chatterly's Lover."

In Part II, "Did You Move?," an Italian restaurant in 1954 is the combat zone pitting an abusive husband against his cowed, frustrated wife. It's buffet night and hubby's constantly going out to search for rolls, after admonishing his spouse to "Don't talk, don't smile, don't move." While he's gone, she falls into a danced dreamscape of giddy lyricism, peopled by obliging customers, waiters, and a sexy maitre d'.

Finally, there's "Contact," set in 1999, in which a suicidal ad exec, imagining himself in a dance club, finds salvation with a golden girl in a yellow dress. Her ecstasy frees the somebody hiding inside the nobody he'd become. Although the dancing is exciting, some sections are overextended.

Using music from composers as diverse as Rodgers and Grieg, Bizet and Van Morrison, Stroman's choreography combines balletic pirouettes and split-legged lifts with jitterbug and swing, crowding the stage with limbs that appear detached from bodies. It's as if only by coming apart can we come together.

Topping the superb ensemble are Karen Ziemba, Boyd Gaines, Deborah Yates, and David MacGillivray. All hail Thomas Lynch's sets, William Ivey Long's costumes, Peter Kaczorowski's lighting, and Scott Stauffer's sound. Nothing is out of place in this roundelay where dulling pains are trumped by the animated pleasures of dance.

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The Country Club

Reviewed by Jane Hogan

Presented by the Drama Dept., at the Greenwich House Theatre, 27 Barrow St., NYC, Sept. 29-Nov. 6.

If you're tired of Generation X angst, popularly represented by barely making-it urban types, then you might not appreciate Douglas Carter Beane's "The Country Club," which is about the angst of more-upscale WASPy Gen Xers. This gang (three men and four women-one an Italian-American social interloper) celebrates each holiday (11 over a one-year period) in The Cub Room of their parents' (now their) country club as they attempt to figure out what, exactly, adulthood means.

Cynthia Nixon plays Soos, a 29-year-old who has returned from California to Wyomissing, Pa., to live with her parents after a failed marriage. Soos suffers definite culture shock upon reentry into the world of her friends, who, though wildly different personalities (in the sitcom vein), continue to get together. There isn't apparently much else to do in Wyomissing, and The Cub Room allows Beane to examine the characters' individual disillusions of today against their hopes of the past.

Director Christopher Ashley keeps things moving swiftly along as his actors deliver their biting, sharply written lines. And the over-the-top Amy Sedaris almost single-handedly carries the day as the woman who keeps her "cold feeling of terror" at bay by planning these themed events. The play aspires to reveal the various self-deceptions the characters practice to keep going, as well as to critique a culture in which secrets are known but never aired publicly; but nothing is new here.

These characters ache for "profundity," while trapped in their restricted world (yes, the individual cub rooms of their minds), but the underdeveloped play never suggests that they actually know each other or share a past-a fault that the expert cast attempts to compensate for but cannot. Soos and her friends remain sketches of characters you might take an interest in if only you sensed more about them.

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SFT's New Website

The School for Film & Television (SFT) has launched its website, which can be accessed at www.filmandtelevision.com . Accredited by the National Association of Schools of Theatre, SFT offers over 30 classes in technique and performance for the electronic media. The new website offers course descriptions, faculty bios, a schedule of events and start dates, an on-line version of SFT's newsletter "Take Two," and more.

Free Vocal Workshop

Susan Baum announces the opening of her own studio for vocal production. Billing herself as The Personal Trainer for the Voice, Baum will conduct a free seminar called "The Basics of Singing" on Sat., Oct. 16, from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm at the Actors Connection, 630 Ninth Ave., Suite 1410. Attendance in the seminar is limited to 25 participants. Reserve a space by calling (212) 989-5670.

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