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THE MAIDEN'S PRAYER

R E V I E W E D B Y

DAVID A. ROSENBERG

Sometimes what we do to others isn't half as bad as what we do to ourselves. In Nicky Silver's plangent new play, "The Maiden's Prayer" at the Vineyard Theatre, the answer to our prayers is no answer at all. More conventional and less absurdist than his other works, "Maiden's Prayer" is also colder in its examination of "the vagaries of love." Yet, it's polished in ways that demonstrate a level of maturity we haven't before seen in Silver, whose sparkling dialogue is still in evidence, but it serves compassion as well as satire.

The five characters who intersect in their inconstancies are Paul (Geoffrey Nauffts), yearning for Taylor (Chris-topher C. Fuller), who's marrying Cynthia (Joanna Going), whose sister Libby (Patricia Clarkson) also loves Taylor. Got that straight? Into the mix Silver throws Andrew (Daniel Jenkins), one of Paul's many one-night stands, an irrepressible, clinging pickup in search of creature comforts.

In a series of cinematic scenes and a plethora of narration (getting to be a Silver trademark), the characters overlap lives, but cannot overlap loves. Drinking, sex, and late-night confessions take on a feverish quality, a dying cry from people who make contacts but not relationships. Although situations often veer toward the soap-opera-ish, the play only seems conventional. At its core it's filled with an expansive, embracing yearning, as epitomized in Paul's "It's falling in love with someone you don't know that's insane."

These self-serving characters are difficult to play sympathetically. The actors must keep feelings at arm's lengths, even while expressing layers of repressed emotions.

Under the tempered direction of Evan Yionoulis, the cast gives off the unmistakable whiff of people floating through life, letting others satisfy their emotions. Clarkson stands out for her embittered sister who becomes a call-girl in order to assuage her loneliness, thinking of the elusive Taylor even when satisfying customers.

This sense of the antiseptic pervades Derek McLane's set, Donald Holder's lighting and Jess Goldstein's costumes, even Mike Yionoulis' music. All is surface elegance, proving what we do and what we say have little connection to who we are.

Presented by and at The Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th St., NYC., Feb. 22-March 15.

I WILL COME BACK

R E V I E W E D B Y

KARL LEVETT

Tommy Femia has been the man that got away as Judy Garland for some time now. And very successfully, too. (He's about to add a Back Stage Bistro Award to his trophies). Now under the direction of Timothy Gray, Tommy/Judy is on stage with a program of well-known favorites, plus some new songs especially written by Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray for this theatrical venture. Gray has also written a kind of Garland bio-in-patter to link the songs, and this proves the weakest aspect in an otherwise spirited evening. What might be perfectly acceptable in cabaret, here, unfortunately, seems unfocused and has the tendency to wither in the harsher spotlight of a theatrical performance.

But the songs--and their singing--are the important things, and they are a joy to hear. Femia not only sounds sufficiently like the real Judy, but has a strong and pliable voice easily capable of reinterpreting the old and delivering the new. The new songs are a pleasure--particularly the wit of "They Don't Write 'Em Like That Anymore" and the melodic sentiment of "Two Is Company." Femia and Gray actually present two Judys. The speaking Judy has a sharply satiric edge with Femia caricaturing the senior Judy's confusion and mannerisms. The singing Judy is much more straightforward, selling songs straight from the heart. The only time when the two Judys converge is in an hilarious version of the schmaltzy anthem "Somewhere Out There."

The production values are first rate, notably the musical direction of David Maiocco, the costumes of Marc Bouwer, and the lighting of Jen Acomb. In an obvious attempt to bring a variation in Act Two, A Friend of Barbra (Kristine Zbornik) is introduced so that the famous TV duet of Judy and Barbra can be reprised. Although the singing from both is rousing, the introduction of another performer seems intrusive and forced. Femia works hard and has no need for any assistance. When he really lets go, as he does in "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby," we wish he'd sing 'em all and we'd stay all night.

Presented by New Journeys Ahead, Ltd., at the Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal St., NYC. Opened Feb. 25 for an open run.

FREAK

R E V I E W E D B Y

CHIP DEFFAA

Any performer thinking about putting together his or her own solo show might be wise to check out "Freak," written and performed by John Leguizamo and directed and developed by David Bar Katz.

This is far more satisfying than most solo shows I see. Without the benefit of props, costumes, scenery, or songs, Leguizamo manages to hold our interest for a whole evening. He does it strictly by telling stories about his experiences growing up.

He is cheerfully free of rancor, self-pity, or angst. Wisely, he treats us like friends, not like members of some therapy group. And he is good company. Even in describing forms of prejudice he encountered as a Latino youth in New York--being rejected as "too white" by a black girl he'd hoped would "de-virginize" him, being rejected as "a spic" by Italian neighbors-- he seems more bemused than angry.

With an admirable ease and naturalness, he shares details of his first fumbling sexual experiences. And if you occasionally suspect he's tweaked facts a bit to make stories better (did his whole family really catch him masturbating in the bathroom?), you don't mind because they're such good stories.

Particularly effective is a description of him learning from a gay, deaf uncle how to sneak into second acts of Broadway shows for free. He doesn't just talk about going for a box seat, he actually climbs a ladder from the stage to join surprised box-seat occupants in his audience.

The show would be stronger if the second act were tightened. We reach a point when we've come to understand him pretty well and additional details, while amusing, no longer seem so pertinent or illuminating.

Leguizamo's humor is accessible to all, but will have special resonance for Latinos, who provided very strong audience support at the performance we caught. Considering the size of New York's Latino community, it is surprising that shows of particular interest to Latinos are so rarely presented.

A Gregory Mosher Production presented by Arielle Tepper and Bill Haber, at the Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St., NYC, Feb. 12-April 26, with possible extension.

SUBTLE BODIES

R E V I E W E D B Y

JANE HOGAN

From Lucky Devil Theatre Company comes a production of "Subtle Bodies," a comedic play by Clive Barker written in 1984. The play does not sustain the initial interest it creates, despite high production values and a talented and clearly experienced cast.

"Subtle Bodies" deals with the notion that we have two bodies, the physical and the subtle, the latter referring to our dream selves. Notions of the need for mystery and love are explored through the plight of Dexter Juffs (Anthony Gelsomino) and Carys Skinner (Jo Anne Glover), a couple engaged to be married but who have run away to the seaside Atlantic Hotel to work out some pre-wedding problems. There they encounter Mr. Foss (Joel Friedman), also known as Edward Lear. Yes, the character is supposed to be something of a poet. He turns out to be a member of the Dream Bureau, an organization which suggests and controls people's dreams. By play's end, the couple's respective families and friends have shown up, Mr. Foss has constructed a collective dream of a shipwreck, and various couples have come to recognize the need for each other.

The cast comes close to pulling it off, but by the second act, one gets the impression that the manic atmosphere director Thomas Caruso has skillfully choreographed is an attempt to distract your attention from the weaknesses of a limp script. An awful lot of far too little significance (including an omnipresent gorilla) goes on for far too long. Andy Warfel's scene design of a nautically themed, slightly rundown hotel is quite effective in suggesting an out-of-the-way place where strange goings-on might very well transpire.

Presented by Lucky Devil Theatre Company, at Theatre Row Theatre, 424 W. 42nd St., NYC. Feb. 12-March 1.

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