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After the Night and the Music

Since Manhattan Theatre Club acquired the Biltmore Theatre, most of the new plays it has presented there have been works in progress given all the trappings of a finished Broadway production. Elaine May's "After the Night and the Music," subtitled "Three New Plays in Two Acts," is yet another unfinished work in need of rewriting. And Daniel Sullivan, usually a consummate director, has not helped much.

All three plays are linked by the theme of finding partners. The first is quaintly called "Curtain Raiser." No more than an anecdote, this skit recounts how a lesbian at a dance hall ends up with the balding, unattractive male dancer nobody wants as a partner -- until they see him dance with her. Musical comedy performer Eddie Korbich steals the show with his effortless dancing. Amusing for a skit, "Curtain Raiser" overstays its welcome.

The second half of Act I consists of the longer "Giving Up Smoking," in which four singles of varying ages and neuroses sit by the phone waiting for loved ones to call. Talking directly to the audience, the characters alternate giving us their thoughts on why they are not depressed. Abounding in clichés and stereotypes -- Jeannie Berlin as a needy single woman, Jere Burns as a lonely gay man, Brian Kerwin as a divorced playboy, and J. Smith-Cameron as the gay man's dying mother -- "Giving Up Smoking" has been done often and better elsewhere.

In "Swing Time," which could have been developed into an entire evening, Mitzi and Darryl Grade have invited another couple over for an evening of wife swapping. Both couples are neurotic and have low self-esteem. The real problem with this play is that it is decades behind the times. The jokes are familiar and the sitcom format is tired. And just like "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice," "Swing Time" cops out in the end. Smith-Cameron and Burns as the hosts are grating as they bicker almost continually. As the other couple, Berlin sounds exactly like Elaine May but doesn't have her mother's razor-sharp timing, and Kerwin is too bland and meek as an eccentric swinger.

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