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Requiem for William

After its innovative production of "Our Town" using mature actors to play the young leads, Transport Group continues to explore classic works of American playwrights with freshness and daring. Its latest offering, "Requiem for William," knits together seven seldom-produced one-acts by William Inge, author of "Picnic" and "Bus Stop," and the small-town Midwest poet of broken dreams and frustrated sex.

Sensitive misfits confront loneliness in each of these cameo tales set in the 1950s. At times, Inge lays on the symbolism a bit thick. An aging beauty straight out of Tennessee Williams refuses to believe the crowds have flown an autumn beach just as her youth has fled. A repressed mortician feels as dead inside as the bodies he pretties up. A prim bachelor hides evidence of femininity in the ironically named "The Tiny Closet." The pieces that work the best are the opening and closing vignettes. Both are comic takes on the theme of the pursuit of fame as a means of masking insecurities. In "To Bobolink, for Her Spirit," a crowd of autograph hounds waits outside the 21 Club for celebrities to give them a brief glimmer of glamour and love. The program ends with "A Social Event," a sharp satire in which a pair of rising stars wangles an invitation to a funeral of a Hollywood bigwig. Like the fans of the first playlet, the movie-hopeful couple of the last are seeking acceptance from the popular crowd.

Fortunately, director Jack Cummings III treats these lost souls with compassion rather than pity, as does the large cast. Joseph Kolinski as the unhappy gay undertaker and Tina Johnson as the leader of the autograph-grabbers stand out in the ensemble of over 25 with their determination to go after their crazy dreams despite their mundane surroundings.

A lovely original song inspired by the play preceding it follows each piece; seven different sets of composers and lyricists provided them, and together they create a heartbreaking score to this journey in search of fulfillment. John Story's leaf-strewn set, Kathryn Rohe's period costumes, and R. Lee Kennedy's lush lighting provide the proper atmosphere of remembrance and loss.

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