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A Second Hand Memory

Presented by and at Atlantic Theater Company, 336 W. 20 St., NYC, Nov. 22-Jan. 23. Casting by Bernard Telsey Casting, casting consultant Juliet Taylor.

And so these miserable wretches kvetch their hearts out in 1950s Brooklyn (with only a few Allen wisecracks tossed in) at the obviously and symbolically named Excelsior apartment building. Allen has all of them tell us exactly what their motives are in complete and highly literate sentences instead of allowing us to discover it for ourselves. He's a clean director of his own material and inserts some intriguing experiments into the play's structure. But all the monkeying around with time shifts and dream sequences can't compensate for the sensation of covering familiar territory.

Better compensation is provided by a top-notch cast, including Beth Fowler, Elizabeth Marvel, Nicky Katt, and particularly Michael McKean as the narcissistic Phil. Longtime Allen collaborator Santo Loquasto provides the versatile set conveying drab Brooklyn and sunny Hollywood. Laura Bauer's period costumes also specify time, place, and character.

Allen appears to be re-creating in the theatre the stages of his movie career: a spate of clever comedies (the one-acts "Central Park West" and "Writer's Block") followed by an attempt at serious drama with a studious downplaying of humor. Let's hope this masterful storyteller combines the two for his next stage effort.

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