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The Propaganda Plays

Reviewed by Michael Lazan

Presented by and at Dixon Place, 309 E. 26th Street, NYC, Aug. 9-Sept. 27.

Though this evening of related one-acts by Micah Schraft reveals a playwright with a knack for language, these heightened, stylized plays tend to linger on well after the characters have been fully established. The result is often meandering.

The plays all explore how a surplus of thought can overwhelm, and ironically enough, all three plays are over-intellectualized. The first, "The Allegory of the Cave," in which a young student named Sheila asks a professor for a deadline extension on a paper on Plato, explores this point as the manic Sheila tries to debunk the professor's intellectual conceits. The play is the most effective of the bunch, though Schraft would make it more interesting if he actually added some compelling explanation of the Platonic allegory, rather than just bouncing jokes off it.

The other two plays are rougher going. "Atom and Devorah," in which a woman named Devorah woos her new brainy stepson named Atom, has some entertaining moments, but runs out of energy and veers uncomfortably between ribald comedy and drama. And in "Natural Selection," in which an interviewer tries to engage a distracted professor, Schraft again seems unsure whether he is writing a comedy or a drama in a play that lingers on far too long.

Director Trip Cullman did an impressive job in getting the most out of the material. His actors were totally focused and precise, snapping out the dialogue in rapid fashion, and there were considerable physical pyrotechnics to keep the evening going. Sheri Graubert, especially as Sheila in "The Allegory of the Cave," impressed particularly, displaying a keen ability to display manic energy without ever pushing. And David Hornsby, utterly childlike and sympathetic as Atom in "Atom and Devorah," was totally engaging and unpredictable.

Sandra Goldmark's sets were simple and gorgeous, with clever details, such as a stand-alone window which morphs into a bookcase for the third play.

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