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Eric Overmyer's "Dark Rapture" is billed as a mystery, but it's really more of a travelogue because it moves around so much. Heavily indebted to films noir like "Body Heat," it's disappointing as a mystery since the twists aren't very surprising. Nevertheless, there's some amusing hard-boiled dialogue, and the performances are good all round.

The action begins in Northern California, where Ray (Scott Glenn) and Babcock (Dan Moran) watch a night fire burn. In the next scene, Julia (Marisa Tomei), Ray's estranged wife, is cavorting in Baja with a stunt man (Derek Smith). It turns out that $5 million, which Julia was to launder for some hoods, was lost in the fire, and the mystery hinges on whether Ray stole it. Babcock and the gangsters follow Ray around the country--to Key West, New Orleans, Tampa, the Caribbean--in hopes of retrieving the loot.

The changes of setting are so frequent that the story seems better suited to being filmed than staged. And Overmyer's idea of suspense is to have a thug hold a gun to someone's head in every other scene. Not helping matters is Santo Loquasto's uncharacteristically ugly set. Its collage of photos against a black background seems to have nothing to do with the play.

But Scott Ellis' direction keeps the convoluted plot moving along, and his actors have fun with the often over-the-top dialogue. Tomei is both sexy and funny in the femme fatale role, Glenn is smoothly enigmatic as Ray, and Ellen McElduff is lively as one of his love interests. As Babcock, Moran looks and sounds a bit like Bruce Willis, and he is well disguised in a second role as a Turkish car dealer.

Why Overmyer decides to go off on a tangent about Turkish-Armenian relations is anyone's guess. And the poetic references to the "dark rapture" don't fit in either. Instead of politics and poetry, Overmyer should have focused on plot.

Presented by and at Second Stage Theatre, 2162 B'way, NYC, May 23-June 16.




The French have a word for it, in this case scene ˆ faire or "obligatory scene." It's what's missing from "Orphƒe" by Jean Cocteau, now being revived by, appropriately, Jean Cocteau Repertory with results more enticing than exciting.

Cocteau was one of a number of French avant-gardists who transformed ancient myths. Here, via Carl Wildman's English version, he spins one of those stories into a symbolist talkfest about a poet torn between mundane and imaginative worlds.

Orphƒe's search for universals frustrates wife Eurydice. Her breaking a pane of glass summons Heurtebise, an angel in the guise of a glazier.

Later, a floor-to-ceiling mirror revolves and Death--"not a skeleton in a winding sheet" but a beautiful woman in a black ballgown--shows up to escort Eurydice to Hades. To save her, Orphƒe steps through the mirror, "the door from which Death comes and goes."

Whatever then transpires between the poet and Death, who dwells in the world of mystery Orphƒe covets, must be a doozy. But we're not privy to it and the obligatory conflict is lost.

Not only the plot but the play's theme and tone depend on the unseen event, since the rest of the 90-minute, intermissionless evening lightens up, and the work ends with Orphƒe and Eurydice improbably reunited at the luncheon table. Love triumphs over death, home is revealed as "the only paradise," and the great story is reduced to the level of bourgeois boulevard comedy.

Elise Stone is a wry Eurydice, Molly O'Donnell an elegant Death with Glenn Cruz and Abner Genece droll as her foils. Kennedy Brown's Orphƒe is heavy on the effete and Harris Berlinsky seems to be searching for the right balance as Heurtebise. Christopher Black has terrific control as a surrealistic horse.

Director Eve Adamson, also responsible for the sometimes-blinding lighting, alternately conveys metaphysics and comedy but, without the transitional scene, can't connect the two. Steven F. Graver's costumes and Ellen Mandel's sound design are evocative. The tantalizing Magritte-like setting is by Robert Klingelhoefer.

Presented by Jean Cocteau Theatre at Bouwerie Lane Theatre, 330 Bowery, NYC, May 19-June 9.




Nostalgia's a tricky thing. The new World War II musical "Take It Easy" walks a pretty fine line between quaint and cloying, a line it sometimes but not always manages to negotiate.

According to the program, librettist-composer-lyricist Raymond Fox drew heavily from his WWII experiences in concocting this piece. But just as "Grease" turns the brash, dangerous greaser era into a jukebox of doo-wop and pompadours, Fox's memories focus on not the carnage but the mixers and tearful reunions.

The book creaks along--four couples, one good but cute, one bad but cute, one quirky but cute, and one old but cute, each have a brief spat before reuniting. Still, Fox's tunes have a real feel for the period. Songs like "I Think I'm Falling for You" and "Say Farewell" sound fresh from "Your Hit Parade," and Tom Ribbink's great choreography captures the buoyant mood perfectly.

The cast definitely skews toward the younger--one character looks about 10 minutes older than her alleged daughter--and the enthusiasm shows; you couldn't ask for a brighter group of singers and dancers. Emmett Murphy and Stephanie Kurtzuba overdo it a bit, but Kristin Hughes and Tom Nigh are extremely good, and understudy Billy Sharpe turns in a superlative performance as the bookish soldier with a personal stake in the war.

"Take It Easy," capably directed by Collette Black, has more than its share of problems: Do the soldiers really need an uptempo number in the foxholes? And is it too cynical to wish for just a little heartbreak? But there's plenty to be grateful for in this melodic, chipper piece that keeps its ambitions low and delivers.

Presented by New Village Productions at the Judith Anderson Theatre, 422 W. 42nd St., NYC, March 8-July 31.





Out of a conventional situation, David Ives creates a moving kaleidoscope of frailty and loss in the revived, revised (from 1989) "Ancient History" at Primary Stages. Weaving in and out of adolescence and adulthood, of laughter and sadness, in his long one-actor, Ives uses his talent for language to reveal the limits of communication.

Ruth and Jack's six-month-old affair is a hoot. Dancing to Bizet, calling each other pet names, sharing movie trivia, they're like two grown kids, living with "no strife, no war, no varicose veins."

The action takes place before and after Ruth's birthday party. When the guests leave, so does hilarity. Turning serious, Jewish Ruth, snubbed by her family, begs divorced, lapsed-Catholic Michael to marry her. His armor of irony threatened, Michael refuses, then consents, finally balks at her conditions, which involve his work, their possible children, and their inescapable histories.

Parodying Sartre, he says, "Hell is remembering other people." The personal and social backgrounds that have made them what they are prevent their transforming themselves into a fresh unit. Too much baggage. Try as they might to escape into darkness, a crack of outside light creeps under the door.

Both Vivienne Benesch and Michael Rupert overlay their childlike behavior with a remembrance of poignance past. They're such accomplished actors, they can turn their characterizations on a dime.

Director John Rando helps, matching the author's wit and convolutions. The party scene is staged with whirlwind energy, and a bit showing the party guests is delightful, thanks to Loren Sherman's clever set design. Joyful too are Deborah Constant-ine's lighting, Rodney Munoz's costumes, and Jim van Bergen's sound, featuring, of course, the author's fondness for mood-breaking bells.

In Ives's 10-minute curtain-raiser, "English Made Simple," Rupert is a disembodied voice giving dating advice to a couple resolutely played by Kyle Fabel and Megan Dodds. Their character names are Jack and Jill, an indication of the piece's coyness and inconsequentiality.

Presented by and at Primary Stages, 354 W. 45th St., NYC, May 2

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