Three Easy Pieces

The pain gets an extra fillip from the characters' blackness. Both employed as cleaning women, the heroine and her sister are Delany sisters with nothing to have their say about; this is the Harlem of ordinary folk getting from one day to the next. Like the war, the notion that stirrings of a better life are afoot brushes by only briefly; you'd never know this was the Harlem of Du Bois and Marcus Garvey, much less the place whose anger would explode in more than one riot over the coming decades.

Love, a decent life, and a pleasant time are all Redwood's people demand. While there's nothing unreasonable or dishonest in that, the Harlem reality it omits is too massive for this slight tale to bear. Harold Scott's staging, full of sympathetic moments— especially in the long silent closing scene— hinders matters by underscoring the obvious; you can hear its gears clank as it shifts tone from sad to cheerful, and vivacious Rosalyn Coleman, as the meddling girlfriend, is asked to parade like an entire marching band. Which isn't fair, really, to Leslie Uggams and Lynda Gravatt, who play the heroine and her acerbic sister with real delicacy and pathos, Uggams adding a pallid elegance that has nothing to do with her stardom, and everything to do with the character's sense of dignity. Godfrey L. Simmons Jr., as her perplexed young lover, is more obvious in his choices but equally heartfelt.

The people in Michael J. Chepiga's Getting and Spending are supposedly heartfelt in the risky things they do, but it's hard to believe in either their sincerity or the playwright's. Everything's laid out with such relentless cleverness, there's no room for surprise. A female superbroker who's been caught making millions at insider trading seeks a super-Kunstler— who happens to have just found peace in a monastery— to defend her, telling only him that she did it to build high-rises in Harlem for the homeless. If that sounds hokey, you should hear the details.

Kate Blumberg as Lizzie in Wolf Lullaby: old games newly disoriented
Carol Rosegg
Kate Blumberg as Lizzie in Wolf Lullaby: old games newly disoriented

Details

Wolf Lullaby
By Hilary Bell
Atlantic Theater Company
336 West 20th Street
239-6200

The Old Settler
By John Henry Redwood
Primary Stages
354 West 45th Street
333-4052

Getting and Spending
By Michael J. Chepiga
Helen Hayes Theatre
240 West 44th Street
944-9450

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Compounding the felony, John Tillinger's production casts Linda Purl, whinily smug, as this St. Joan of the stock funds, and David Rasche, the most cheerily unreflective of our light comedians, as her soul-weary defender. Macintyre Dixon, who gets all the cheap laughs, at least seems to be having fun; light a candle for the rest of the excellent supporting cast— Deirdre Lovejoy, Debra Mooney, Jack Gilpin, and Derek Smith— and pray that they find a better job soon. James Noone's set, a trio of long, narrow light boxes that move into various formations and flash various twinkly patterns as needed, shows more creativity than anything else onstage.

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