Noh Business

Unusually for him, he's less successful with the acting, though Lisa Emery, as always, makes the captain's wife a strongly centered and moving figure, and Connor Trinneer, a newcomer, gives the closeted friend the right air of buried pain. But Bill Smitrovich, as the captain, coasts with TV-bred smoothness over the role's surface, and the hero's bumptious cluelessness gives Michael Hayden the cue for another of his bouncy, glib, vocally constricted, gee-whiz performances. Those who like their Butterfly without either Pinkerton or Cio-Cio-San may find Gurney's collection of leftover ironies a viable substitute— another proof that Western ways are truly inscrutable.

Take London, for instance, where everybody's self- centered, petty, violent, and obsessive, and no one speaks unless they're simultaneously being spoken to. If you believe the picture of London on view in the kind of recent British plays favored by the New Group, like Some Voices, the general effect is of a truculent poured-concrete Dogpatch, and mass extermination the only suitable fate for the inhabitants. Joe Penhall's edition of this glum world features two brothers, one morosely sane, one effusively dishonest and nuts. The latter, just out of the bin, gets involved with a pregnant Irish girl on the dole; they share a brief, grudging idyll before she goes back to the abusive boyfriend whose maltreatment she passively accepts, leading to the customary final combat. You wouldn't want to spend eight seconds with any of these folk in reality, and Penhall gives no more than a few glimmers of verbal interest to the two hours­plus in which they inflict their company on each other. I wish Penhall would write a play about English actors; next to him, I'd look like their biggest fan.

Details

Far East
By A.R. Gurney
Mitzi Newhouse Theater
Lincoln Center
239-6200

Some Voices
By Joe Penhall
St. Clement's
423 West 46th Street
279-4200

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As usual at the New Group, the production (this time directed by Frank Pugliese) and acting have an excellence way beyond what the play deserves, the only quibble being that Pugliese has made everything a little less grotty and loathsome than it is in the script, for which, as far as I'm concerned, he deserves a vote of thanks. When ugliness is this familiar and this pointless, you don't need to wallow in it. Whether we need it at all is a bigger question, which neither the New Group nor the disaster area that is English playwriting in general has yet answered to my satisfaction.

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