Fable Settings

Parts of Nash's play are strong and effective as realism, others fairly amusing folk-hokum. The two blend less easily than they might because a second layer of hokum, of a slicker Broadway kind, often gets in the way: Its constant straining for effect plays hob with the realism, and its self-righteous sanctimony about male-female relations could kill a sick heifer faster than drought. Luckily, the likable cast of Scott Ellis's revival has the skill to play past these arid spots. John Bedford Lloyd is fearsome as the embittered elder son, Jerry Hardin makes old Curry's pieties seem both human and humane, and Randle Mell gives File a staunch, striking sourness. If Woody Harrelson doesn't exactly probe Starbuck's depths, he invests the role with a free-range physicality and grinning charm that make him as welcome on stage as on celluloid. Jayne Atkinson, opposite him, makes an unexpected triumph. In other roles her feelings have often seemed to be locked away under her rigid technique; as Lizzie, she lets the two engage, and the result is-well, acting: a public representation of inner conflict that rings true at every point. Complex and complete, her Lizzie fascinates whether she's making love, conversation, or dinner.

Julie White and Kevin Kilner in Dinner With Friends: postnuptial disagreements
photo: Joan Marcus
Julie White and Kevin Kilner in Dinner With Friends: postnuptial disagreements

Details

Dinner With Friends
By Donald Margulies
Variety Arts Theatre
110 Third Avenue, 239-6200

The Rainmaker
By N. Richard Nash
Brooks Atkinson Theatre
Broadway and 47th Street, 307-4100

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The unlucky exception to this brave array is the normally excellent David Aaron Baker, as the younger Curry son, whom Ellis has directed to convey adolescent eagerness with a degree of frenzy that needs Ritalin the way Nebraska needs rain. Ellis's other big lapse is the staging of Starbuck's "Melisande" speech: He keeps Harrelson busy leaping all over, miming out the surface of the story, oblivious to Lizzie, whom he should be trying to seduce. Like many aspects of The Rainmaker, this action's clearer in its musical version, Jones and Schmidt's 110 in the Shade. You'd think Ellis, who staged its last major revival, would know.

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