Friday, February 10, 2006

Big Drama taking a nap

Bobby Darin's "Sunday in New York" has been running through my head for the past week since seeing Richard Greenberg's "The Well-Appointed Room" at Steppenwolf Theatre. The play, not so much.

Like "Three Days of Rain" the new Greenberg play has two acts with common themes separated in time — in this case, the same apartment before and after the World Trade Center attacks. The first act presents a glib playwright oblivious to the present, and a whip-smart partner weary of his living in the past. Tension in the second act is between the apartment's next owners, a husband living in the moment and a wife looking years ahead.

There's room for a grand statement about the course of human events in all this, but "The Well-Appointed Room" keeps to confined quarters. The Darin swinger provides one of many throwaway first-act lines in what would seem like a 1930s romantic-comedy pairing gone wrong — that is, if the couple presented at least a fading spark of attraction. The half-hour is malnourished despite the onstage preparation of multiple omlets. By cracking a few more eggs the playwright could have brought this couple at least a "Curb Your Enthusiasm" edge, and introduced ideas to inform the second act.

The post-9/11 world is fraught with humanity, but the new tenants hash over much of the same turf Greenberg covered in "The Velvet Hour." Steppenwolf usually acts the hell out of a bad script, but the four actors come off unusually flat with this little to work with.

A quartet on the upstairs stage brings more empathy, and more of the sweep of calamity, to Frank Galati's economical but rich adaptation of Haruki Murakami's "After the Quake" short stories.

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