Well Hung 

Art opens at Playhouse on the Square; Dancing at the Revolution closes at TheatreWorks.

Watching Art is like watching an episode of Seinfeld. It's a lot of sturm and drang spilt over absolutely nothing, and therein lies its charm. It's about three old friends who have a massive falling out after one of them spends a small fortune on an all-white painting by a trendy artist. Because the object that inspires the argument is a work of art the assumption is that the audience is being exposed to some kind of high- minded debate about modernism. Nothing could be further from the truth. That's the show's biggest joke. The playwright could have easily substituted the word car, guitar, or tea service for "painting" and sold the script to Jerry and the boys without changing much of the dialogue at all. In fact the artwork in question could have been a floozy acquired for the purpose of staving off a middle-aged crisis. The story, a time-honored one, would have remained the same.

Ken Zimmerman, Playhouse on the Square's former artistic director, has returned to take on the role of Serge, an art collector who wants nothing more than to be thought of as a man of his time. Though on occasion he mugs it up for the audience while fawning over his controversial painting, Zimmerman is quite effective. He brings an innocence to Serge's modern pretensions that makes even the character's most boorish qualities quite charming. Michael Detroit does a little mugging of his own, but he is likewise exonerated by his otherwise fine performance as Yvan, a middle-aged victim of therapy, self-help, and troublesome in-laws. Dave Landis gives one of his most memorable performances to date as the cynical Marc, a man who cannot love a friend who could love a white painting. Certain without being smug, judgmental without being malicious, Marc is the voice of the true critic. While he pronounces his judgment with finality there is always the distinct sense that he wants nothing more than to be proved wrong.

Through September 23rd.

Dancing Queen

Playwrights' Forum's production of Dancing at the Revolution is, in movie terms, what you call a sleeper. It's an absolutely wonderful show that will only be seen by a handful of people. Alas, as is the case with almost all live theater, when this show finishes its run at TheatreWorks there will be no video to rent at Blockbuster, Midtown, or even Black Lodge. On the bright side, there are still three opportunities to catch this unusual biography before it goes away.

Emma Goldman was in many ways a patriot. Whether you buy into her anarchistic ideas or not, she was a Thomas Paine of her age, minus Tom's little drinking problem. She fought for fair labor practices and that made her the enemy of big business. And when America entered into WWI, she spoke out against conscription, which made her an enemy of the state. Her dovish arguments were potent. "It's the old men who start the wars, why should our children fight it?" she asked, cautioning against jingoism. Words like "patriotism" are hollow and abstract, she noted, in contrast to the face of a child, which is all too real. These opinions landed Emma Goldman in jail, suggesting that when it comes to the open exchange of ideas the land of the free and the home of the brave are often two entirely different locations.

Dancing at the Revolution, Michael Bettencourt's clever commentary on both the life of Emma Goldman and the Fifth Amendment, never once seems pedantic or heavy-handed in its exploration of these rather heady themes. Focusing on Goldman's time in prison, it is a fine example of how malleable the art of theater can be and how seemingly serious subject matter can still be a great deal of fun.

Director Billy M. Pullen has fully grasped both the spirit and the style of Bettencourt's overtly theatrical text. To say much more than that would spoil the surprises. He has likewise assembled a tight ensemble of committed actors who have obviously taken the work as seriously as the director. Exuding charisma, Cheryl Wolder does a star turn as Goldman. In her hands the anarchist becomes a self-deprecating schlub with a magnificent gift for communication. The real star of the show, however, is the ensemble. Though the performers range from seasoned vets to virtual novices, this group works together like a well-oiled machine.

Through September 1st.

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