AGES OF SIN, SummerNITE, at Bailiwick Arts Center. This season's summer import from Northern Illinois University's Equity theater ensemble is a collection of four recently recovered one-acts by Thornton Wilder. Drawn from his "Ages of Man" and "Seven Deadly Sins" series, they illustrate his belief that "Humanity is the last thing to be learned by man," offering potent pictures of men and women willfully ignorant of the heart and soul.
Youth is a quaintly muddled look at Jonathan Swift's peripatetic Lemuel Gulliver: he visits an island whose inhabitants are so fearful of growing old that they kill themselves at 30. Happily, Gulliver teaches a young architect the power of a future. Set in a New York parlor circa 1898, In Shakespeare and the Bible clumsily contrasts a woman with a past, her former customer, and an unprotected ingenue--his fiancee and her niece. More successful is A Ringing of Doorbells, a portrait of envy that gently exposes two scam artists; Wilder depicts their desperate poverty with raw sympathy. The Rivers Under the Earth recalls Our Town, looking affectionately at a family sharing a summer night and reprising the memories that bind them together.
Strong performances abound, especially by Lydia Berger as a wrathful con artist, Pat Vern Harris as her knowing patron, and Jason Kendziera as the would-be architect. Marring their fine work is the often exasperatingly slow pace set by director John Bettenbender. "Ages," indeed.