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By The Light of the Moon

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By the Light of the Moon, Raven Theatre.

Romance is the unifying theme in Raven Theatre's evening of short plays "By the Light of the Moon," yet what ultimately cripples the works of all three playwrights is the difficulty of portraying love plausibly onstage. John Patrick Shanley oozes sentimentality, Edward Albee of course glowers cynically, and Joe Pintauro merely defies belief.

Shanley's four brief plays reveal his worst flaws: his tendency to substitute emotion for action, caricature for character, cutesiness for plot, gushing for dialogue. Director Ted Rubenstein has assembled five young actors well suited to Shanley's giddy prose, but Red Coat remains a generic instant of youthful infatuation, Lost in a Lonely Impulse of Delight a promising but underwritten snippet of a man's love for a mermaid, and Let's Go Out Into a Starry Night an overwrought lovers' leap. The actors are less at home in Shanley's Welcome to the Moon, implausibly aping Bronx tough talk (one seems to be doing an Ed Norton imitation) in yet another tale of unrequited and requited fascinations.

Sandwiched between these plays are Pintauro's Rules of Love, a hackneyed, contrived one-act about a woman whose confession is heard by the priest she's been sleeping with, and Albee's Counting the Ways, a bitter snort about the concept of lasting love that seems out of step with the trifles that come before and after it. Working the theme of a loveless marriage between yet another sniveling, impotent academic and a distant, cutting wife, this play is the best crafted of the evening, and Mary Kathryn Bessinger gives an insightful, elegant performance as "She." But in his attempt to lay bare the true nature of love, Albee the Old Grouch comes no nearer the target than Shanley the Moonstruck Oaf.

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