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CLOUDS, E Pluribus Unum Theatre Company, at the Chase Park auditorium. Michael Frayn's 1976 play anticipates both the frenetic farce of his 1982 smash Noises Off and the somber political meditation of his 1998 Copenhagen. But it doesn't successfully integrate either element.

Nor does E Pluribus Unum's inaugural production, directed by Anthony A. Cleaver: this staging never adds up to a satisfactory whole, and the pacing is thrown off by unnecessarily long set changes between Frayn's 17 scenes. But the cast consistently find bright, witty notes in his shallow characters. Three writers on a junket in Cuba bicker, flirt, and connive with one another and their hosts in order to get the perfect story. Jan Waldron's manipulative British "lady novelist" spars winsomely with her countryman, played by Tim Minger with waspish charm. Bucky Cross as the gee-whiz American writer enamored of postrevolution Cuba is a disconcerting blend of the politics of John Reed and the white-bread demeanor of Donny Osmond. Scott Harris takes a while to hit his stride as Angel, the Castro-appointed tour guide, but he does have a touching monologue late in the show recounting his father's life before the revolution. And Shonn C. Allen gives a delightful, nearly wordless performance as Hilberto, the chauffeur.

Despite the actors' admirable efforts, however, Frayn's characters don't have nearly the heft to sustain our interest.

--Kerry Reid

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