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Damon, Ring and F. Scott

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DAMON, RING AND F. SCOTT, Writers' Theatre–Chicago. Continuing the crusade he began with a respectable but somewhat flat one-man show about Ben Hecht, writer-director J.R. Sullivan here honors three more literary lights whose reputations have faded somewhat over the years. But instead of paying tribute to Damon Runyon, Ring Lardner, and F. Scott Fitzgerald with a series of one-man shows or even a selection of readings, Sullivan forces them into a fictional encounter. Fitzgerald clearly admired Lardner, and Runyon also owed him a debt. But Sullivan's flimsy dramatic context--the three swap stories on a train, then read some of their best-known works to one another--often feels forced and, at worst, more appropriate for presentation at the Chicago Historical Society than in a theater.

As Fitzgerald, Michael Halberstam delivers a mesmerizing reading of "Winter Dreams" filled with yearning and memories of lost youth. Gary Houston, playing Lardner, is engaging and appropriately sardonic while reading "Haircut," the rube portrait colored by Lardner's remarkable knack for dialect. And Dan Rivkin is intelligent and affable in the role of Runyon--though perhaps Ernest Hemingway, who early on called himself Ring Lardner Jr., might have been a better choice for the show than Runyon.

These fine actors (and Kipleigh Brown as a moonstruck Wellesley student who gawks at Fitzgerald while he reads "Winter Dreams") are largely wasted in a show that's something less than either staged reading or play. The only dramatic moments come when the writers read their work, and their inspiring words make Sullivan's fictional conceit disappear. --Adam Langer

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