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Grave Knowledge

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GRAVE KNOWLEDGE, at Cafe Voltaire. Jim Cantafio's earthy realism and Mary Beth McMahon's ethereal magnetism almost make Paul Surace's one-act drama Grave Knowledge worth watching. Almost.

Set in a graveyard, Surace's story of an unlikely meeting between a reluctant Mafia hit man and a schoolteacher is little more than an amalgamation of flatly drawn characters, shopworn dialogue, and implausible plot contrivances. Surace's imitation-Scorsese hit man--seen here visiting the grave of the father he could never please--listens to Sinatra and Bennett, mentions his "family" a lot, and talks like dis. The schoolteacher isn't so much a real person as a laundry list of characteristics--you know, your basic flighty woman who marries the wrong guy, endures the abuse of her husband after her true love's suicide, and spends her off-hours reading Romeo and Juliet to her deceased lover's grave.

Surace gives the schoolteacher trite dialogue on the order of: "They say the eyes are the mirrors of the soul; you have a good soul, I think." Although he has a good sense of rhythm, even the best of his exchanges seem lifted out of Pacino movies. And the way his characters meet, fight, commiserate, and kinda fall in love isn't credible. Cantafio's charisma keeps the play going for a while, but the schoolteacher has so many poorly explained contradictions that even McMahon can't manage the role. This show is recommended only for casting directors, who should use it to begin planning the actors' next performances.

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