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Impassioned Embraces

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IMPASSIONED EMBRACES, Paz/Suarez Bubblegum Productions, at Heartland Studio Theater. It's a surprise to learn that John Pielmeier, author of the theological thriller Agnes of God, also invented these ten playful sketches and monologues, a keen showcase for seven actors full of the same knowing twists and absurdities that fueled David Ives's All in the Timing.

The Bubblegum players, confidently directed by Marta Suarez, embrace the material with the passion the title demands. Of the four theatrical spoofs, the sharpest is Coya Paz's hilarious tour de force as an acting mediocrity who condenses her career into a 15-minute trajectory from obscurity to oblivion. Alexis Gladd pulls out similar stops as she desperately hustles prospective backers at a preview of an antiecological musical, "Ah, Walden!" and Jessie Bernard deftly depicts the danger of pursuing the wrong emotional recall. Though half-baked, "Acting Olympics" cleverly presents a thespian showdown won by a shameless American (Ken Volpp in overdrive) who dabbles in Jacobean bombast, jingoistic rhapsodizing, and Mamet-crude improvisation.

The scenes start ridiculous and end manic, as when a vasectomy gets trashed by a domestic donnybrook or a bridesmaid and groom construct a souped-up soap opera out of escalating complications or a high school dissection becomes a volatile game of one-upmanship. Most ingenious is Pielmeier's gender-smashing look at a woman disguised as a man (the macho Deborah Stern) who picks up a man dressed as a woman (the elegant Scott O'Connor): even Revelation can't match their disclosures. Good show. --Lawrence Bommer

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