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Naomi in the Living Room and the Problem

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Naomi In the Living Room and The Problem, Laugh Den Productions, at Stage Left Theatre. Laugh Den Productions made a hopeful if flawed debut with last summer's program of one-acts by resident playwright Steve Batterman (propitiously subtitled "The First Collection"). That makes their "second collection," consisting of two early exercises by playwrights who went on to do better, all the more disappointing.

Raising the curtain on this barely hour-long program is Christopher Durang's Naomi in the Living Room, in which a ruthlessly passive-aggressive matron tortures her son and daughter-in-law (dressed identically in parochial-school uniforms) with her mood swings. This is less a play than a premise, but Jenny Peel as Naomi manages an occasional hint of the shrewd manipulation lurking beneath the character's tyranny by tantrum.

In The Problem A.R. Gurney presents an American version of the marital game played by the middle-class couple in Pinter's The Lover. Here a stuffy professor and his civic-minded wife likewise keep the home fires burning with elaborate fantasies in which they play amoral lowlifes, but spicing their scenarios are the New World enhancements of racial and ethnic stereotypes. The gusto with which Ryan Michael Bernstein and Christina Cameli attack their roles, however, only serves to negate the image of a marriage so boring as to require such stratagems.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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