Playboy Stories: Forty Years of Fiction in the Flesh, City Lit Theater Company. These adaptations of five stories from Playboy magazine cover 40 years of popular literary style, staged using the visually simple chamber-theater approach City Lit does so well. Each story is told more than performed, with the narrators looking into the past or the future rather than at their audience. In a way this distance is comfortable, like reading a good book en masse; but it also rules out the immediacy and tension of more theatrical narratives.
The varied stories are linked only by their authors' literary status and their inclusion in Playboy. The most successful adaptations are of Charles Beaumont's Black Country, a haunting jazz memoir, and John Irving's caustic parody of upper-class pretentiousness, Brennbar's Rant. Ursula K. Le Guin's evocative post-cold war fantasy, Unlocking the Air, is the most adventurous, demonstrating the power of adaptations that suggest meanings and develop relationships through interaction as well as through metaphor, description, and silence. Added to the mix are T. Coraghessan Boyle's and Shirley Jackson's tongue-in-cheek visions of love and fame.
Phil Timberlake, Lynne Hall, and Colin Jones are particularly skilled at combining narration with compelling characterizations. Sound designer Joe Cerqua provides a jazzy musical backdrop to link the stories, and Sharon Evans's murals, with their symbolic collages, help shift scenes. Despite its sensational name, this is an evening that will satisfy people hungry for intellectual theater, honoring the steady, self-conscious leisure of literary contemplation. --Carol Burbank