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Playwrights for the '90s

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Chicago Dramatists Workshop.

At nearly three hours, not the advertised two, this seventh annual harvest of one-acts from the workshop's playwrights--plays that prove too long, too short, or too bad--requires plenty of patience. Worse, in contrast to past showcases, the skittish stagings here scarcely improve on the scripts.

Valentino Heart is Johannes Marlena's poorly planned, too-casual conversation between a couple of actors, one an idealist, the other a slacker. Though their forced and self-conscious conflicts lead nowhere, at least Pete Kanetis and Sara Devlin, directed by Paul Frellick, suggest a shared history. Evan Blake's The Sound Called Music is underlong and overwritten, an unfocused look at a May-December relationship founded on loneliness and loud music. Marjiie Rynearson's Julie, cluttered with too many characters and more novelistic than dramatic, contrasts two mothers who lose their children to urban dooms, then pool their grief in an ironic reconciliation scene. Amy Ludwig's staging benefits from Millicent D. Hurley's eloquent take on Dorothy, an anguished woman trying to preserve her daughter's memory. But the play goes wrong when it abandons impressionism for melodrama. Gary Taylor's predictable The Taster's Choice is excruciatingly padded and shallower than a sitcom, a silly and endless look at infighting at a cereal company's test kitchen. Even newscaster Janet Davies, feisty as a control-freak boss in Drew Martin's broad staging, can't lift this bit of fluff.

The winner by default: Keith Huff's My Life and the Movies, a mean but targeted look at a beleaguered housewife (a raucous Mary Zentmyer) with Walter Mitty fantasies.

--Lawrence Bommer

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