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Private Eyes

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Private Eyes, Element Theatre, at the Theatre Building. Steven Dietz's glibly philosophical backstage comedy (which played at Apple Tree Theatre in the fall of 1998) is the theatrical equivalent of a suggestive dance by a striptease artist who proves to be invisible. Only after you strip off one layer of artifice after another do you realize that nothing lies beneath them.

There's a sort of rote cleverness to the play, which examines an actress's betrayal of her actor husband with an arrogant British theater director. What at first seems a very straightforward work is revealed to be a play within a play, then a play within a play within a play, then a play within a play within a play within a fantasy played out at the office of the psychiatrist the husband and wife share. The reasonably inventive structure distracts attention from what is a fairly familiar premise. But Dietz's continual twists grow predictable: rather than peel away veneers to arrive at what one character calls a "bare essence," they become simply variations on the theme of how infidelity engenders theatricality. Each new scene mainly reiterates what we already know rather than offering any additional insights.

Despite some nice performances in Element Theatre's polished production--particularly from the versatile Ed Cunningham as the unctuous, self-aggrandizing director--Dietz's theme remains better developed than his characters, who are at the mercy of his overly structured, confining script.

--Adam Langer

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