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PUBLIC/PRIVACY, Terrapin Theatre, at Eclipse Theatre. What a difference style makes. Of the three one-acts comprising Public/Privacy--all of them about private conversations taking place (or failing to take place) in very public places--director Scott Letscher pays attention to style only in the third, Marsha Norman's "Lunch With Ginger." For that piece he places four actors in chairs as far from one another as possible, and though they carry on various casual lunchtime conversations, all scripted to highlight bourgeois writer Ginger's distress at her friends' superficiality, the actors never address one another directly but face the audience throughout. It's a simple gesture, but by interrupting the impulse toward naturalism Letscher forces his actors to think theatrically rather than naturalistically, and they turn Norman's overblown adolescent trauma into a compelling little comedy of upper-middle-class decorum.

But in Strindberg's "The Stronger" and Ann Beattie's "Cards" Letscher defaults to a pseudonaturalistic mode, encouraging his actors to be "genuine." Focusing most of their energy on being animated and likable, as if they were on job interviews, they not only appear decidedly unnatural but obliterate the sophisticated underpinnings of Strindberg's highly stylized theater. Whereas in "Lunch With Ginger" the dissonance between the staging and the script gives the audience something to ponder, these two plays about rivalrous society women are so straightforward that the audience has nothing to do but eavesdrop.

--Justin Hayford

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