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STEVIE, at the O Bar & Cafe. A virtuoso talker is required for a two-hour play in which a single person does 90 percent of the talking. Hugh Whitemore's dramatic biography of English poet Stevie Smith provides no assistance--the other two characters are little more than foils, the speakers never assume the identities of the people they discuss, and stage business is minimal (especially in this production, where actors mime handling such props as cigarettes and brandy snifters). Only an actor skilled in oral interpretation will be able to reconcile the contradictions of a reclusive woman eager to share the intimate details of her life with a roomful of strangers.

Under Frank Farrell's direction, this production proceeds at an inexplicably hurried pace, forcing Phebe E. Bohart as Stevie to chatter hebephrenically in a shrill, airy voice, with never a second's pause for cogitation or contemplation (she even recites her own poems in a childish singsong). None of Stevie's companions contributes much in the way of verification, so her glib narrative becomes as suspect as its giddy delivery is annoying. Only in the play's final moments does Stevie relax sufficiently to engage the full attention and sympathy of any audience member who's managed to keep up with her thus far.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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