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The Danube, Hypocrites, at the Viaduct Theatre. The Danube has many associations: it inspired Strauss to write his famous waltz, and divides the city of Budapest before the Sava River joins it in Belgrade. But Maria Irene Fornes's 1982 play, named for that waterway, allows for even more associations.

The Danube, set in Hungary in 1939, recounts an American businessman's love affair with a woman he supposes to be the daughter of a Hungarian associate--a romance doomed by a mysterious disease that eventually infects the entire population (radiation? communism? post-traumatic stress disorder?). Their sad tale is narrated in the stilted manner of language-lesson tapes, except for a few brief emotional outbursts and two versions of the same scene, one with actors and the second with marionettes.

Unfortunately, the current situation in the Balkans reduces this production to straightforward war-is-hell propaganda. The Hypocrites' obviously talented cast, saddled with a restrictive subtext that cripples them as surely as The Danube's nebulous illness does its characters, end up with little to do but fret, suffer, and despair, in that order. --Mary Shen Barnidge

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