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ODD COUPLINGS 

A pair of old playwrights sparkle with life in new productions

In one of those serendipitous flukes that drive critics to ecstasy, two of our most vivid specimens of a vanishing breed of meshugana entrepreneur-directors, Greg Cesear and Fred Sternfeld, have lifted a metaphorical curtain on two of their most improbable — and thus archetypal — productions.

"Metaphorical" is the key word, for neither Cesear nor Sternfeld's toy theaters can afford anything as lofty as a curtain. Cesear, whose production of Edward Albee's Marriage Play is at Kennedy's in PlayhouseSquare, revels in cerebral, boutique-y ephemera. He naturally gravitated to one of Albee's many acrimonious vaudevilles about the impossibility of sustained, fulfilled human relationships.

To picture Marriage Play, which premiered in 1993, just think of an hors d'oeuvres version of his immortal Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? minus Nick and Honey. Fifty-year-old Jack perpetually tries to walk out on Gillian, his ball-busting wife of 30 years, and in return, she finds a brilliant way to humiliate him: reading excerpts from her journal chronicling the 3,000 fornications of their marriage.

What saves the evening from sinking into pretentious verbiage is a cast that plays against type. Dana Hart, as Jack, has the shaggy, gentle charm of one of Fred McMurray's rumpled nutty professors. Julia Kolibab's Gillian possesses the matronly warmth of a Julia Child released from the kitchen. The actors defrost the play with a masquerade-party wink.

Sternfeld's authentically Yiddishkeit production of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, presented by the new Fairmount Performing Arts Conservatory, makes us forget the play has become a hoary cliché.

Thanks to Sternfeld and Cesear, odd is busting out all over.

arts@clevescene.com

More by Keith A. Joseph

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