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Blew It 

The Play House's Blue Room is a theatrical torture chamber.

Quick, somebody send the cops to the Cleveland Play House. There's a multiple murder in progress, and it has to be stopped. The victims are David Hare's defenseless script, The Blue Room, along with virtually all aspects of competent acting and directing. It is sad that, on the heels of its rousing Dirty Blonde production, the Play House ends its spotty season with this embarrassment.

Five years ago, The Blue Room gained Broadway notoriety for revealing Nicole Kidman's bare buns, and as anyone might have predicted, the performances played to sold-out houses. But beyond some dimly lit nudity, this show on the Play House's Baxter stage is about as stimulating as no-touch masturbating. Hare's play is based on Arthur Schnitzler's Reigen, which was made into the French film La Ronde. In it, a series of two-character sex scenes is enacted, with one character from each continuing into the next chapter, showing the shallowness of casual physical coupling. (If this sounds familiar, it is: Last week, Beck Center opened the enormously entertaining Hello Again, another Schnitzler spin-off and a production superior in all ways to this Play House offering.)

In The Blue Room, the playwright's twist is having the same two actors play all the roles -- which is just dandy, as long as you have a pair of engaging players. Instead, we are given Bradford Cover and Emily Frankovich -- attractive actors who, when not stepping on each other's lines, astonishingly fail to create even one convincing minute together onstage. If the negative energy these two generate ever fell into enemy hands, we would all be doomed. But beyond their lack of interpersonal chemistry, their individual performances are stupefyingly amateurish. Frankovich butchers a French accent playing the au pair, but it sounds almost genuine compared to Cover's atrociously inconsistent and geographically indeterminate Southern dialect as the politician. Neither performer seems comfortable, giving overly precise mid-rehearsal line readings and forcing their reactions. Furthermore, they're rarely in the moment: In one scene, the politician and the model are waking up from a drug-soaked sex binge, and Cover accidentally kicks over a glass, then stoops to set it upright -- something his addled character would never do in that situation.

Equally to blame is director Edward Payson Call, who doesn't help his cast enliven Hare's wordy dialogue. Each of the 10 scenes is separated by unnecessarily elaborate set changes, while the audience reads projected maxims about sex from sages such as Woody Allen and Euripides. Some of these quotes are more entertaining than the show (they certainly get the biggest laughs), but they do nothing to enhance the mood.

As for the sex acts, they are only suggested in blackout, with the elapsed whoopee time (from zero seconds to 2 hours, 28 minutes) shown above the stage. This gimmick is humorous at first, but then becomes tedious. By the sixth scene, you're wishing they'd just show the time till the final curtain. Even in this short show, it's not soon enough.

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