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Stage Notes

The Living and the Dead

Lively Albee: Never one to rest on his laurels, Edward Albee -- whose Three Tall Women recently won him his third Pulitzer -- just finished directing the Southern premiere of his most recent play, Fragments, at New Orleans' Contemporary Arts Center (CAC).

Invited by CAC executive director and old friend Ted Potter to present a work of his choice, Albee spent two months commuting from Houston (where he teaches in the University of Houston School of Theatre each spring) to New Orleans, rehearsing and refining Fragments. The play, described as an octet of voices, reflects Albee's continued commitment to experimentation, and was pledged to CAC before Women's success. "I'm sure he had plenty of better offers in the interim," says Potter, "but he kept his word." During the April 21-May 21 run, the audience averaged about 60 on weekdays, 100 on weekends -- good numbers, Potter says, given the demands of the non-mainstream text, not to mention New Orleans' recent flooding.

Though Houston missed out on Fragments, next year Albee will sit in on rehearsals for Stages' production of his 1966 Pulitzer winner, A Delicate Balance. He's also in discussion with the Alley to direct one of his lesser-known works, The Man Who Had Three Arms.

Deadly Christie: Two and three-quarter hours of Agatha Christie is endless. Especially minor Christie, by community theater. Spider's Web is one of her more unwieldy plays; at the Company Onstage it's as lively as a corpse.

Corpses, of course, are what Christie plays are all about; in Web a rogue ends up dead in the living room of the upper-crust family he's blackmailing. But unlike in most other Christie works, there's little suspense. And while we're really not supposed to believe that the person who confesses early on is in fact guilty, the explanation of who turns out to be the murderer is far-fetched even for Christie, involving a decoder machine, stamps and drug addiction (don't ask).

For much of the flabbergasting action we wonder why the heroine wants to hide the body, since the rationale this supposedly shrewd person gives is daft. The Company Onstage performances are hardly better. Though director Arnold Richie does manage occasional moments of levity, his fault is in not making things taut. Abrupt phone calls; anxious searches; a shot in the dark; alibis and inquisitions -- none work. "Why?" somebody demands at one point. "That's what I don't understand. Why?" You got me.

-- Peter Szatmary

Spider's Web plays through June 10 at the Company Onstage, 536 Westbury Square, 726-1219.

 
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