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Lonely, Times Three

If three is the magic number for Stages, it's an ambitious one for Main Street Theater's production of Frank McGuinness's Someone Who'll Watch Over Me, a play about three political hostages held in Lebanon. The tersely complex script is artistic director Rebecca Udden's riskiest choice this season, though one that reflects her love for intelligent drama. And as directed by Ron Jones, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me has its moments of rapture. Unfortunately, though, it never quite gels satisfactorily.

Set in a room where two, then three, prisoners are shackled to a wall, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me is also about telling stories -- stories to keep sane, stories to pass the time and stories that attempt to place meaning on a meaningless existence. The play's three characters are Adam, an American physician; Edward, a Irish journalist; and Michael, an Englishman who teaches literature. They've been kidnapped and are being held in a room somewhere in Lebanon, with no explanation why and few comforts.

To keep madness at bay, Adam and Michael devise a number of games, among them shooting imaginary movies, writing imaginary letters and simply talking about home -- both the idea and the place. Michael also discusses the presence of hope in medieval literature, his field of expertise. Though he's playing arguably the least challenging character -- he is, after all, an American playing an American -- Hosea Simmons takes a while to warm up to Adam. As the Irishman, Edward is both wild and mournful, though his reading of the character lacks the consistency this production needs to hold its audience fast. Equally difficult to pin down is George Brock's Michael -- a man who so willingly gives up his firm British resolve that it's difficult to believe he's as crusty as his dialogue suggests.

The production, as is true of most of what Ron Jones supervises, looks scanty in terms of direction. Instead of an orchestrated shape, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me plays as if it was left largely up to the actors. While their imprisonment, as mysterious as it is maddening, creates several moments of confrontation and of brotherhood, Jones's version lacks the central core needed to drive McGuinness's story home.

Still, at a time when most audiences search for theatrical confection, it's nice to see a company offering politically charged theater. More than anything else, this production feels like Harold Pinter on Prozac -- which isn't a bad thing. This is especially true in Someone Who'll Watch Over Me's comic moments -- a cocktail hour, an imaginary movie with a goat-loving happy nun and, as one of the prisoners' flights of fancy, a ride in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Though Jones's occasionally inept production doesn't plumb the play's depths, the production is still a glowing light of intellectual vigor, something worth seeking in a city where ambitious, meaty productions can be hard to find.

Three Viewings plays through February 9 at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, 527-0220; Someone Who'll Watch Over Me plays through February 9 at Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Boulevard, 524-6706.

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