'3 Kinds of Exile' review: John Guare

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After all these decades, we still never know where John Guare and his restless, altogether original mind are going to take us. "3 Kinds of Exile" -- based on three real stories of Polish people derailed by the Nazis and/or the Cold War -- turns out to be one third revelatory, one third beguiling and the last third, well, perplexing.

The treasure is "Elzbieta Erased," in which Guare (in his Off-Broadway acting debut) and a startlingly expressive actor named Omar Sangare stand at lecterns to present the unlucky American career of one of Warsaw's star actresses. What sounds like an academic structure is, instead, a vibrant, multileveled portrait of a woman who needs to be known.

The opening playlet is a monologue in which the very engaging Martin Moran tells what turns out to be a chilling little ghost story about an actor who left Poland as a child in 1939. The third, "Funiage," is an exaggerated expressionist cabaret about a sad-sack writer (the heroically conscientious David Pittu) conscripted to sail to Argentina to talk up Polish culture to emigres while Hitler invades their country. It is inspired by the works of Witold Gombrowicz, and claims to be about the "greatest unknown Argentine writer in Poland in the '30s." The story may be fascinating, but the absurdist-fable style is tiresome.


LaBute, defanged

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When Neil LaBute names a play "Reasons to be Happy," one has to ask, "Hey, what's the catch?" Happiness is never what it appears in the twisty, vicious serious-comedies by this famously devious and prolific dark star of American theater.

At least that used to be true. In this new work, a sequel -- with different good actors and capital letters -- to his 2008 "reasons to be pretty," the play is a surprisingly straightforward and awfully mundane relationship drama about four working-class people with what-does-it-all-mean? crises.

Jenna Fischer, best known as sweet Pam on "The Office," is here a clingy, complicated, angry woman. She wants to get back with her old boyfriend -- the always terrific Josh Hamilton -- who reads books and wants to better himself. He is dating her best friend (Leslie Bibb), newly separated from a cheating primal jerk (Fred Weller). Understandably, LaBute appears to be working to escape his reputation for shock endings. Alas, the alternative, at this point, is pretty dull.

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