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'Fault Lines': David Schwimmer's Off-Broadway debut nothing new

You'd be surprised to learn that former "Friends" cast member David Schwimmer has an extensive record as a thespian. He co-founded Glimmerglass Theater, a prestigious Chicago company that occasionally transfers work to New York. He also starred in a flop Broadway revival of "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial" three years ago.

While Schwimmer has yet to act in an Off-Broadway show, he is now making his debut as an Off-Broadway director with "Fault Lines," which is being produced by Naked Angels, a company noted mostly for its glamorous parties in the late 1980s and early 90s.

The first half of Stephen Belber's 80-minute play feels pretty pointless. Jim (Dominic Fumusa) and Bill (Josh Lucas), two longtime friends in their late 30's, have met up for billiards and drinks in the empty back room of a musty dive bar. They exchange vulgar jokes for a half hour until the arrival of Joe (Noah Emmerich), a weird, mysterious stranger who seems keenly intent on becoming bosom buddies with Jim and Bill.

Once the trio wine and dine on mini-hot dogs and beer, accusations are suddenly thrown around. Did Jim sleep with Bill's wife, Jess (Jennifer Mudge)? Better invite her over and find out! But the plot twists don't end there.

Pretty soon, it becomes clear that "Fault Lines" is not so much a male bonding drama, but an old-fashioned thriller in which Jim and Bill's friendship is essentially put on trial. Think "Deathtrap" meets "Boys' Life."

Based on "Fault Lines," which requires almost no staging whatsoever, we can't really tell whether Schwimmer has much talent as a director. We're surprised he didn't try something more challenging for his debut. If not much else, Schwimmer has encouraged his actors to intense their energy levels and comic timing at all costs.

So while the play admittedly does pick up steam and become an amusing, if predictable, exercise in surprise and moral debate, it offers nothing that you haven't seen before.

Cherry Lane Theater, 38 Commerce St, 212-239-2969, $60. Mon-Thurs 8pm, Fri 7 & 10pm, Sat 3 & 8pm. Thru Nov 2.

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