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Praise for this year's Roundabout Theater

Owing to the kinds of unforeseen delays that make show business like no business, the Roundabout Theater Company's 1981-82 season spilled over into 1982 -83. As a result, the Roundabout entered the new season with three shows on the boards. There was the well-established double bill comprising ''The Browning Version'' and ''The Twelve-Pound Look,'' at Roundabout Stage Two. Moliere's ''The Learned Ladies'' (reviewed July 22 in these columns) played out its subscription run at the Haft Theater. An adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's ''The Fox'' has just opened at Roundabout Stage One.

The Roundabout led from strength last season. Following a successful Off Broadway run, its sensitively moving production of Shelagh Delaney's ''A Taste of Honey'' moved to Broadway. Other highlights of the 1981-82 Roundabout season included superb revivals of Shaw's ''Misalliance'' and the aforementioned ''The Browning Version,'' plus superior productions of Harold Pinter's ''The Caretaker'' and Enid Bagnold's ''The Chalk Garden.'' On the whole, strengths outweighed weaknesses.

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A word of praise is overdue for ''The Browning Version'' and ''The Twelve-Pound Look.'' Lee Richardson and Sheila Allen conduct the one-sided debate in James M. Barrie's piquant little 1911 feminist comedy with zest and vigor.

''The Browning Version'' is, of course, quite another matter. In this moving portrait of a not-quite-failed schoolmaster, Mr. Richardson wins the spectator's compassion for a wounded man by refusing to pull out any of the stops of self-pity. Mr. Richardson's Crocker-Harris endures successive blows and disappointments with desperate fortitude. The schoolmaster's outward lack of emotion makes the more touching his subsequent breakdown when his malicious wife (Miss Allen) cruelly disabuses him about an apparent act of kindness.

In the Stephen Porter staging, the complex of emotional tensions - and the relieving comedy - are securely sustained by the Roundabout cast. The principals include Keith Reddin as the ''Crock's'' non-prize pupil and Edmond Genest as the fellow teacher with whom Millie Crocker-Harris - to her husband's resigned awareness - has been having an affair.

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