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'Wednesday' barely transcends mere theatrical reporting

Wednesday Play by Julia Kearsley. Directed by Geraldine Fitzgerald.

The Hudson Guild Theatre continues its periodic exploration of the British playwriting scene. Julia Kearsley's ''Wednesday'' offers a grim slice of Lancashire life as it passes in the household of Sal (Sada Thompson), a middle-aged widow. The title refers to the feat of instant calculation by which David (John Bowman), the widow's mentally disturbed son, can translate a given date into the day of the week on which it fell. David dotes on Saturday dates but abhors Wednesdays.

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In this context, Miss Kearsley has written very much of a Wednesday play. The central event is a visit to Sal's semidetached bungalow by Arthur (John Cunningham), a widowed family friend. A second-act revelation discloses the circumstances of an incident in which Arthur's son was drowned while David survived.

''Wednesday'' is admirably acted under Geraldine Fitzgerald's concerned direction. Always a remarkable actress, Miss Thompson projects both the strength and desperation of a mother who has resisted institutionalizing the son in whom her hopes once rested. Mr. Cunningham is fine as the prosaic but understanding visitor on whose return Sal has been counting heavily. Mr. Bowman conveys the potential menace behind David's childishly unpredictable behavior, and Mia Dillon completes the dreary domestic menage with her portrait of daughter Lillian, a foul-mouthed but pitiful young adult delinquent.

As a somewhat dated example of realistic genre playmaking, ''Wednesday'' seems honestly observed and humanely intentioned. But these virtues alone are not enough to raise the work much above the level of theatrical reportage. The ending is contrived. Residual satisfactions are minimal. The play lacks some sense of a broader, enlightened vision that would compensate for the ordeal to which the characters - and the spectator - have been subjected. The production was capably designed by Ron Placzek (scenery), Mariann Verheyen (costumes), and Phil Monat (lighting).

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