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Murky 'Morocco'

The political caldrons of the world daily provide great meat for drama; it's encouraging when a playwright chooses to focus on them rather than the American concern with self.

The danger with political subjects, however, is that the message can clobber the art. And despite some fine acting, ultimately that is what happens in ''Holy Wars,'' an American Repertory Theatre production at the Hasty Pudding Theatre.

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In this package of two one-act plays about Arab-Jewish conflicts, playwright Allan Havis serves up archetypes for characters, and information instead of dialogue. Stifled by stereotypes, the characters are rarely allowed to act normally.

The first one-act, ''Morocco,'' deals with an American Jew trying to obtain his wife's release from a Moroccan jail controlled by an anti-Semitic colonel. The colonel says the wife is a prostitute; the American asserts that she is a respectable banker. A longer workshop version I saw several months ago made it clear why the men seem to be talking about two different women. In this truncated version, you never find out who she really is. This robs the play of its human conflict, leaving merely a political one.

The second play, ''The Road From Jerusalem,'' gives us a contrived situation: a young American-turned-Israeli mother, a German, and a Palestinian who happen to be trapped together during shelling in Jerusalem.

While there's a bias for the Israeli view-point, Havis does show that the conflicts are many-layered. No one is clean, no one heroic (the German pretends to be unconscious as the Palestinian rapes the young mother) - and Havis leaves you with no answers.

Most of the time the acting redeems the play's flaws. Ben Halley Jr., as the colonel, is a hospitable Idi Amin; Lise Hilboldt, the brutalized mother; Jeremy Geidt, the German businessman. Tony Shalhoub was wooden as the American but compellingly fiery as the Palestinian soldier. Even good acting, however, can't fully save a script that makes its characters hostages of politics.

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