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Two plays of our times: 'Angels Fall' and 'Sister Mary Ignatius'

If there were a contest to select a play that best reflected 1980s thinking and values for insertion in a time capsule, I'd recommend ''Angels Fall,'' now playing at the New Ehrlich Theatre through Nov. 2.

This latest play of Lanford Wilson rings many familiar bells: fear of radiation (a group of people are stuck in a New Mexico mission because of a uranium accident); moral dilemma of personal advancement vs. responsibility to greater social need (Navajo doctor wants to leave the reservation for a cushy research job); narcissism (whiny tennis player); and solving a crisis of faith by therapy (on-the-brink art teacher).

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But Wilson does more than just ring bells to tell us who and where we are. This is a political play that doesn't preach, and the characters' foibles are gently mocked. The story (the journey the characters take in the course of a tense afternoon in learning about themselves and the others) unfolds at its own unpushed pace. And it is funny to boot. Here, as in Wilson's previous plays ''Talley's Folly'' and ''Fifth of July,'' he creates endearingly eccentric characters who speak a natural kind of poetry. The tennis player, ''built like a parking meter,'' is a hypochondriac strung tighter than his racket; the art teacher says, ''I am not upset, I am strident and overbearing.''

It is because this play gives us both the current issues of the mind and the unchanging issues of the heart that it could stand up in 100 years as more than a topical play.

I wish I could say as much for the New Ehrlich production, directed by Neil Armstrong. The acting is adequate, but only rarely sings. (BoB Knapp as the tennis player was wonderfully manic) And the pacing needs to be tightened, particularly the last 15 minutes. Still, it's a show of our times worth seeing.

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