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New play about adultery

There are all the signs that ''Passion Play'' (at Trinity Square Repertory Company in Providence) seeks to make a major statement on the subject of adultery. It comes close.

British playwright Peter Nichols gives us a rather ordinary couple, one whose marriage - a ''long, slow haul with no surprises'' - is challenged by a young temptress.

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Director Adrian Hall and set designer Eugene Lee have carried this idea in the set. The stage is shaped like a cross, with the audience wedged in the corners to promote its involvement. With the use of this unusual stage, an atheistic couple surrounded by religious imagery, and passions and requiems punctuating the action, the production seems to be asking whether lust has replaced religion. The husband certainly worships his mistress, kneeling at her body in wonder. And in defending his adultery, he asks his long-suffering wife, ''What's kindness, loyalty, and devotion in the void?''

While the play certainly covers everyone's emotions - the shattering effect on the wife, the dilemma of a husband who ''wants to have his cake and eat it, too,'' there is a predictable, soap-opera quality to many of the lines, and there is a detached documentary feel. One senses that the playwright feels ambivalent about making a strong statement.

In the end, James opts to recommit himself to his wife, but the play ends with her appearing to leave him. You don't really mourn the end of this marriage , because there is not a lot at stake. Neither partner fights very hard to save it. With Nichols's viewpoint that there are no answers, he leaves this subject, which desperately needs some answers, up in the air. It leaves you hanging and does not measure up to its full potential.

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