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`Fortissimo!' collection at RISD; `The Price'; zany `Claptrap' at ART

Now on view at the Museum of Art of the Rhode Island School of Design, ``Fortissimo! Thirty Years from the Richard Brown Baker Collection,'' is a kaleidoscopic tour through the last three decades of modern and postmodern art. Baker's exceptional acuity as a collector is apparent in this extraordinary exhibition. Containing 166 paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings culled from a collection reputedly numbering more than 1,600 works, ``Fortissimo!'' is filled with treasures. Not only are all the requisite celebrated names present (Kline, de Kooning, Johns, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Chia,), often their works are simply some of the finest available. For example, Hans Hofmann's glorious ``Fortissimo'' (1956), which lends its name to the exhibition, with its ebullient colors dancing around the canvas in rectangular groupings, is an apex of that artist's long and distinguished career. Baker's Cy Twombly (``Untitled,'' 1967), with its seemingly childlike yet deeply felt oil and crayon markings, is exemplary, as is Jackson Pollock's ``Arabesque,'' its layers of poured and dripped sienna, black, gray, and white pigment forming an effervescent web of infinitely receding depths.

Baker was clearly less motivated by investment purposes, or the sureties of approved taste, than by the delights art afforded. This creates added viewing pleasures, for a familiar artist may be represented by a little-known aspect of his or her development. Thus Jules Olitski, singularly associated with atmospheric color field painting, here shows a superb drawing of a nubile female nude.

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Although problems arise from a too-crowded, overly didactic installation, these minor sins are forgiven. They are, in fact, somehow in keeping with the enthusiastic character of the collection itself. As an opportunity to review the development of modern art and a chance to see some divine paintings, ``Fortissimo!'' is not to be missed. Through April 28.

One reason Arthur Miller's plays continue to have impact on us is his ability to expose how people ruin their lives (and others') by deluding themselves. In his plays, martyrdom parades as devotion; implacability as principle. People, as he says in the production of ``The Price'' at the Nickerson Theatre, ``sacrifice [their lives] for vengeance.'' In ``The Price,'' a middle-aged cop has borne a lifelong burden of resentment at his brother's saddling him with the care of their broken father while the brother went off to medical school. The two confront each other and their past in the attic of their childhood home, where they've come to sell off their father's lifetime of furniture. Revelation after revelation reveals the price the two men have paid for choices made long ago.

The impact of the play shines through the acceptable if uninspired production at the Nickerson Theatre in Accord Park. Director Judy Braha brings out the sinews -- and the humor -- in the marriage of the cop (Ralph Pochoda) and his wife, Esther (Stephanie Voss). The two give strong, well-rounded performances; Voss is a tad shaky in the big emotional scenes. Leonard Corman, as a furniture dealer, indulges some old-man affectations. Jim Oyster gives a committed performance as the doctor.

Set designer Donald Soule has done a fine job finding authentic props. It's a case of overload, however; the attic looks more like a store. Through April 20.

``Claptrap,'' American Repertory Theatre's second NewStages offering at the Hasty Pudding Theatre in Cambridge, sends new sparks into what is otherwise well-trod territory -- two roommates, an actor and a writer, neither of whom can take the first step. The screwball plot works its way through a funeral in a fast-food joint, some trying-roommate jokes, and a farcical re-creation of the play ``Deathtrap.'' Ken Friedman has written it like a heavy, '40s detective movie, punctuated with zingy lines like ``Co-op? This place is six rats away from being a laboratory.'' A lot of the fun comes from the takeoffs on bad writing and acting. And the swell cast, directed by Robert Drivas, goes deliciously overboard.

The play is too long and doughy to maintain the farce airiness consistently, but it's nonetheless appealing. Treat Williams, as the likably egocentric actor, carries off with aplomb some big scenes (he auditions by mistake at the funeral and does a hilarious series of rapid-fire impressions). Harry Murphy, as Sam, has absolutely perfect timing and inflection. And Rose Arrick as Mom, Cherry Jones as the ever-patient Sara, and Ursula Drabik as Sybil, a married woman the actor falls in love with, are all wonderful in one of the freshest, funniest comedies I've seen this season. It plays in repertory with ``Going Up to Gillette,'' through April 28.

The Heidelberg Chamber Orchestra is a beguiling bunch, judging from its recent concert at Boston's Church of the Covenant. The entire evening -- from the orchestra director's taking tickets, to his cracking jokes as he announced the program, to his selling records at intermission, to his requesting lodgings for his players from the audience -- had the accessible, jolly air of a small-town concert held somewhere in Europe.

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What's more, the Heidelberg has picked familiar and popular pieces to play on their tour of the Northeastern United States and eastern Canada. Posters announcing such favorites as Pachelbel's ``Canon in D,'' Bach's ``Concerto in D minor for Two Violins,'' and ``Spring,'' from Vivaldi's ``The Four Seasons,'' act like magnets in these baroque-loving days. And the unidentified ragtime encore the group plays provides a beautiful counterpoint of whimsy to finish off the evening.

But the best part, of course, is the playing. This mainly very young ensemble (all male but one) has a smooth tone and a technical sureness that reach out and wrap an audience around its violin strings. First violinist Johann Reinfeld's delivery is particularly sweet and melodic. And the two young trumpeters sent sparkling, golden notes winging up to the rosy, vaulted ceiling of the church in a Vivaldi concerto and a Telemann concertante.

The Heidelberg Chamber Orchestra can be heard at St. Stephen's Church in Providence, R.I., April 26.

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