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Off Broadway moves toward repertory -- could it signal a trend?

Off Broadway is making modest moves this season in the direction of repertory -- the system that offers a selection of plays on a regular rotating basis by a resident cast. The system is familiar throughout Europe and is an ideal cherished by theater professionals everywhere. Unfortunately, because of production costs and other factors, repertory is a rare phenomenon on American stages. Here in New York of late, the Mirror Theatre has been the troupe most notably committed to the tradition. Come Oct. 31, the company is beginning its fourth season by bringing back its splendid revival of Jean Giraudoux's ``The Madwoman of Chaillot,'' with Geraldine Page in the title role, accompanied by Carrie Nye, Madeleine Sherwood, and Jane White. Three additional works will be presented.

Meanwhile, in what could signal a slight trend, other local playmakers are offering their own variants of repertory.

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The 12-year-old Double Image Repertory Company has launched its inaugural 10-week Off Broadway season with a two-play repertory at the 47th Street Theatre. The season premi`ered with John Patrick Shanley's Savage in Limbo. The author describes it as a ``concert play'' of ``related emotional and intellectual events. . . .''

In Mr. Shanley's relatively appealing ``Danny and the Deep Blue Sea,'' the title character found hope, happiness, and romance. Lonely, frustrated Denise Savage (Deborah Hedwall) of ``Savage in Limbo'' discovers none of the above in the almost deserted barroom where the concert play unflolds. Denise is an explosive blond seething with unfulfilled desires.

In the course of the play's orchestrated exchanges, Denise reencounters good-looking high school friend Linda Rotunda (Mary McDonnell). To her despair, Linda's macho boyfriend, Tony Aronica (Larry Joshua), has developed a crush on what he calls ``ugly women.'' Tony's description of his first experience of brains without beauty is amusingly delivered by Mr. Joshua.

``Savage in Limbo'' lends a sympathetic ear to the crudely articulated yearnings for self-realization of these unfocused characters. The Shanley quintet is completed by Murk (Randle Mell), the drama's stolid but tenderhearted barman, and the frail-minded April White (Jayne Haynes), whose fancies he indulges and whom he earnestly woos. The intense performance staged by Mark Linn-Baker keeps faith with the quirkiness of Mr. Shanley's raunchy tragicomedy. Adrienne Lobel designed the appropriately hideous s etting, with garish lighting by Stephen Strawbridge and modishly tacky costumes by Debra Tennenbaum.

If Filthy Rich, the second Double Image entry, isn't the definitive private-eye spoof, Canadian playwright George F. Walker has spared no effort to parody the cinematic ways of Spillane, Spade, Hammer, et al. Mr. Walker has concocted a surreal cartoon comprising the stock situations of yesterday's movies. His licensed snooper is Tyrone M. Power (John P. Connolly), a boozy ex-journalist who has abandoned private investigation to write unpublishable novels.

Power's literary efforts are interrupted by a would-be assistant private eye (Reed Birney), filthy-rich twin beauties (both played by Caris Corfman), a bellowing, tough-but-honest New York cop (Dan Moran), and a black-suited goon (Joseph Siravo). All are concerned in one way or another with the disappearance of a mayoral candidate whose promise of honest government threatens the sinister forces of corruption.

Walker drives hard for comic effect, and some of his effects are considerably comic. The energetic performance staged by Max D. Mayer ranges from tough-realistic to antic stylization. The credits (projected in black and white on a drop curtain) include Thomas Lynch (sleazy setting), Deborah Shaw (costumes), Susan Chute (lighting), and John Roby (saxophone riffs). The present Double Image season runs through Nov. 24, with the two plays alternating weekly.

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Elsewhere on the repertory front:

The Mirror Theatre will follow ``The Madwoman of Chaillot'' with a new translation of Gorki's ``Children of the Sun.'' The third production will be chosen from among Jean Anouilh's ``The Rehearsal,'' an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's ``The Day After the Fair,'' and William Saroyan's ``The Time of Your Life.'' The 1985-86 Mirror season will end with Somerset Maugham's ``The Circle,'' with Miss Page.

The Circle Repertory Company is alternating Lanford Wilson's ``Talley & Son'' (the newly revised version of his 1981 ``A Tale Told'') with ``Tomorrow's Monday,'' by Paul Osborn. Mr. Osborn's 1930s comedy-drama premi`ered in 1936 in Brattleboro, Vt., but has never been produced here in New York. The two plays have their official openings later this month.

At the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, the long-running Charles Ludlam prizewinner ``The Mystery of Irma Vep'' has been joined by Mr. Ludlam's adaptation of the Flaubert novel, ``Salammb^o,'' now previewing for a Nov. 7 opening.

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