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An unsentimental grown-up comedy and a fairy tale for families

Coastal Disturbances Play by Tina Howe. Directed by Carole Rothman. Tina Howe's ``Coastal Disturbances'' delivers a weather report in emotional terms from somewhere north of Boston. The somewhere is a family beach whose premises are restricted and whose passing personal squalls come with the territory. A writer of mercurial gifts, Ms. Howe treats her characters and their dilemmas with unsentimental humor, affection, and sympathy.

The comedy's most conspicuous character, and not just because of his elevated station, is lifeguard Leo Hart (Timothy Daly). Hired late in the season in the wake of a drowning, Leo is one of those summer-colony casuals designed for brief encounters. He is handsome, muscular, and versatile. When the occasion demands, he gives first aid and comfort to an injured child. He waxes eloquent over the death of a beached whale. He can turn his hand to impromptu legerdemain.

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Mr. Daly plays Leo with the inherent charm that never strives to be charming.

Leo lends a magnetic presence to this rueful beach romance. Holly Dancer (Annette Bening), the impulsive object of his ardor, is an aspiring photographer whose career goals are firmly set but whose emotional life is messy. Ms. Bening makes her captivatingly vulnerable. Both young people are on the rebound from disappointing love affairs.

Their relationship takes an abrupt turn when Holly's almost ex-boyfriend, a New York gallery director, turns up and turns on his European accent and continental manner.

According to Howe, it's a combination to which even liberated young American women are still susceptible.

The summerfolk of this seashore tale include a happily pregnant mother and her little adopted daughter (Heather MacRae and Rachel Mathieu); a slightly hysterical divorcee and her amusing brat of a son (Joanne Camp and Jonas Abry); and an older couple (Addison Powell and Rosemary Murphy) who bicker affectionately. The admirable cast, directed by Carole Rothman, also includes Ronald Guttman as the suave New York intruder.

The Second Stage production is a miracle of visual riches in a small space. Set designer Tony Straiges's modest stretch of beach extends to a horizon bathed in a spectrum of color effects - from dawn to dusk, in sunshine and rain - by Dennis Parichy. Susan Hilferty created the costumes for Howe's all-weather excursion to a Massachusetts beach in the last two weeks of August. Babes in Toyland Musical comedy by Victor Herbert (music), Alice Hammerstein Mathias (lyrics), William Mount-Burke and Ms. Mathias (book). Directed by Raymond Allen and Jerry Gotham.

``Babes in Toyland'' marks a particularly happy Christmas homecoming for the Light Opera of Manhattan. LOOM has returned to the Eastside Playhouse, its home for a decade, in ``Babes in Toyland.'' With co-artistic director Raymond Allen in charge again as the kindly Toymaker, the company's version of the Victor Herbert favorite is as fresh and spontaneous as ever.

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Attending a show that originated in 1905 as part of a 1980s family audience provides a double delight. Along with the pleasures of an old-fashioned entertainment, it's fascinating to observe the relish with which children from the era of Pac-Man, TV, and battery-operated playthings respond to a fairy tale from the age of wind-up toys and stage-effect fantasy. And respond they do. Mr. Allen is notably artful at drawing small spectators onto the stage (and even into the dialogue), particularly as they spot sneaky Peter Pinkerton (Stephen Todar) playing hide-and-seek among the props.

The attractive, vocally strong LOOM company catches the spirit of an earlier musical-comedy style in the production staged by Allen and Jerry Gotham, with conductor-organist Todd Ellison to lead the keyboards-and-percussion accompaniment. Choreographer Gotham keeps the movement flowing nicely, with special attention to the drill formations of ``March of the Toys.'' The principals include Will Elliott and Jensen Buchanan as Alan and Jane, Gary Ridley and Ann J. Kirschner as their parents, Joyce Bolton as a Lily of a doll, and Peter DeBenetto and Susanna Organek as the Toymaker's dancing duo. The revival was imaginatively designed by Michael Sharp (scenery), James Nadeau (costumes), and Peggy Clark (lighting).

``Babes in Toyland'' is due to run until Jan. 4 at 334 East 74th Street, on a Wednesday-Sunday schedule, with matinees on Wednesday and Sunday.

Although LOOM has managed a return to the Eastside Playhouse, Allen's intermission remarks at the performance I attended made clear that its future is by no means guaranteed. The troupe needs approximately $100,000 to reestablish itself financially. LOOM deserves the support that will ensure its continued contribution to the performing arts in New York.

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