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New York Stage Brims With Quirky Dramas

FOUR BABOONS ADORING THE SUN Play by John Guare. Directed by Peter Hall. At the Vivian Beaumont Theater through April 19.

JOHN GUARE'S "Four Baboons Adoring the Sun" offers a stiff challenge all round. To the actors. To the designers. And not least of all to audiences. Mr. Guare has devised a puzzle in the form of a dense drama that mixes domestic comedy, Sicilian geography, mythical symbolism, and classic allusions.

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The play opens as a singing Eros (Eugene Perry) explains that he doesn't move things - "I only nudge them along." Nudged immediately into action are Penny and Philip McKenzie (Stockard Channing and James Naughton), a pair of archaeologists who have divorced their respective spouses and recently wed. Arrived in Sicily, the McKenzies are soon joined by the nine children from their previous marriages. When Penny informs the youngsters that this is "the real Sicily," one of the brood replies: "It looks more like the Connecticut Turnpike."

The Connecticut Turnpike it certainly is not. Instead, the magically fantasized Sicilian landscape includes a smoldering volcano primed for an earthquake and a soaring background dominated by a golden disk. The dialogue ranges from archaeological talk, explanations of what has gone before, and discussions about the possibilities of creating a new family. Meanwhile, teenagers Wayne (Wil Horneff) and Halcy (Angela Goethals) have become sexually active. Their short affair ends with a mountain climb from whi ch Wayne, Icarus-like, plunges to his death.

In "Four Baboons Adoring the Sun" (the title of which was inspired by a sculptural group in the Louvre), the classical allusions can be positively challenging as well as baffling. Some spectators may consider the work more pretentious than is necessary. But if the playwright's hand exceeds the spectator's grasp, the results prove theatrically stimulating in the stunning production staged by Peter Hall.

As she proved in Guare's "Six Degrees of Separation," Ms. Channing is a natural for Guare-ish drama. This extremely appealing actress can wing her way without apparent effort from Penny's domestic concerns to aerial flights of fancy. Mr. Naughton partners her solidly as the academic who turns his back on academia.

Lincoln Center Theater patrons will leave the Beaumont with their own degrees of perception or bafflement over this quirky, murky piece. As one departing female audience member was overheard to remark, "It's meant to show that second marriages don't work." It was too late for Eros to warble a nudging rejoinder. LOTTO Comedy written and directed by Cliff Roquemore. At the Heckscher Theatre.

A welcome addition to Manhattan playgoing pleasures, Cliff Roquemore's rambunctious romp chronicles the effects on a black Los Angeles family of a $10-million lottery win. Mr. Roquemore has subtitled his farcical comedy, "Experience the Dream." The dream turns into a comic nightmare as Horace Benson (Earl Fields Jr.) and his family struggle to cope with the consequences of quick-gotten gains.

As "Lotto" opens, middle-aged Horace is fretting over his failure to win what he considers a deserved promotion in the city water department. Everything changes when the money begins flowing. Horace buys wife Pearline (Peace Roberts) a mink coat. Blind and otherwise incapacitated sister-in-law Mildred (Jessica Smith) acquires an electronic cane. Son Junebug (Bryan Roquemore) dreams up a pyramid scheme to make them all even richer.

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Roquemore, in all-out sitcom style, multiplies comic crises and farcical improbabilities as the Bensons move from the modest abode of Act I to the lavish mansion of Act II. The family has put on so many airs that even the airs have airs.

Will the Bensons wake up from the dream and face reality before it's time to ring down the curtain and send the audience home laughing? Trust Roquemore, a multitalented, multimedia veteran. To the rescue comes Pearline, who has kept her feet planted on terra firma while quietly learning the ways of Wall Street. MARVIN'S ROOM Comedy by Scott McPherson. Directed by David Petrarca. At the Minetta Lane Theatre.

"Marvin's Room" proved so popular in its local Playwrights Horizons premiere that it has reopened at the Minetta Lane Theatre. Although Scott McPherson's eccentric comedy focuses on ailments, its tone can be surprisingly life-affirming. The animated cartoon opens as Bessie (Laura Esterman) is being informed by her doctor that she needs a bone transplant.

The crisis assembles the dysfunctional family in Florida, where Bessie has been caring for her ditsy Aunt Ruth (Alice Drummond) and her bedridden father, the Marvin of the title. Even as she faces her own ordeal, Bessie's affectionate nature is allowed to express itself. "I am lucky to have loved so much," she tells hot-tempered sister Lee (Lisa Emery) in one of the more poignant moments of a play.

Director David Petrarca preserves a sense of theatrical equilibrium with the help of a superb performance by Ms. Esterman and the consistent work of the ensemble. "Marvin's Room" premiered at Chicago's Goodman Theatre in 1990 and was further developed in a production by the Hartford (Conn.) Stage Company. On the scene

The National Actors Theatre is presenting a trimmed version of Henrik Ibsen's 1892 The Master Builder. The respectable production staged by Tony Randall casts Earle Hyman as Ibsen's ruthlessly self-made man, Madeleine Potter as his young challenger, Lynn Redgrave as his emotionally scarred wife, Maryann Plunkett as the smitten Kaja Fosli, John Beal and Peter McRobbie as Brovik father and son, and Patrick Tull as Dr. Herdal. At the Belasco Theatre through April 26.

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