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On stage

An occasional update of New York theater openings

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THE SKRIKER

(Joseph Papp Public Theatre): British playwright Caryl Churchill's ("Top Girls," "Cloud Nine") phantasmagorical new effort about a "shape shifter" who takes control of the lives of two women is a muddled, often incomprehensible mess. But this visually spectacular production supplies the story with power despite its pretensions.

In the title role, Jayne Atkinson gives a stunning, highly physical performance, and the sets, costumes, lighting, and sound design coalesce to produce a nightmarish and supremely theatrical vision.

PAPA

(Douglas Fairbanks Theatre): In yet another one-person biographical show, Len Cariou ("Sweeney Todd") plays Ernest Hemingway, depicted as reminiscing about his life and career while drowning himself in alcohol. Written by journalist John deGroot, the play presents an increasingly emotional Papa relating anecdotes involving F. Scott Fitzgerald and "Gert" Stein, among others. He talks about both his wartime adventures in the Spanish "Uncivil" War and the way Hollywood contorted his novels for the big screen.

The powerhouse performance by Cariou, looking very Hemingwayesque in shorts and a bushy white beard, is the chief reason to see this undistinguished entry in an increasingly overdone theatrical genre.

ARTS & LEISURE

(Playwrights Horizons): A play by Steve Tesich ("Breaking Away") about the personal crises of a syndicated drama critic, played by Harris Yulin, and the disaffected women in his life.

Part character study of an emotionally distant individual, part social commentary about the way society has turned world and political events into one vast global drama in which we all function as critics, the play doesn't work on either level. But it has been given a chillingly effective staging by Joanne Akalaitis, and Yulin brings quiet-voiced authority to the lead role.


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