Voices - but no people - in drama starring two brightly colored lightbulbs; Red and Blue; Play by Michael Hurson. Directed by JoAnne Akalaitis.
Who says a play has to have players? Not the Public Theater. The latest offering there is a show called ''Red and Blue,'' featuring a pair of brightly colored lightbulbs in the title roles. As they wink on and off, voices ring out from behind the scenes, carrying us through a fragmented scenario by sculptor and playwright Michael Hurson.
For some, this may bring memories of ''Gravity's Rainbow'' by Thomas Pynchon, which includes a likable lightbulb named Benny. For others, it may recall the salad days of radio, when drama was purveyed by voices alone, and there was nothing to look at but the yellow glow of a dial and the dim glimmering of hidden tubes.
''Red and Blue'' is very much like a radio play, except for the flickering of those expressive lightbulbs and the lavish setting that fills the front of the auditorium. The setting is a kind of blueprint for the drama - a group of tiny, empty rooms in balsa-wood boxes. As the story unfolds, they take turns lighting up and blacking out, like a homey checkerboard come to life.
And that's it: You listen to the voices, try to follow the plot, and gaze at the rooms. In its own minimal way, it's a unique evening, with flashes of wit and poetry. And it even has moments like the ones in which a thunderstorm engulfs the whole theater with blinding bolts of lightning and soggy sound effects. Even during its more cryptic scenes, the play seems wryly aware of its own eccentricity, and director JoAnne Akalaitis is alert to its possibilities for idiosyncratic humor.
The trouble with ''Red and Blue'' is that its frac
tured story line can't sustain the 70-minute running time, brief as it is. Most of the scenes are flimsy in themselves - snippets about the lives and loves of various characters - and the playwright has glued them loosely together in a sequence that builds little momentum. It's like hearing someone leaf through a book of plays by Harold Pinter, reading a random page every now and then. There are a few threads that hold it all together, but they don't add up to much. The substance of ''Red and Blue'' isn't as inventive as its framework.
The technical credits are first-rate, though. Chief credit goes to director Akalaitis, a member of the innovative theater group Mabou Mines, which has itself experimented with radio plays. (It's ironic that her last project, a drama called ''Request Concert,'' was all images and no words at all.) The lighting and sets are by John Arnone, with sound by L. B. Dallas and ''visuals'' by Stephanie Rudolf. izWPe O m7hofield is lighting consultant. The cast consists of Earl Hindman, Randy Danson, and James Hurdle. Like the technical crew, they wear evening clothes, which lend a nice touch of class when glimpsed at the end of the evening.