Seen at the Theatre:

Boys and Girls

, produced by Playwrights Horizons, isn’t going to do much for the cause of gay parenting. Carrie Preston and Nadia Dajani are a lesbian couple with a young boy. Presuming he needs a father figure, they ask their good friend (Robert Sella) to move in. Problem is, Sella’s alcoholic ex-boyfriend (Malcolm Gets) shows up, too. What happens is an experiment in bad chemistry: all four characters are like the elements in a highly unstable compound; put them together, and something unexpected--and unpleasant--is going to happen.

Photo: Joan Marcus

Playwright Tom Donaghy is very good on the little power struggles that animate any relationship; on the other hand, these characters' neuroses are almost too vividly rendered. Put nicely, this bunch is a little hard to take. The best thing about the production is its design, including Douglas Stein’s elegant, reconfigurable arrangement of walls, David Weiner’s sensitive lighting, Catherine Zuber’s chic costumes, and the atmospheric sound effects by Aural Fixation. The cast is very believable, too. But two hours with this crowd is more than enough.

It’s only May, but already This Thing of Darkness is a top contender for strangest play of the year. The script, by Craig Lucas and newcomer David Schulner, examines the friendship between two men over the course of 50 years, lasting well into a dreadful (but unclear) post-apocalyptic future. In each of three scenes, the men are played by a different pair of actors (including the actress Mary McCann). I haven’t even gotten to the plot, which involves, among other things, a cult based on ape behavior, whose members have constant sexual encounters with each other, and the script's weird time scheme in which the past and future double back on each other.

This Thing of Darkness is totally indefensible as a play--the characters are ill-defined, the action doesn’t really make sense--but, as always, there’s something bizarrely gripping going on in the darker corners of Lucas’ imagination. Lucas also directed, and not always felicitously; some scenes are awkwardly staged, and a crucial piece of John McDermott’s set, a mirror, often blocks the view of the actors. McDermott’s setting, a fairly realistic New England cabin with the ceiling removed to allow a view of a watercolored landscape, is a little awkward, too. Christopher Akerlind’s lighting does transform the space efficiently. Scott Myers’ sound effects include a number of unsettling rumbles. Candice Donnelly’s costumes avoid any speculation about fashions of the future. This Thing of Darkness is the kind of mistake that only talented people can make. I'm still eager to see Lucas' next play.

I must second Ellen Lampert-Greaux's thoughts last week about House and Garden at Manhattan Theatre Club. Only Alan Ayckbourn could make divorce, alcoholism, and madness seem so hilarious. Yes, the plays constitute a stunt, but we don't get such clever writing every day. Once again, John Lee Beatty and Jane Greenwood prove why they are one of our best design teams. Kudos, too, to lighting designer Duane Schuler and sound designer Bruce Ellman.--David Barbour

Seen at the Movies: Word is it's been toned down, but the nuclear blast at the center of The Sum of All Fears is plenty graphic enough for my taste at this particular moment in time. This film adaptation of the Tom Clancy thriller, in which CIA analyst Jack Ryan has morphed from Harrison Ford's middle-aged authority figure into callow and toothsome young Ben Affleck, seems both uncomfortably timely and strangely clueless: the terrorists that blow up Baltimore's Ravens Stadium during the Super Bowl, instantly incinerating thousands of Americans, are led by a neo-Nazi (Alan Bates) whose European decadence is signaled by his taste in Italian opera (we can bet our Jack Ryan goes for good old American pop), and the whole thing comes down to a confrontation between Russia and the US that seems about 20 years out of date.

That said, the first half of the movie carries the satisfaction of a well engineered cloak-and-dagger exercise, and is directed by Phil Alden Robinson with efficiency and coherence, qualities in increasingly short supply in Hollywood action movies. Morgan Freeman plays Ryan's CIA mentor with his customary grace, and the good supporting cast includes James Cromwell (as the US President), Liev Schreiber, Bruce McGill, and Philip Baker Hall. All technical hands, including production designer Jeannine Oppewall, costume designer Marie-Sylvie Deveau, supervising sound editors John Leveque, MPSE and Anthony R. Milch, and visual effects house Rhythm and Hues Studios, do exemplary work, and director of photography John Lindley, ASC's work includes a convincing approximation of mini-nuclear winter, if one should want to see such a thing.--John Calhoun

Seen at the Met: Adrian: American Glamour, the current exhibition in the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a delicious look at the designer's work, primarily focusing on his fashion career after leaving MGM in the 1940s. Stills from Letty Lynton (with its influential puff-sleeved dress), The Philadelphia Story, Ninotchka, Marie Antoinette, and even The Wizard of Oz, films in which "gowns by Adrian" clad such immortals as Crawford, Hepburn, Garbo, Shearer, and Garland, are placed in sometimes whimsical counterpoint to the relatively real-world clothes Adrian designed.

The master of the shoulder pad and bias cut referenced modern art as well as cinema, as can be seen in a display of business suits with Constructivist patterns; he also was a genius at working within wartime fabric restrictions (no ruffles, only two pockets, and so on). Sections of the exhibit are given over to evening gowns (many of which were designed for Adrian's 5' tall, 100-lb. wife Janet Gaynor), casual wear, and hats, and a few prized items from MGM movies--including Katharine Hepburn's poolside chemise with silvery embroidery from Philadelphia Story--are also displayed. Adrian: American Glamour runs through August 18, 2002.--JC