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New York, New York: Part 2

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Jim Norton feasts on Richard with an impish glee, nearly stealing the show from David Morse, who gives an epic performance worthy of a tortured O'Neill drunk as Sharky, and Ciar·n Hinds, a most dapper devil. Providing additional comic relief as slovenly neighbor Ivan Curry is a marvelous Conleth Hill. So ingeniously constructed is McPherson's whisky parable that a running joke at Ivan's expense turns out to be Sharky's saving grace.

November (***1/2) -- So what's the result when an irresistible comic collides with immovable realist? Surprisingly, when the comedian is Nathan Lane and the playwright is David Mamet, it's Mamet who blinks, yielding up to Lane one dream of an election year role, hot-wired with punchlines.

Mamet, in an uninhibited satiric mode, deftly shields himself from libel in crafting Lane's character. Clearly, from the clueless references to Iraq and Iran -- not to mention his historically low standing in job approval polls -- the model for incumbent President Charles Smith is that prince of incompetence, Bush 43.

But this unprincipled dimwit isn't a lame duck. Smith is running for re-election now, and as the calendar eases into November, Mamet and Lane gleefully demonstrate that there is absolutely nothing that the leader of the Free World won't do to sweeten his soured legacy, replenish a horribly depleted campaign war chest, or if all else fails, cash out.

Yes, everything is for sale at the Oval Office -- at hyper-inflated prices -- including the time-honored tradition of Thanksgiving turkey. Mamet hasn't been this trendy since Madonna starred in his Speed-the-Plow nearly 20 years ago. Granted, this detour into Turkey pardoning spares rabid fundamentalists and ivory tower liberals from the lashes they deserve. But here Mamet is proving himself more adroit than even our most masterful politicians in skirting truly divisive issues.

For Lane, the comeback arc is much shorter, bringing him close to the pinnacle of worship he reached in The Producers. Among his supporting cast here, Ethan Phillips is particularly tasty as "A Representative of the National Association of Turkey By-Products Manufacturers," but this is Lane's meal. After the glowing reviews that have already greeted opening night -- we saw a preview performance -- the price of turkey is soaring on 47th Street at the Ethel Barrymore.

The Homecoming (***1/4) -- Aside from his famed elusiveness and nebulosity, there are other substantial reasons not to love Harold Pinter and his distinctive brand of absurdism. Stage director Daniel Sullivan and leading man Ian McShane tackle them boldly, providing us with ample reason to give Pinter a second chance.

McShane has a knack for making repellent, despicable characters into delights, a gift that Sullivan induces the other depraved, debauched characters onstage to share. Makes sense. Max, the aging lowlife Londoner portrayed by McShane, is the father of nearly all the evil and corruption we see.

Some trio of sons Max has fathered! In order of appearance, there's Lenny (Ral Esparza), an embittered, street-smart underachiever. The dimwitted Joey (Gareth Saxe) is another gem, driven by appetite with only a limited aptitude for boxing. Another predator -- and another loser.

In walks the prodigal, Teddy (James Frain), and his wife Ruth (Eve Best). After a protracted absence, Teddy returns in triumph, a doctor of philosophy and the father of three. He is philosophically far above Joey's base carnality and Lenny's cunning greed, and his Ruth -- now there is one cool, seductive piece of work.

Like Seafarer, we seem to be watching a poker game as the final act unfolds, with each family member putting progressively more calculated dominion on the table. The ingenuity of Pinter's denouement is that, in the end, everybody wins, leaving us with much to ponder on the subjects of gender roles and sexual politics. What a family!

Odd man out here is Max's respectable, humdrum brother, Sam, brilliantly portrayed by Michael McKean (Lenny from Laverne & Shirley lives!). It is his fate that underscores Pinter's mordant point: the real losers in life are those who don't grab for what they want.

Rock 'n' Roll (***) -- In a leaner year, I'd probably rate Tom Stoppard's semi-autobiographical meditation on pop culture and politics a half star higher. After all, his exploration of rock's role in bringing democracy to the Czech Republic is more engaging than Michael Frayn's docudrama, Democracy, chronicling the tribulations of Willy Brandt. Although Stoppard doesn't nearly whip up the intellectual excitement generated by Copenhagen, his tactics hold out the promise for a broader human response.


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