It can't possibly be their fault, so don't blame the stars. In fact, give Lucie Arnaz and Elizabeth Ashley two points for doing everything humanly possible to try to make Ann & Debbie work. All their glamour, presence, acting and overacting, terrific timing, gorgeous legs, and distinctive voices, together with -- for all I know -- wishing, hoping, and praying still can't make Lionel Goldstein's mindless little skit pass for a real play. Harmless schlock just ain't what it used to be. Ann and Debbie are an odd couple who for years shared the love of Ann's husband, Jack, now deceased. On the eve of the reading of Jack's will, they meet at a hotel in Manhattan for a bout of that favorite Broadway pastime: truth-telling. They get drunk and drunker, they kvetch about the room, they go through their lives, and then -- spoiler alert! -- they realize that sly old Jack probably had a third woman on the side somewhere. Maybe she'll be mentioned in the will. As Ann and Debbie head off to Jack's office to go through his papers and figure out who the floozy is, the curtain comes down. That's it. Never mind that one could see the single plot twist coming, that the friendship between the two women is not believable for a second, that the inelegant script is peppered with stuff like "between Jack and I,'' or that the whole affair just slogs along like a bad setup for a second act that never comes. The patience of poor, fabulous Ashley, who starred on Broadway in Neil Simon's landmark comedy Barefoot in the Park, must have been sorely tried by Ann & Debbie. Even Arnaz deserves better. Ann & Debbie is a bad, one-joke sitcom. (Through April 10 at Coconut Grove Playhouse, 3500 Main Hwy., Miami. 305-442-4000.)
The Diaries is a mess of a play that begins with the suggestion of something much better. A young American scholar is about to give a talk on campus on the subject of his Nazi grandfather's diaries, a controversial document that may be either a monster's apology or the candid testimony of a moralist caught in unspeakably immoral times. This is promising stuff. And a great play might be written on these themes. John Strand's silly affair, directed by Rafael de Acha, is not it. (Through April 3 at the New Theatre, 4120 Laguna St., Coral Gables, 305-443-5909.)
Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan, in a new production by Pompano Beach-based Curtain Call, pokes fun at the 19th-century social high life Wilde moved in and despised. Curtain Call, however, takes the play too seriously and misses opportunities to exploit the play's sarcasm, especially in the first act. There are too many straight men lacking in the skill of setting up funny lines for Wilde's real targets -- the stuffed shirts and snooty femmes. The play opens as Lady Windermere (Carly Lombardi) prepares for her birthday ball, arranging flowers in a drab Victorian manner. The set, designed by Jack Coffelt, is a lovely and light Victorian parlor, with abundant greenery, wing-backed chairs, and a pull cord that summons Parker the butler (Rusty Ellison) with magical quickness. The ball is the center of the Wildean farce, with all of the requisite confusion about who's who and what everybody's up to. Wilde's plays have a dazzling array of stock characters -- the fop (Lord Darlington, played with just the right amount of silliness by Mark J. Phillips), the social outcast (Mrs. Erlynne, played by Kris Coffelt), and the blustery old fool (Lord Augustus, played by Charlie Redler). In the world of Wilde, these are always the best roles, and here, they are well-played. The comedy gets better in the second act, when many of Wilde's most popular aphorisms are unveiled, though not even the cheesy music piped in during the climax of one crucial scene can squeeze a laugh out. (April 1 and 2 at the Broward County Main Library, 100 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale; April 29 and 30 at Sunrise Civic Center Theatre, 10610 W. Oakland Park Blvd., Sunrise; and May 13-22 at Willow Theatre, 300 S. Military Trl., Boca Raton. Call 954-784-0768.)
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