Kyle, a likable young man with a slightly geeky aura, sits alone at the edge of the stage and talks disarmingly to the audience. He is an astronomer, so he talks about the stars. He loves poetry too. Most of all, though, he loves Zoe: his first high school crush, the love of his life, the stuff of dreams, now a dream lost forever. What might have made Toni Press-Coffman's Touch a storybook romance of a bookish boy and a wild, kooky girl who brought him out of his shell has turned to absurd tragedy. One night, Zoe went out to the store and never came back. Kyle's monologue is heartbreaking, even before we learn that Zoe in fact was raped and murdered. It is an extended aria of grief at the heart of this tender and fascinating play, now at the New Theatre in a production directed by Gail Garrisan. If the rest of the play does not quite measure up to the promise of its daring first half-hour, it remains a lovely pastiche of raw feelings and of finding solace in the arms of strangers. Touch really touches the heart, particularly when Bruce Linser as Kyle is alone on stage, but in the end, it's just a short story, a one-acter stretched beyond its possibilities. It is not that the story is not worth telling; it is, rather, that it is told best in the opening scene and that the supporting characters after that are merely accessories to Kyle's grief. The fragile tenderness of a prostitute's touch rings true, but its resonance is dampened by clichés. It is also frankly overkill to depend both on Keats' poetry and on the astronomer's universe to deliver all the metaphorical baggage Press-Coffman stuffs into Kyle's tragedy: from supernovas and black holes to grief and comfort in black hookers, with a pit stop to remember that truth is beauty and beauty truth -- any imagery would do, but clumsily juxtaposing all of them plus the second law of thermodynamics makes for dramatic clutter. (Through May 15 at the New Theatre, 4120 Laguna St., Coral Gables. Call 305-443-5909)

Now Showing

Comedy of Errors -- This uneven take on Shakespeare's early comedy is an odd mingling of the hapless and the intriguing. The old tale of mistaken identity among two sets of identical twins is given a film noir look from the 1940s, a choice that has some visual appeal but little point. Some scenes and performances are woefully inadequate -- much of the funny stuff isn't. Others, particularly the women's scenes, illuminate the text. (Through May 1 at the Hollywood Boulevard Theatre at the Hollywood Playhouse, 2640 Washington St., Hollywood. Call 954-922-0404.)

Jekyll & Hyde is all about the duality of man and the battle that rages within us all between good and evil. So, perhaps fittingly, the musical now at the Stage Door Theatre offers radically contrasting moments. There are, that is, strokes of theatrical excellence and passages of grindingly bad dialogue that had this reviewer glancing at his watch. There are a pair of stand-out performances by E.L. Losada in the schizophrenic role Dr. Jekyll/Edward Hyde and Wendy Wood as the hooker with a heart of gold, Lucy Harris. Losada writhes, hunches, strains, and grimaces, magically turning lab-rat nerd Jekyll into menacing brute Hyde. Wood is equally impressive as Lucy, immediately stealing the show in the high-energy crowd pleaser Bring on the Men, the show's most engaging song-and-dance piece. Sadly, though, Jekyll turns tediously introspective. (Through May 8 at the Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Rd., Coral Springs. Call 954-344-7765.)

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Octavio Roca