Slow Dance on the Killing Ground

At the Experimental Theatre this weekend

William Hanley's Slow Dance on the Killing Ground is kind of a New York version of Sartre's No Exit. Three people with morbid backgrounds use each other for cathartic exposition of their life stories.

A Negro hood with a 187 IQ--who quotes literature with a Paladin-like facility--has killed his prostitute mother with an ice pick. He hides in the candy store of a German who deserted his Jewish wife and son to fight for the Communists against the Nazis; but who ended up running carloads of Jews to concentration camps, and now pretends to have been a Jewish concentration camp victim. Finally, Rosie, and NYU coed who wants to be a writer, drops in on her way to the abortionist.

Stephen Curwood as Randall, the self-educated hood, gave the most inconsistent performance. The biggest problem was switching from the smooth-tongued cool guy to the thoughtful sage, as Randall's schizophrenic character unfolded. Curwood started out with a high, screechy slum accent, which contrasted nicely with the low resonant, unaccented voice of his philosophizing self, but which was irritating to the audience.

This is not to detract, however, from the power of Curwood's later performance. His blood-curdling reliving of the murder of his mother--given in Dos Passos-like blank verse--was delivered with such intense personal involvement that the description of the knifing itself was almost orgasmic.

Stephen Morris, as Glas, had less faults and less exciting moments. His great confession never went beyond a forte; but since he had kept to a pianissimo throughout the rest of the play, the contrast was still impressive. And he returned nicely to a low-keyed intensity for his most dramatic lines.

Jamie Rosenthal, as Rosie, was consistently entertaining. I was especially impressed by her facial expression during Randall's mock trial of Glas. While the other two were going through a grotesque ritual, I found myself watching Rosie's bewilderment.

Director Daniel Freudenberger staged the show well, but he frequently made too much out of insignificant event. When Glas showed Randall his gun for the first time, for example, it was in a melodramatic manner that led you to unfulfilled expectations of action.

These shortcomings did not detract too much from what was generally a good performance, however. And it is good to see the Ex, like the mainstage, running major-league plays; instead of relying--as they both used to--on platys dug out of an obscurity in which they should have remained.