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The Theatregoer Adaptation-Next at the Theatre Co. of Boston

By Frank Rich

A FEW YEARS AGO, when I was just about out of high school, a lot of girls I knew were ooh-ing and ah-ing about a song called "Born Free". It was a wretched little song, from a wretched little movie of the same title, and, when I finally graduated, my biggest thrill was the realization that I would probably never be forced to listen to it again.

I was mistaken. Last week, while quietly minding my own business during the opening night performance of Adaptation-Next at the Theatre Company of Boston, that pseudo-anthem-like tune and the slushy lyrics that go with it once again reached my ears. But the circumstances were quite different this time around-and since they were, "Born Free" no longer seemed annoying but terribly crazy and wonderful and pathetic and funny instead.

Yes, for once, "Born Free" seemed totally at home. This was because Mike Nichols former partner. Elaine May, decided to put it smack in the middle of her play dedicated to the proposition that everyone on God's earth is born trapped .

This play, the first of two one-acters on the same bill, takes the title of Adaptation . It is the story of a man, a "contestant," who walks through a life that closely resembles a television quiz show. The object of the game is to "figure out the rules and overcome the odds"-and win by landing safely on a "security square."

Well, this contestant's game consists of a lot of adaptation and no security, a lot of the so-called American Dream and no life. It is somehow very funny, as the contestant scurries from square to square, from the New Left to the fraternity house, from a shrink to an understanding Jewish girl who tells him to read The Prophet "without intellectualizing." All this is also, as you might guess, pretty sad.

Miss May writes to devastate, and, much to my delight, she comes down hard on everything, including white liberals, the New York Post , the University of Miami, SNCC, the CIA, Dore Schary and Conrad Hilton. The play is not outwardly disturbing, and yet one cannot help but cringe a bit with every joke. The authoress holds out no hope for anyone, and I can't imagine how anyone could prove her wrong.

Terrence McNally, another funny playwright, is the author of the second half of the bill. Next . His brief opus is the story of a 48-year-old man who is mistakenly called in for an induction physical. The physical, conducted by an inhuman army nurse, reduces the man, an already sad individual, to a totally demoralized lump of soggy flesh.

WHILE AT FIRST the man tries to explain to his captor that he is the victim of a fouled-up computer, soon he starts to go along with the routine-only to be told that he is 4-F anyway.

"I have given everything and I want something back," he yells after the nurse, once she has finished with him. "My country owes me something, because I have nothing," he screams. But he is yelling into nothingness, and there is nothing for him to do but either pull himself together or howl into the night.

Both of these one-acters have been produced with care and intelligence. Wayne Carson has restaged Elaine May's original off-Broadway direction of the plays, and the sets are duplicates of those of the enormously successful New York production.

The cast is fine, if not perfect. Phillip R- Allen and William Young are likable victims in the respective plays, and suporting players Bill Storey. Don Billett, Stockard Channing and Joan Tolentino go at them with shrewd, comic force.

How much you like Adaptation-Next will depend on how desperate you are and how willing you are to laugh at your desperation. If you believe in things like "Born Free" or "working within the system." I suggest you stay home and watch Walter Cronkite instead.

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