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Savage in Limbo 


The "savage" of the title is a 32-year-old virgin. Limbo is the Bronx, or at least a bar so rundown that its ferns are dead -- yet still hopefully watered regularly. The metaphors come thick and fast in the Caravan Theatre of Pittsburgh's inaugural production, Savage in Limbo: A Concert Play.

No, this isn't a musical. "Concert" is another metaphor, for the way its five characters blend, separate, counterpoint and solo in rippling monologues that pile pathos onto comedy, nicely paced by director John Gresh. There isn't much point to the "plot" -- but that's beside the point in John Patrick Shanley's 1984 character study of five 32-year-olds, at least four of whom are previously acquainted from their Catholic grade-school days. (Ahem: The later-multi-awarded Shanley is also a Bronx-born Catholic-school grad who was 32 at the time.) But while the play is nearly as old as its characters, it hasn't dated any more than has its title character.

We have here five very disparate (and often desperate) people. They make plans; they make alliances. Their plans and alliances fall apart and are remade by the play's end, but there's no promise that they will survive, let alone bear fruit. The characters all struggle with defining reality, or themselves, or both, plus loneliness and the lost promises of childhood. We're just along for the bumpy, and often funny, ride.

The bartender, Murk -- a wonderfully straight-faced Gregory Johnstone -- builds his own reality and enforces his own rules of said reality. As the barfly April, a waifish Amy Marsalis mixes vulnerability and tragedy with comic insanity. Bridget Carey, rather too attractive for the self-described "ugly woman" title character, brings dimensionality to a stereotype. Dana Hardy is deliciously trashy as the vamp/tramp who has to bring out some intellectual artillery to hold on to her man, a wound-up budget John Travolta (think Saturday Night Fever, but with a gold shirt), energetically played by Tony Bingham.

The play is often as wobbly as the N'Yawk accents, with stretches of pretentiousness and a heavy dose of youthful angst. But it's fast and it's short, with a few surprises to jolt the audience. Most of the laughs that come are not comfortable ones, but there are plenty of them.

Savage in Limbo continues through July 29. Caravan Theatre of Pittsburgh at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, 542 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412-288-0358

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