Stagecraft to the rescue - almost; Three Acts of Recognition. Play by Botho Strauss. Directed by Richard Foreman.
New York — There are directors who interpret a text, bowing to the intentions of the playwright. And there are directors who transform a text, making it a vehicle for their own ideas of style.
And there are times when a text and a director suit each other so well that it's hard to tell where the playwright's vision leaves off and stagecraft begins. That's the case with ''Three Acts of Recognition,'' now running at the Public/Anspacher Theater. In directing it, Richard Foreman has reached into his usual bag of tricks, punctuating the action with splendid eccentricities of sound, light, and motion. And everything fits. It's as if the playwright, West German author Botho Strauss, had just this sort of thing in mind all along.
Unfortunately, though, the kinship between Strauss and Foreman extends to weaknesses as well as strengths. In his own scripts, such as the recent ''Penguin Touquet'' and ''Strong Medicine,'' Foreman leans toward dreamlike situations blasted with nightmare humor, all teetering on the brink of terminal angst. Strauss leans the same way in ''Three Acts of Recognition'' - about personality types confronting one another in an art gallery - though his approach is more sedate and long-winded, and more concerned with realism.
As in a Foreman original, the characters are uniformly confused, confined, and confounded. Or at least they feel that way, and it's hard to blame them, given the various traps the playwright has concocted for them, from bad marriages to bad health. What these poor people do is talk about their troubles, for some 31/2 hours, while Foreman diverts us with pungent bursts of noise, ingenious lighting effects, and unex-pected tableaux.
Alas, it doesn't add up to much. ''Three Acts of Recognition'' is as tiresome as it is ambitious, better equipped with words than with ideas.
It's fun to see Foreman stage a work without upstaging everything in sight, for a change. And it's invigorating to watch the large and capable cast, which includes a number of solidly established actors - Richard Jordan, William Atherton, Frank Maraden - along with performers often associated with the New York avant-garde, such as Bill Raymond, Joan MacIntosh, and Foreman's perennial heroine, Kate Manheim. But it's sad to see so much talent work so hard to so little lasting effect. One hopes Foreman will scurry back to his own scripts again, and that Strauss will learn to lighten up a little.