Stage fare: Irwin's merriment and Sutton's satire

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The Regard of Flight and The Clown Bagatelles Written by Bill Irwin in collaboration with the Company and Nancy Harrington. Original music by Doug Skinner. Let's not mince words. Bill Irwin is a great performing artist in that most difficult of all performing fields: the art of comedy. Mr. Irwin and friends have returned to New York at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in ``The Regard of Flight'' and ``The Clown Bagatelles.'' As he did in his 1982 local appearance, Mr. Irwin proves a master of merriment - miming, dancing, and fooling his way through some 90 minutes of almost perpetual commotion.

Zealously assisted by versatile music man and sometime ventriloquist Doug Skinner while relentlessly pursued by artsy nemesis M.C. O'Connor, Mr. Irwin celebrates the ancient and honorable traditions of buffoonery in a throughly modern manner. Rough-and-tumble acrobatics, sight gags, triple takes, pratfalls, and other nonsense multiply within a recurrent chase as O'Connor stalks Irwin onstage, offstage, and into the auditorium. Props range from a magic, bottomless trunk to an opportune trampoline.

Playgoers who relished the Irwin-anities at the more intimate American Place Theatre may wonder how he adapts to the commodious dimensions of the Beaumont. Not to worry. The mad dashes up the steep aisles of the Lincoln Center premises merely add to the suspenseful hilarity. While some of the script's references to latter-day theatrical fads may have dated slightly over the years, they are still good for laughs and chuckles.

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In ``The Clown Bagatelles,'' which concludes the performance, Bill Irwin does a series of turns which extend from a possessed rock-and-roller to a poignant stringed marionette. As they used to proclaim in more innocent times, the Irwin show is fun for the whole family. Designing honors go to Douglas O. Stein (set) and Robert W. Rosentel (lighting). Irwin and company continue cavorting at the Beaumont through April 26. As It Is in Heaven Play by Joe Sutton. Directed by Mark Lutwak.

``As It Is in Heaven,'' at the New York Theatre Workshop, is a sharp, raw, sometimes chilling satire of life among the ideologues of the far right, where fundamentalism and political conservatism join forces. Assembled in the bunker-like guest lodge of a Rocky Mountain estate is the upper-echelon team of writers assigned to prepare the kickoff speech their chosen candidate is to deliver at an evangelical convention. Led by edgy communications director Dick Wisner (Paul Collins), the group includes up-and-coming Liz Barfield (Joanne Camp), in-house devil's advocate and prize-winning journalist Mitch Pikus (Kevin Spacey), and brightly earnest Lee Enfield (Nealla Spano), recruited from the newest generation of new conservatives.

Their verbal skirmishes are interrupted by the arrival of Jack Bross (Alan Scarfe), owner of the estate and the Mister Bigbucks of the campaign. Bross has been previously described as ``an ideologue who makes Pat Buchanan look like Timothy Leary.'' Excluded from the candidate's inner circle, Bross is determined to exert all the clout his money and hospitality can buy.

In order to assure clear sailing at the convention, the mountaintop sessions must produce a tactic that will dissuade evangelical ``Rat'' Patterson (Stephen Harrison) from throwing his hat into the ring and thus attracting the fundamentalist vote. How the deal is wangled activates the tensions of the drama.

``As It Is in Heaven'' is the kind of savvy topical satire that misses no target of opportunity as it seeks simultaneously to delight and annoy partisans - depending on their point of view.

In a bravura performance as Bross, Mr. Scarfe epitomizes the persona of a strident vulgarian with a foul tongue and a nimble mind. Mr. Spacey's embattled Mitch matches him round for round. The other members of the generally adept cast, directed by Mark Lutwak, meet the demands of the writing.

Richard Hoover's pseudo-rustic lounge provides the central setting for the play's sanitized equivalent of the smoke-filled rooms of yore.

Walker Hicklin designed the costumes, John Gisondi lighted the production, and Wayne Horvitz composed the incidental music. (Through April 25.)

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