Shrewd Stage Cartoon From Jules Feiffer

THEATER: REVIEW

ELLIOT LOVES Comedy by Jules Feiffer. Directed by Mike Nichols. At the Promenade Theatre. `ELLIOT LOVES'' receives the virtuoso performance it demands from Anthony Heald as the smitten hero of the title and Christine Baranski as his unpredictable girlfriend. Previously married Elliot is a cautious, serious-minded pollster with assorted hangups. Joanna, the object of his ambivalent affections, is a divorced single parent with a career in Chicago real estate.

The new Jules Feiffer theatrical cartoon opens with a lengthy monologue in which Elliot analyzes male-female relationships and his feelings for Joanna from the standpoint of a man raised on James Thurber. He notes with disapproval her penchant for clich'es like ``piece of cake,'' ``Don't get upset,'' and ``Don't get carried away.''

The centerpiece of the action is a dinner party arranged for Joanna to meet Elliot's friends. She panics at the elevator and leaves him to attend the dinner alone. When she turns up much later in the evening, her candor and flippancy enchant the raffish male company and infuriate Elliot.

The aftermath is a late-night phone conversation of recriminations, interruptions, tears, and remorse in which Mr. Feiffer's odd couple come haltingly to terms with their emotions and presumably each other.

The beguiling Miss Baranski and the ever resourceful Mr. Heald climax their brilliant performances amid the crescendos and diminuendos of the Feiffer coda.

The Promenade Theatre production is top-drawer all the way, beginning with Mike Nichols' shrewdly comic direction of a cast that includes Oliver Platt, David Pierce, Bruce A. Young, and Latanya Richardson.

Tony Walton provides the affluent milieu of urban Chicago settings, with costumes by Ann Roth and lighting by Paul Gallo. Just the same, one leaves the theater with a sense of sympathy for the players who must spend night after night after night with Mr. Feiffer's self-absorbed worldlings.

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