Having scored briefly and brightly with William Hamilton's "Save Grand Central," the Phoenix Theater drifts back into the doldrums with "Second Avenue Rag." Playwright Allan Knee has attempted to evoke the folk ambiance and quality of life of immigrant New York Jews near the beginning of the century. His tour guide through the ethnic Lower East Side in Shlomo, a garrulous, bungling dreamer who confides his thoughts and feelings is unaswered letters to the Jewish Daily Forward.
Mr. Knee traces Shlomo's faltering progress through domestic scenes with his patient father, the jangle-wrangel of the ladies' tailor shop were Shlomo unmakes more dresses than he makes, and his disastrous fling as an actor when Bertha Kalish (Cynthia Harris), a reigning star of the Yiddish theater, chooses him for a brief dalliance. These and other adventures unfold in a series of sketchy scenes, most of which go on too long and signify too little.
Richard Bey (Shlomo) and his fellow actors strive valiantly to make the genre groups portrait appealing and humorously attractive. But there is no disguising the fact that a tiresome hero makes for a tedious play. Gerald Freeman directed. The murkily lighted settings are by Marjorie Kellogg, the period costumes by Jeanne Button.
"Second Avenue Rag" concludes the current five-play Phoenix season at the Marymount Manhattan Theater. The good news is the possibility that "Save Grand Central" may reopen at another playhouse for an extended run. Let us hope.