Dense and potent new drama from the Negro Ensemble Company; Coming Attractions

Comedy by Ted Tally with songs by Jack Feldman and Bruce Sussman. Directed by Andre Ernotte. Playwrights Horizons has opened its 10th season with a wickedly impudent satire on vulgar commercialism and media madness. Topical satire runs rampant in the antic extravaganza about a pistol-packing punk catapulted to notoriety and fortune by the machinations of a sleazy agent wise in the ways of spinoffs, ripoffs, and hype. As Manny Alter (Larry Block) observes, small crimes serve time, big crimes sell books.

Manny first encounters Lonnie Wayne Burke (Griffin Dunne) as Lonnie terrorize several cowering hostages in a supermarket caper. Allaying Lonnie's suspicions by agreeing to tape record the young hood's demands. Manny explains that hostage taking has become second-rate stuff. In order to win scare headlines and TV network coverage -- with book deals and movie rights to follow -- Lonnie needs a gimmick. Under Manny's coaching, Lonnie becomes the "Halloween Killer," a committed slayer with the kind of price on his head that turns mea-books into mega-bucks.

To borrow an old gag, Mr. Tally leaves no stone unturned in tracing Lonnie's crazy career as a media celebrity. Targets of opportunity range from vapid TV interviews to a Miss America beauty contest replete with oleaginous baritone. Some of the sketches, such as Lonnie's guest shot with a video emcee, come so close to the real thing that they scarcely seem like parody at all.

The author and his brilliant collaborators don't stop at merely mocking the tomfooleries of the times. Lonnie's troubles begin when he shocks the horrified Manny by demanding to make amends for his crimes. The death row finale, with a chorus line accompaniment, is a mordant commentary on callous sensationalism in a cynical age.

"Coming Attractions" is sparked by a succession of sharply comic performances. Besides the rich stereotype portrayals by Messrs. Block and Dunne, the present attractions include such debt impersonations as Christine Baranski's vacuous beauty queen, June Gable, in assorted guises, Jonathan Hadary's glitzy Sammy Dazzle, and Dan Strickler and Allan Wasserman's turn as a PLO terrorist and his interpreter explaining that "terrorism is show biz like everything else."

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