Funny, rueful look at today's permissive era

Key Exchange Comedy by Kevin Wade. Starring Brooke Adams, Mark Blum, Ben Masters. Directed by Barnet Kellman. Kevin Wade takes a humorous yet rueful look at the latest decade of the permissive era in the hit comedy currently tenanting Off Broadway's Orpheum Theater.

"Key Exchange" concerns three 30-ish bicyclists who come together in the course of their Sunday rides in Central Park. Through these brief encounters, Mr. Wade examines the mores and morals (or lack of them) among a New York City peer group equally concerned with careerism, self-gratification, and what are now known as interpersonal relationships. The challenge is to make the relationships "meaningful."

Michael (Mark Blum), the first biker to ride onto Terry Ariano's economically abstract set, is an ad man newly married to the dancer with whom he has been living. (She remains an offstage character.) Michael is joined by Philip (Ben Masters), who writes detective thrillers and whose affair with Lisa (Brooke Adams) is facing difficulties. Lisa tells Philip that her accounts of casual infidelities were fictions -- lies to make him feel more comfortable. But the fancy-free philanderer resists even the idea of exchanging apartment keys with this girl who obviously loves him.

A shrewd and unsentimental observer of his chosen milieu, Mr. Wade understands the attitudes of the bicycling threesome and the world they represent. But he views tolerantly rather than censoriously the products of a "sexual revolution" which has rejected the supports of marriage in order to avoid its restraints.

Though its dilemmas are used for comedy, there is no mistaking the poignancy of the ultimate malaise experienced by these attractive yet morally footloose young people. This is especially true of the suddenly bewildered Philip. It is not just a case of passion spent and the world well lost, but of precious possibilities frittered away because of lack of genuine affection, caring, and -- that awesome word -- commitment.

Mr. Wade's dialogue catches the tone and patois of its time and genre. The conversations include some of the obscenities which have become a standard feature of the verbal excesses that pollute expression. How about an environmenttal protection agency for language?

Under Barnet Kellman's direction. "Key Exchange" is performed with spirited wit and a genuine sense of the predicaments of this casual trio. Miss Adams is particularly touching as Lisa wistfully recalls "the great expectations -- the kind we were brought up on." Mr. Blum's Michael strives to cope with his bride's sudden, though brief, desertion. And Mr. Masters presents a prize latter-day example of those Cole Porter gentlemen who "don't like love -- they just like to kick it around."

"Key Exchange" leaves a person wondering who's going to pick up the pieces after the sexual revolution .

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