A North Carolina homecoming does N.Y.'s Circle Rep proud

Threads. Play by Jonathan Bolt. Directed by B. Rodney Marriott. With the opening of its 13th season, the Circle Repertory Company once again displays its flair for attracting and nurturing dramas that touch the heart. Like some of the company's earlier successes, Jonathan Bolt's ''Threads'' employs a regional milieu for its thoughtful and sensitive probing of the human condition.

''Threads'' concerns the homecoming of Clyde Owens (Jonathan Hogan) to Alamance Springs, a small mill town in the Piedmont Hills of North Carolina. The time is 1965. Clyde has made a very small splash as a Hollywood TV actor and has changed his first name to ''Claude.'' Self-consciously aware of the modesty of his achievements and the uncertainty of his future career, Clyde-Claude grapples with the role of hometown celebrity. To pay his way, he takes a temporary job at the local mill where he once worked.

Mr. Bolt's primary concern is the tension centered around the mutual hostility between Clyde and his taciturn father. A skilled mill mechanic, the hulking Abner Owens (William Andrews) is concerned only with the health of his ailing wife, Sally (Jo Henderson). Sally has bought the house they are living in and is bent on its renovation and refurbishing. Although a brief estrangement between husband and wife has been patched up, a violent incident from Clyde's boyhood casts a shadow over the family. Mr. Bolt counterpoints the uneasy state of things present with gradual revelations about the unresolved past.

One of the convictions the life-affirming Sally instilled in Clyde was that ''inside everybody there is something rare and precious.'' Later, in an especially moving scene, she tells her son about the shy mountain boy she married and confesses: ''I never tried to help him see the things I see.'' With Sally's passing, father and son face up to the task of unsnarling the tangled threads of their relationship by confronting the long-ago episode that has estranged Clyde and embittered Abner.

''Threads'' also involves the relationship between the venturesome Clyde and his placid younger brother, David (Ben Siegler), who delivers the play's prologue and epilogue. Meanwhile, its emotional ebb and flow, unfolding relationships, and mixture of comic and serious elements are admirably served in the performance staged by B. Rodney Marriott. The situations may be familiar, for ''Threads'' is a variation on a familiar theme. They nevertheless grip the spectator with their intensity and honesty.

The players never lose touch with the authentic human behavior of the characters. Besides the splendid performances in principal roles, the Owenses' friends and neighbors are set forth with a nice feeling for the locale by Nancy Killmer, Roger Chapman, David Morse, and Patricia Wettig.

The David Potts exterior-interior layout of the Owens premises is a tribute to Sally's redecoration and a feat of scenic ingenuity. Joan E. Weiss has designed some appropriate costumes, and Craig Miller's lighting casts its own glow over the play's varied moods and shifting hours. ''Threads'' marks another accomplishment of which the Circle Rep can be justly proud.

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