The American tourist is still good for laughs

The Good Parts Comedy by Israel Horovitz. Directed by Barnet Kellman.

If anyone can get some previously unsuspected laughs out of the great American tourist, it is probably Israel Horovitz. In ''The Good Parts,'' at the Astor Place Theater, Mr. Horovitz is far from scorning the good old reliable comic material of phrase book patter, innocents abroad, native customs, uncomprehending waiters, and similar items from the humorist's kit. But the dramatist also adds at least one new wrinkle:

Brian (Sonny) Levine (Tony Roberts) has come to Athens to realize an ambition cherished since high-school days. Cast then as Electra in the Euripides tragedy, Brian never delivered the character's final lines and therefore failed to complete his class project. Now he is determined to play out the whole drama on the summit of the Acropolis. Brian and his long-suffering friend, Eugene Jacoby (Stephen Strimpell), have deserted their respective wives and families to pay this debt to Greek tragedy. Thereby hangs the plot of the Horovitz comedy.

''The Good Parts'' unfolds in a series of sketchlike scenes introduced with declamatory zeal by two players (Robert DeFrank and Nancy Mette), representing the Men and Women of Greece. Just as Brian is about to achieve his classic moment of glory, he and Eugene are surprised by an Acropolis guard whom they apparently push to his death. But as the plot careens ahead, it is the errant tourists' unexpectedly arriving wives whom the authorities suspect of the crime.

As he has demonstrated in earlier plays, Mr. Horovitz is fascinated by the uses and misuses of language, the possibilities and impossibilities of communication. ''The Good Parts'' is as much a game of words as it is a fantastic farce. The author has a particular fondness for characters like the wife (Cecilia Hart) who always answers her own questions. This kind of nonsense makes for useful skit material or for TV situation comedy. With some judicious bleeping, ''The Good Parts'' would fit the requirements of the small screen. The trouble with the method as applied to stage entertainment is that the characters seem more like vehicles to be maneuvered than vessels to be filled.

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