Celebrating a mini-cultural center; With Love and Laughter. ''An Evening of varied theater by 22 authors,'' starring Celeste Holm, Wesley Addy, Gordon Connell. Directed by Peter Bennett.
New York — The mood was festive along Theater Row. That section of West 42nd Street once blighted by porn parlors, burlesque houses, and sleazy tenements was celebrating its reclamation into a mini-cultural center with eight playhouses, eight restaurants, and other amenities.
The title of the celebratory opening attraction was apt: ''With Love and Laughter,'' starring husband and wife Wesley Addy and Celeste Holm and all-around utility man and piano accompanist Gordon Connell. The new show at the Harold Clurman Theater offers a little bit of this and a little bit of that - sketches, songs, Shavian interjections, dramatic and epistolary excerpts.
The smorgasbord is served up with flourish and finesse by a trio of classy professionals. If the whole makes a pleasanter impression than some of its parts , the reason may simply be the choice of an item here and there. But the pleasures of the evening predominate. The entertainment honors its title with self-evident love and lively laughter.
The collaboration staged by Peter Bennett seeks to answer the question: ''Has the basic relationship between man and woman changed?'' Rather than attempting a categorical reply, ''With Love and Laughter'' tackles the query piecemeal and for the most part lightheartedly.
In a Max Shulman short story an arrogant college egghead (Mr. Addy) gives a dumb blonde (Miss Holm) lessons in logic, and learns too late how aptly she has grasped them. In an earlier course of instruction (excerpted from Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse's ''Life with Father''), Father (Mr. Addy) ''teaches'' Vinnie (Miss Holm) about household finance - and young Clarence (Mr. Connell) about women. Mr. Addy and Miss Holm perform a verbal pas de deux in an Alfred Sutro vignette of the Victorian mating game; finally they exchange letters and endearments as John and Abigail Adams, with musical accompaniment composed by Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and America's first composer.
The performance throughout is poised, crisply comic, and responsively stylish. The well-tempered mood of the evening is hospitably informal, but the professionalism is precise. Mr. Connell brings an improvisational cabaret style to the proceedings. He has a hilarious bit as a callow collegian whose idea of bliss is owning a raccoon coat. His piano variations on ''You're the Cream in My Coffee'' are full of fire and fustian, with overtones of Wagner, Mendelssohn, and Khatchaturian, to name a few.
The uncredited costuming for the production features basic black with embellishments, accessories, and assorted wiggery. The setting, with atmospheric projections, is by Harry Feiner, with lighting by Todd Elmer.
Last week's opening of ''With Love and Laughter'' highlighted the inauguration of a month-long Theater Row Festival, which will continue through June 27. A variety of programs at the eight little playhouses will include drama , dance, chamber music, opera, and children's theater. On June 13 the row will be closed to traffic for a ''street celebration'' featuring theatrical performances, wandering musicians, gymnasts, international food, and other delights.