'The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs'

Another subject becoming increasingly familiar on film or stage these days is the attempt to get ahead in the world by disguising oneself as a member of the opposite sex. ''Tootsie'' and ''Yentl'' are prime examples.

''The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs'' provides a bleak, rather than farcical, look at a 19th-century woman who calls herself, ''Neither man nor woman, just a perhapser.''

Albert, born illegitimate and poor, finds success as a waiter at a Dublin hotel. However, she is able to let her hair down only once - in a brief encounter with another woman in disguise who has adjusted to that odd life by marrying for companionship and social acceptance. Albert's attempt to set up a similar arrangement with a maid ends badly. She dies wealthy and alone.

David Zoffoli directs sensitively (although the unmasking scene was a tad titillating), but one murky point produces a lot of confusion: Albert laments being friendless, but there is a young maid who seems very close to her. Is she alter ego? It's not clear.

Judy Braha's mousy, constricted Albert is almost convincing as a man; Linda Bisesti, as the other perhapser, is less so. The rest of the cast is fine; Ingrid Sonnichsen has a nice gossipy scene as Mrs. Baker and Madeleine Homan does well as the scheming maid.

Originally a short story by Irish painter and essayist George Moore, ''Albert Nobbs'' was dramatized in 1977 by French playwright Simone Benmussa. The play suffers from being too close to short-story form - heavy on background and narration, light on action. Like its main character, the play is a perhapser. It's not pronouncedly feminist, although the villain is clearly Victorian society, which doomed unmarried, illegitimate women to lives of dead-end drudgery. Nor is it a lesbian tract, although it flirts with the idea of being one. And finally, although one sympathizes with Albert's predicament, it's just not presented compellingly enough. (At the New Ehrlich Theatre through April 21 .)

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