Bitter, funny 'Skirmishes'; 'Taking Steps'; urban Dinosaur; 'Barber; 'Taking Steps'

In ''Taking Steps,'' by Alan Ayckbourn, (Lyric Stage through May 27), women try to leave their men, farewell notes get misread as suicide notes, the ghost of a prostitute supposedly wanders the rooms, and people trot up and down two flights of ''stairs'' that are painted on the flat stage.

It's a daft, wickedly funny play that derives much of its humor from its characters ending up, innocently enough, in bed together.

Underlying all this zaniness is a more serious message. The women who are trying to leave their respective men are doing so for good reason: The men have created a pipe dream of adoration about them and won't see them as they are. This message of not allowing someone to make you fit their dreams makes the play more than a lightheaded farce.

Would that the actors were up to it. The energy and pacing are there, and two of the actors are first rate. Gary Kirby plays the landlord with refreshing naturalness and a hilarious high-pitched squeal of a laugh. James Walker does well as a solicitor who juts his head out like a myopic turtle.

But the leads - Sheila Ferrini, Jeremiah Kissel, and Ron Ritchell - are too broad for the tiny Lyric. They make the common mistake of American actors in British plays of straining so hard to get the language and the mannerisms correct that the comic touch sinks under the effort.

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