Dealing with the financial crunch -- the 17th-century way. The Acting Company's lively revival of a seldom-staged satire

A New Way to Pay Old Debts Comedy by Philip Massinger. Directed by Michael Kahn. The Acting Company has wound up its 13th annual national tour with an all too brief stand here in New York. The repertory at the Marymount Manhattan Theatre has consisted of Philip Massinger's ``A New Way to Pay Old Debts,'' William Shakespeare's ``As You Like It,'' and Thornton Wilder's ``The Skin of Our Teeth.''

Judged by its spirited performance of the Massinger classic, this excellent troupe continues to fulfill its purpose (as defined by artistic director Michael Kahn) of developing ``the young American actor through a classically oriented repertory.'' Intelligent adherence to stage techniques, particularly in the matter of speech excellence and physical grace, was apparent once more in the lively revival of this seldom-revived Massinger work.

``A New Way to Pay Old Debts'' transports the spectator back to a 17th-century stage world of complex plots and counterplots, symbolically named characters, clandestine courtships, villainy finally routed, and virtue and true love triumphant. Meanwhile, Massinger -- a contemporary of Shakespeare's -- uses his observation and dramatist's skills for a pointed and often biting satire on the exploitation of the weak and vulnerable by the ruthless and avaricious. Sir Giles Overreach is ultimately foiled by innocence and simplicity, but not before he has overreached himself so outrageously that his downfall becomes inevitable. (The comedy was based on an actual scandal of the time.)

The challenge for the actor playing Sir Giles is to keep the cruel extortioner, however outrageous his acts and words, within the realm of plausibility. David Manis achieves the feat in a performance that revels in Sir Giles's self-proclaimed wickedness but perceives the usurer's twisted obsession -- to marry his demure and comely daughter Margaret (Ana Valdes) to honorable Lord Lovell (Aled Davies). Margaret is, of course, in love with Lovell's handsome page, Allworth (Matt deGanon).

The production staged by Mr. Kahn explodes into action as Wellborn, ``a Prodigal'' (Derek David Smith), is thrown out of an alehouse by its scruffy proprietors. How this particular victim of Sir Giles's rapacity recovers both his sobriety and his property is one of several Massinger plots. Mr. Smith makes Wellborn's reformation believable with the kind of fresh discovery and sense of style that mark the revival as a whole. Other principals include Susan Finch as widowed Lady Allworth, the page's stepmother; Anthony Powell as Sir Giles's unscrupulous lawyer, Marrall; and Philip Goodwin as the gluttonous Justice Greedy, employed for no just ends by Sir Giles. If some of the acting in incidental parts seems occasionally to overreach itself, the result is a performance that maintains its energetic impetus throughout a fairly long evening. John Kasarda's simple unit setting serves all places and purposes, with costumes by Judith Dolan and lighting by Dennis Parichy.

The Acting Company goes back into rehearsal in mid-July with a repertory that will combine ``As You Like It'' with a program of plays based on Chekhov short stories in adaptations by a roster of playwrights including David Mamet, John Guare, Lanford Wilson, Michael Weller, and Wendy Wasserstein. Shakespeare's ``Two Gentlemen of Verona'' will be added later. Meanwhile, an ``alumni'' Acting Company will appear at London's Old Vic Theatre from Aug. 13 to Sept. 17 in the group's production of Marc Blitzstein's ``The Cradle Will Rock.''

The good news for New Yorkers is that next year this troupe, founded by John Houseman and Margot Harley in 1972, is scheduled to play a 15-week season at the new Clark Center for the Performing Arts, now under construction on West 42nd Street.

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