Solo attack on drinking and other bad habits

Lest the title of his new solo show be misleading, be assured that Eric Bogosian -- for all his hard-nosed, tough-talking mannerisms -- wants very much to be a moralist. ``Drinking in America,'' at the American Place, is a barbed attack on all manner of indulgences, addictions, and bad habits that Mr. Bogosian sees infesting contemporary life. The characters who inhabit his one-man universe are a motley bunch, drawn from all strata of society but linked by a too-familiar blend of selfishness and compulsiveness.

Bogosian plays each one with precisely channeled energy, changing before our eyes from a power-mad casting agent or a thrill-crazy punk to a cynical drug addict or a self-centered salesman. His seamless transitions from one ``dramatic monologue'' to another are not displays of versatility for its own sake, but reminders of the sad similarities that link his characters, no matter how different their walks of life. Nor does his critical eye fall only on those who are obviously weak or dispossessed. Perhaps the most surprising figure in his gallery is a self-satisfied member of the middle class who lists the satisfactions of his circumscribed life; and Bogosian becomes his own target in the first portion of the show, a portrait of the artist as a self-deluding youngster.

Bogosian's new show seems less fresh and startling than ``FunHouse'' and some other past work of his, and slack moments are peppered through it. He would be a richer and more compassionate artist, moreover, if he focused his ire more pointedly on the sins he deplores than on the sinners who are trapped by them. He remains a strong and original performer, though, with a lot to say and plenty of talent to say it with. `The Age of Invention'

A more gently ironic view of American life filters through ``The Age of Invention,'' a spectacle for 300 puppets that recently played at the Performing Garage and is now being adapted for video, which should bring it to a wide new audience.

The work, designed and directed by Theodora Skipitares, in collaboration with composer Virgil Moorefield, focuses on three manifestations of the American personality: Benjamin Franklin, seen as both an innovative thinker and a racist; Thomas Edison, seen as both ingenious and mercenary; and a salesman of surgical apparatus who boosts his sales by assisting (illegally) in operations. Performed by puppets large and small, supported by music and narration, the stories of these people add up to an overview of Yankee resourcefulness that's rueful and affectionate at the same time. If the puppetry were as well honed as the ideas -- as it may be in the video version -- this would be a most striking piece of stagecraft. `The Prometheus Project'

Another recently completed work marked by biting social commentary is ``The Prometheus Project,'' a scathing look at today's violent social climate.

Directed by Richard Schechner, returning to the Performing Garage (which he founded) after a six-year absence, it sometimes exploits the excesses it purportedly despise, especially in a section on the dehumanizing aspects of pornography.

But its warnings about the links between such evils as political torture, nuclear holocaust, and sexual violence -- all joined by references to Greek myth -- are hammered powerfully at the audience by Schechner's pungent stagecraft. The result is harrowing but memorable.

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