DeLillo's debut as playwright

The Day Room Play by Don DeLillo. Directed by Michael Blakemore. Things are seldom what they seem in ``The Day Room,'' at the Manhattan Theatre Club. Prize-winning novelist Don DeLillo makes his debut as a dramatist with a bleak comic fantasy that begins in a psychiatric hospital and progresses to a dingy motel room. As the play opens, garrulous Budge (Mason Adams) is trying to persuade fellow patient Wyatt (John Christopher Jones) to share the pleasures of conversation. Besides a couple of intruding fellow patients, their freewheeling dialogues are interrupted by a succession of doctors and nurses who might just as likely have escaped from another wing of the institution.

Is this a world run by the mentally disturbed?

In act two, the players from act one reappear in new guises. The central figures of this scenario are Gary and Lynette (Timothy Carhart and Mary Beth Hurt), a couple on the trail of a mysterious performance group believed to be holed up somewhere in the vicinity. Heading the elusive troupe is one Arno Klein (Mr. Adams again), who might conceivably be regarded as the Godot of this waiting game, except that Klein ultimately appears. (``The Day Room'' has been compared to both Beckett and Pirandello.)

In the murky motel sequence, a straitjacketed Mr. Jones glibly impersonates a remote-controlled TV. Could the room be merely another wing of the hospital? The human traffic includes the desk clerk and maid (Eric Swanson and Martha Gehman), a glitzy actress (Michele Shay), and two men (John Spencer and J.T. Walsh). As directed by Michael Blakemore, the cast plays it all perfectly straight, which is apparently what Mr. DeLillo intended. At one press preview, several spectators walked out before the final plot fillip, which came as more of a relief than a surprise.

Hayden Griffin designed the show's costumes and its two cleverly transformable sets, with lighting by Natasha Katz. ``The Day Room'' is scheduled to run through Jan. 17.

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