Comic realism orbits successfully with cosmic surrealism

In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe Play by Eric Overmyer. Directed by Stan Wojewodski Jr. Eric Overmyer, whose ``On the Verge'' was one of last season's Off Broadway delights, turns to murkier matters in the new play at the Hudson Guild Theatre. Whereas ``On the Verge'' concerned the adventures of three 19th-century feminist explorers, ``In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe'' is 20th-century all the way. Centered in the world of vanity publishing, the satirical fantasy-thriller's targets include racism, right-wing xenophobia, and assorted kinds of paranoia.

The nightmare plot begins to thicken when Christine Penderecki (Carolyn McCormick), a whiz at the word processor, is hired as as ghostwriter by Maria Montage (Jennifer Harmon), the hard-nosed head of the publishing firm. Christine's first assignment is to ghost a ``reality/fiction'' work entitled ``Yellow Peril: the New Fu Manchu,'' for the company's most popular author, Ampersand Qwerty (Troy Evans), a mild-mannered hate monger.

Mr. Overmyer entertains the spectator with word games and other distractions (including even jokes in Chinese) while drawing him into the comedy's labyrinthine plots and ploys. Christine falls in love with Dennis Wu (Tzi Ma), a shrewdly self-aware young Chinese-American, and the couple gradually come to realize the sinister forces behind her assignment. Christine's friend Lyle Vial (Arthur Hanket) receives a series of anonymous chain letters, climaxed by the original such mystery missive, written in Norman England by the first female jester (Laura Innes).

Mr. Overmyer compensates for any deficiencies in dramatic exposition with a positive flair for theatrical embellishments: flights of wordplay, gags, and gambits. He is a regular thesaurus of trendy clich'es, trade jargon, and out-of-this-world allusions to intergalactic communications. The cast directed by Stan Wojewodski Jr., most of whose members play more than one part, balances the comic realism and cosmic surrealism required by the writing. The Baltimore Center Stage production is designed with state-of-the-art minimalism by Christopher Barreca, spookily lighted by Stephen Strawbridge, and stylishly costumed by Robert Wojewodski.


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