Rueful Comedy Depicts Romance Gone Awry

SQUARE ONE Play by Steve Tesich. Directed by Jerry Zaks. Starring Richard Thomas, Dianne Wiest. `SQUARE ONE,' at the Second Stage Theatre, takes a disenchanted look at life, love, and the regimented pursuit of happiness in a near-future United States. Playwright Steve Tesich centers his bleak prognosis on the evolving relationship between two temperamental opposites. Conformist Adam (Richard Thomas), a ``state artist third class,'' emcees ``The National Patriotic Hour,'' a TV variety program on which he sings pop songs and babbles propaganda. Individualist Dianne (Dianne Wiest) is a free spirit who resists all forms of dictatorial programming and who finally declares her independence.

Adam and Dianne first meet to the strains of a Strauss waltz and continue their odd courtship on a park bench. Their dialogues are by turns ironic, broadly funny, and emotionally intense. The rueful comedy marks a new departure for stage and screen playwright Tesich.

The couple's early encounters lead to a ``live-in'' marriage and parenthood. The death of their infant and its aftermath destroy the fragile union. As the independent, literal-minded Dianne, the extraordinary Miss Wiest runs a histrionic course from kooky comedy to emotional desperation. The actress is evenly matched by Mr. Thomas's laid-back Adam

Director Jerry Zaks has guided a performance that relishes the verbal adroitness and comic idiosyncracies of this offbeat conversation piece and senses its chilling implications.In the program notes, Mr. Tesich describes his provocative treatment of romance gone awry as ``almost a conceptual love story. ... The play is really a kind of recognition of an environment that doesn't need, what I call, human beings....

``The same is true of the arts. It used to be that the arts sounded the alarm, but now it's almost as if the arts have become an extension of the machine that's crushing us. The images of humanity that are created are such gross distortions that life itself has become a certain kind of grotesque entertainment.''

``Square One'' is scheduled to run through March 18.

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