HANDS AROUND - 7:30 Mondays through Fridays through August 31 at Duke Ellington School, 35th and RNW. 332-2300.
"Hands Around" may be a witty satire on sexual mores, a sparkling comedy of bed manners, or a turkey. Only the players of the new Stage Directions company are in a position to judge, because nobody else can hear the lines.
It's hard to believe that the auditorium at Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts (old Western High School) has been in use of generations, because it's a vast echo chamber. Sounds ricochet like shrapnel from the hard walls, ceiling and seats; the shattered remains of one line of dialogue perforate the next.
It does not seem likely that the cast could overcome the problem with better delivery. All are Equity players and plainly know their way around a stage. But even the powerful and well-trained voice of Jack Biser cannot project half his lines to a straining listener sitting front and center. In its present form the auditorium is unplayable.
Which is a damned shame, because in other respects the production is admirable. The set and props are first-class, as are the costumes - which the four members of the cast don and doff with never-ending amorous urgency.
"Hands Around" is adapted from Reigen (1902) by the Viennese Arthur Schnitzler. Reset in America at the turn of the century, it pairs the actors, each of whom plays two or three parts, in 10 brief scenes. The 10 liaisons, only one of them sanctioned by law, form the links of a daisy chain that begins and ends with a streetwalker.
Because the scenes are short the characterizations must be largely established through stage business, which Biser, Deborah Novak, Cathy Simpson and Tom A. Wright handle unevenly but adequately. But the point of the play is the way the characters justify all the the bunny-hopping, and not more than one word in three gets past the footlighnd not more than one word in three gets past the footlights.