MUSEUM -- In the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater through November 16.
Tina Howe has discovered a rich field of comedy in the posturing and pretentions of people in love. While it's true that other playwrights have dealt with this subject from time to time, they've mostly limited themselves to satirizing people who are in love with other people.
But romance is only one form of love that makes people act crazy. Adoration of food is another, as Howe demonstrated in "The Art of Dining." And worship of art is still another, as she shows in "Museum," which the Folger Theater Group is now doing at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater.
Lovers gaze, rhapsodize and grab. Some of the ones in "Museum" are stunned into emotion-laden silence by "starcape 19," 1979, one of four 96 1/2" x 120" white-on-white canvases. Some feel the need to voice their feelings ("It's a reality grounded an illusion") and make others share in them ("The more a work is purged of inessentials, the closer the scrutiny required to see it"). Some must capture it for themselves (first getting the director's permission to photograph or sketch, or eluding the guard to steal souvenirs).
And then there are the detractors -- moving grimly through the contemporary room demanding to know "Where did Colonial Quilts and Weathervanes go?" or whopping it with hilarious shouts of "Modern art!"
Howe hasn't put a story into this, but just keeps offering variations on the theme. The people, rather than the art, are under scrutiny, and the only continual point of view is that of the long-suffering guard, amusingly played by Larry Marshall. In all, there are 40 characters, guards and museum-goers, played by a sharp company doubling up on roles.
Deft as they are -- each viewer will have different favorites -- their parts are elaborations, many of them redundant, of the one basic idea. For that matter, one has only to see Hugh Lester's ruthlessly funny set of the American Museum of Art's White Room and its three-artist show, "The Broken Silence," to get this idea. Another marvelous expression of it is in the program insert, a copy of the guide to the show.
But the idea is such a good one for satire that an evening of it is, as it were, as good as a play.