NEW YORK NOTES: As Washington's theater season slows for the summer, it may be the right time for those with an unquenchable passion for new theatrical kicks to consider a weekend catchup trip to New York. Even in this relatively lean year, the options are plentiful (if you include, as you must, off and off-off Broadway). Here's a recent sampling of choice events:
First priority on Broadway is unquestionably Lily Tomlin's The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe at the Plymouth Theater. Tomlin gives an astonishing (and still fresh after nearly a year) tour de force performance in Jane Wagner's exhilarating play. Somehow playwright and performer manage to unite 13 impossibly disparate characters, who utter such simultaneously funny and revelatory one-liners as "I'm sick of being the victim of trends I reflect but don't understand." These 2 1/2 lightning hours provide what Tomlin's Trudy the Bag Lady calls "the goosebump experience." The standing ovation is mandatory.
Across the street at the Music Box Theater lurks a lethally sharp revival of Joe Orton's rude and very British Loot, a dark farce about a family wrangling over stolen cash buried with a corpse. The Broadway cast handles Orton's outrageous antics with dry aplomb, especially Zoe Wanamaker as a poisonously sweet nurse, and Joseph Maher as an exasperatingly dim inspector.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which played last summer for free in Central Park, came indoors to the Imperial Theater and took five Tony Awards over the weekend, including best musical. Based on Charles Dickens' unfinished mystery, "Drood" is a stylish and inventive production with lots of British music hall tomfoolery. But even with the vivid voices of Cleo Laine, Betty Buckley, Patti Cohenour and George Rose, the play itself goes slack at times. The elaborately gimmicky ending saves the show, when the audience itself votes to determine the outcome of each performance. (Laine leaves the show Sunday, to be replaced by Loretta Swit.)
Some of the liveliest stuff on stage is thriving off-Broadway. It's not often that a first play rates the presence of three movie stars who can act up a storm on stage. The rare event is Cuba and His Teddy Bear, an unremittingly grim first play by 26-year-old Reinaldo Povod.
Robert DeNiro gives a powerfully menacing performance as Cuba, a Hispanic drug dealer who is revered and reviled by his son Teddy (played by "Karate Kid" Ralph Macchio). Burt Young, best known as "Rocky's" movie trainer, supplies the few comic touches as Cuba's sometime partner Jackie.
"Cuba" which plays at the Public Theater through June 14, sold out months before opening, but check at the box office just before showtime for possible no-shows. Each performance is transmitted simultaneously via closed-circuit TV into an adjoining 140-seat theater; tickets are available.
For the adventurous, off-off-off-Broadway is home to a handful of off-the wall revues, the wildest of which must be the startlingly titled Vampire Lesbians of Sodom at the Provincetown Playhouse. The fevered brainchild of actor/female impersonator Charles Busch, the very silly evening opens with "Coma (or Sleeping Beauty)," a skit that thumbs its nose at the fashion frivolities of the '60s; it's followed by the raucously camp horror spoof "Vampire Lesbians," tracing two monstrously funny "women" from Sodom to '20s Hollywood to tomorrow's Las Vegas.
Other recently opened revues to consider include Beehive, a '60s girl-group pastiche (Top of the Gate); Nunsense, a sendup of nuns that may send a company to Ford's Theater (Sheridan Square Playhouse); and the newly opened Professionally Speaking, a musical revue about doctors and lawyers -- Washingtonians take note (Theater at St. Peter's Church).
By the way, the New York Shakespeare Festival has chosen Twelfth Night for this year's free Shakespeare in the Park program, June 20-July 20 at Central Park's Delacorte Theater. Stars will be F. Murray Abraham (of "Amadeus") and Kim Griest ("Brazil"); the run will be followed by a slate of international theatrical events. Call 212/598-7150.