AMERICAN SPLENDOR -- (Arena Stage Old Vat Room, through November 22)

Harvey Pekar, the real-life protagonist of "American Splendor," writes comic books in his spire time. But they're not your ordinary comic books. Since they chronicle passing episodes in his life as a government file clerk in a Cleveland hospital, he explains, they're very much "atypical in content." Indeed the curious cartoon strips that Pekar has been publishing at his own expense since 1976 -- and which have now been adapted for the stage by Lloyd Rose -- depict a strange, often surrealistic world of drifters, oddballs and failures. Most of them are lonely, deluded, down on their luck or just plain bonkers. That they're going nowhere -- where, after all do you go in Cleveland? -- is perhaps the point. As the inaugural production of Stage Four, a three-play showcase of new American works at Arena, "American Splendor" certainly serves the purpose of getting the company back to the kind of off-beat, experimental fare it has neglected in recent seasons. Still, a little of "American Splendor" -- say, about 30 minutes -- is enough to communicate the sense and flavor of things. Despite flashes of zaniness and occasional puddles of poetry, the ultimate drabness of this universe prevails in the end.

David Richards

THE GOLDEN BOY -- (Source Theater Warehouse Rep, through December 5)

Perhaps anticipating the upcoming area-wide symposium on non-traditional theater casting (November 22 at Arena Stage), Source Theater has mounted a revival of Clifford Odets' "Golden Boy" with a crucial color change. Directed and adapted by Dorothy Neumann, the show at the Warehouse Rep is in fighting trim. Odets' lean, punchy play is a three-act prole-opera about Joe Bonaparte, an Italian-American kid who decides that the fastest way out of the slums is with his fists. When Joe chooses a dubious, if lucrative career as a prizefighter over a career as a violinist, he alienates his immigrant father and finds himself in shady company. In director Neumann's adaptation, Joe Bonaparte and his family are black, a transformation that makes a modern sort of sense; and the actors back it up with understated power, with especially strong work from Clayton LeBoeuf as moody, mercurial Joe Bonaparte and Barbara Klein as Lorna Moon, a tramp from Newark.

Joe Brown.