"The Confidential Clerk"

Through Nov. 14

The Washington Stage Guild at Source Theatre

Tickets: 202/462-1073

T.S. Eliot's "The Confidential Clerk" is a farce, with some serious points to make and much room for ruminating, but a farce nonetheless. The tale of mix-and-match orphans and their confused parents has inspired some rather giddy developments among the cast and crew of the Washington Stage Guild's current production.

First, there is the prominently posted notice archly warning audience members that the play "contains verse dialogue, sherry drinking, irony and the liberal use of metaphor." (This is a nod to Source's similar advisory about it's recent staging of "Edmund," cautioning the public that it was in for nudity, cigarette smoking and rough language.)

Then came Vincent Clark's lyrics. Clark plays wise, even-tempered Eggerson, former clerk to John Dow's Sir Claude Mulhammer. Mindful that Eliot's verse also gave rise to the long-running if un-Eliot musical "Cats," Clark penned some "Confidential Clerk" verses to the Andrew Lloyd Weber melodies.

To wit: (Sung to the tune of "Memories") "Guzzard! We must call Mrs. Guzzard/ Find out from the old buzzard/ What became of the child/ If we do that, we'll know which child belongs to Sir Claude/ So we'll question the old fraud . . . "

Mrs. Guzzard, you see, is the deus ex machina figure who explains the play's entangled paternities at the end.

Then there's also: (sung to the tune of "Mr. Mistoffolees") "And we all say/ Oh, well, oh never was there ever/ A gal so clueless as flighty old Lady Elizabeth . . ." (Lady Elizabeth being the addlepated wife of Sir Claude.)

Not that Clark has any delusions of Eliotesque grandeur. "It takes a genius to write good lyrics," he says, "but anybody can do parody."