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In Berkshires, two attempts at soul-searching

LENOX -- There is transgressive behavior all over the Berkshires these days. The Williamstown Theatre Festival is reviving William Inge's ''Bus Stop," the 1955 play in which a nightclub singer is abducted by a cowboy. Shakespeare & Company is staging Martin Moran's Obie-winning ''The Tricky Part," a monologue about his experiences with a camp counselor who abused him from between the ages of 12 and 15. In both plays, one person seizes another, but ''Tricky" is much more powerful in describing what happens to people in those circumstances.


The Tricky Part
Play written and performed
by Martin Moran
Directed by: Seth Barrish. At: Shakespeare
& Company, through Sept. 4.
413-637-3353.

Bus Stop
Play by William Inge
Directed by: Will Frears. At: Williamstown
Theatre Festival, through Sunday.
413-597-3400.


For ''Tricky," the Spring Lawn Theatre's seating has been reconfigured into a horseshoe. It's as if we're gathered around the campfire, listening to him tell his story, which mixes memories of growing up in the Catholic Church (which sponsored the camp) and his attempts to get past teenage traumas with equal amounts of humor, pathos, and suspense.

Moran is a professional actor, but he is also an excellent writer. The title of ''The Tricky Part" refers to trying to find the face of God in the unlikeliest of visages. He doesn't look for God in his quest at 42, to find the man who abused him, but it's a good metaphor for finding what he calls grace.

Grace could also describe his warm presence as he recalls obsessed nuns or the way the arms of Jesus on the cross and the hour of deliverance from parochial school were set to the same figure: a quarter to three. Moran's sometimes humorous descriptions set the stage for his starker account of trusting those in authority, and how that trust, in his case, was perverted.

''The Tricky Part" is not, though, a tale of victimization. As he talks about Bob, the counselor, stroking the back of his neck, the seduction becomes both creepy and sexy. Perhaps it's creepy because it is sexy. The years he was abused left Moran shattered, unable to have lasting relationships with other men. His decision to find the counselor some 25 years later was less a search for a cure than a search for his own soul.

But though this is a soulful story, it isn't quite an artful one. Moran is too matter of fact, and too comforting. His tale lacks those dangerous notes that monologist Spalding Gray always hit, in which his whole being seemed to hang in the balance.

Very little seems to hang in the balance in Inge's ''Bus Stop," despite a solid Williamstown revival. Director Will Frears has shortened the three acts into a 90-minute play featuring an accomplished cast and a great Hopperesque set by Takeshi Kata.

In ''Bus Stop," Grace's Diner becomes home during a blizzard to a variety of lonely people, including some whose bus is stranded between Kansas City and Topeka. Two of those are Bo, a cowboy lout, and Cherie, a singer with whom he's had sex and fallen in love. Not knowing the difference between the two, he assumes she loves him too, and carries her off to Montana.

The duo are played by Logan Marshall-Green (''The OC") and Elizabeth Banks (''The 40-Year-Old Virgin"), who do what they can with the stereotypes of dumb hick and airy sex bomb. But they seem stuck in the '50s, and you'd need a '50s icon like Marilyn Monroe from the film version to make it work.

It isn't that the play makes light of caveman mentality. The sheriff in town makes it clear that men can't just drag women off without their consent. But Inge's occasional bite masks a trite, Hollywood conception of love and loneliness.

The production can be recommended, though, for Bill Camp's great performance. The play comes to life only when the American Repertory Theatre veteran is onstage as an alcoholic professor with a Lolita complex who crosses paths with the main characters.

Inge doesn't excuse his behavior, either, but Camp's ability to capture the professor's lacerating wit and self-loathing makes something resoundingly human and theatrical out of his character. At those moments, at least, ''Bus Stop" opens windows onto the soul, as Moran occasionally does in his performance.

Artistically as well as spiritually, that's the tricky part.

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