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First Nighter: From White Plains Strong on Forgiveness, Luck of the Irish Fairly Strong on Intolerance

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Let's hear it for forgiveness. Let's hear a couple of brimming earfuls for forgiveness -- or against it, as the case may be. And the place to hear it is throughout From White Plains, the outstanding new work conceived by Michael Perlman and written with cast members Craig Wesley Divino, Karl Gregory, Jimmy King and Aaron Rossini.

The lay-out of the play -- which, I repeat, is truly, eminently worthwhile, and so is Perlman's immaculate direction -- is intricate as presented by the Fault Line Theatre in the Pershing Square Signature Center's black-box space.

But here goes: Listening to an Oscar telecast, Ethan (co-company artistic director Rossini) hears himself named as the bully behind the inspiration for the film just awarded the best-movie-of-year statuette to creator Dennis (Karl Gregory).

Astounded that he's just been designated a national bad guy, Ethan enters into a debate with pal John (co-company director Divino) that builds into an argument over his actual responsibility for the death of schoolmate Michael whom he regularly abused so many years before.

Then the locale switches, although Tristan Jeffers's set depicting a pleasantly modern living-room remains in place for all scenes. Here, movie-maker Dennis is still steamed about Michael's suicide and gets into a heated exchange with lover Gregory (King) over whether he should respond to the Internet apology Ethan has posted.

Convinced Ethan's message is merely pro forma, Dennis does fire back. His reply triggers an increasingly belligerent exchange that begins to erode both the Dennis-Gregory love affair (where a possible marriage looms) and the Ethan-John friendship when difficult parts of the newly-engaged John's past become implicated.

Going into detail on the rat-a-tat sequences that ensue -- and include a chance subway meeting between John and Gregory that doesn't quite strain credulity -- would spoil the keenly observed, disturbing developments, the abundant surprises the script uncorks. What has to be said is that the beauty of the extraordinarily well-acted drama is its complete avoidance by Perlman and colleagues of any black-and-white conclusions.

Rather, the discussions between and among the characters as they pace the stage in varying degrees of understandable chagrin include so many shades of grey that E L James would likely admit envy. Sure, best-selling author James mined abuse to plug her sexy trilogy, but even she might drop her jaw at the verbal punishment these four men heap on one another while attempting to do the proper thing in their struggle to preserve alliances.

Yes, the overriding quandary here concerns forgiveness. Perlman and crew are intrigued to decide if there are instances when forgiveness is not only unwarranted but itself unforgivable. It's a dilemma that's rarely been illustrated with such heart-breaking authority.

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The program for Kirsten Greenidge's Luck of the Irish at Lincoln Center's Claire Tow Theater states the time of the play is "Late 1950s and early 2000s." Mimi Lien's set features two large Lucite panels with the outlines of houses incised in them.

"Uh-oh," avid theater-goers are very likely to utter before the action even begins, "this looks a lot like it's going to go over ground Bruce Norris already covered in Clybourne Park." Then the drama begins, and, yes-indeed-y -- with an emphasis on the "deed" part -- that's exactly what Luck of the Irish is.

With a crucial spin, it may be needless to say, this time the home in a 1950s white neighborhood into which a black family moves is purchased through what's known as a "ghost buy" -- i. e., the black buyer acquires the property after having a white person carry out the initial transaction for an exchange of additional money.

Rex Taylor (Victor Williams), a proud physician, and just-as-proud wife Lucy (Eisa Davis) are the actual hopeful homeowners, whereas Joe Donovan (Dashiell Eaves), a man who habitually goes about hat-in-hand, and battle-axe wife Patty Ann (Amanda Quaid) are the nominal buyers.

The catch providing Taylor granddaughters Hannah Davis (Marsha Stephanie Blake) and Nessa Charles (Carra Patterson) with problems 50 years later is that the title for the home in question may not have Dr. Taylor's signature on it. It could be that elderly and still timid Mr. Donovan (Robert Hogan) is the rightful owner. If so, the still battle-axe Mrs. Donovan (Jenny O'Hara) wants the Taylor descendants out of there.

Just as Norris used his premise for a peg on which to drape any number of angles examining overt and covert prejudice, Greenidge does the same. What gets exposed over two acts is just as chilling as it was in Norris's Pulitzer Prize and Tony Prize-winner, although Greenidge stuffs much of her first act with extraneous badinage.

In the second act, she gets down to brass tacks with several confrontations -- Joe Donovan and Lucy Taylor bond over a love of books, Hannah has one with adamantly reasonable hubby Rich (Frank Harts) -- that plumb the seemingly constant feelings of futility underlying intolerance as it evolves over the decades.

For these segments, Greenidge shows the same granite-like knowledge of differing yet persuasive views of right and wrong that the From White Plains troupe has so impressively acquired -- and the cast, under Rebecca Taichman's unflinching direction, gets all the strife across.