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— As with Cygnet's Night Music, a Playreaders' presentation of Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart has led to a full production by New Village Arts, which will give John Patrick Shanley's Doubt a test-read later this year.

THE BOTTOM LINE, OR LINES. Staged readings usually take place on "dark nights" -- Mondays, most often -- and have become so popular that T.J. Johnson suggests a "calendar of readings so we don't have too many in one night."

When Linda Castro began the Grassroots Greeks series, her bottom line was: "actors would exercise their acting and emotional skills, even if an audience never showed up."

But they did, and have. Why? Castro points to the intimacy of a reading and to the question-and-answer sessions -- with the director and cast and sometimes other experts on the subject -- that often follow. These add, she says, to the "connection and communal feel of the event. One of the reasons they come, I think, is to have a conversation about it -- like actors' tablework, but a public exploration."

People come to the theater to be spectators (to see) and to be an audience (to hear). Plays are written for both, says Shirley Fishman, "positions in the space, clothing, atmosphere -- all are important. But there's also a hunger for wonderful language that's very real. And staged readings have that appeal. They create a space where language comes alive and makes itself at home." n

Theater listings and commentary are by Jeff Smith. Information is accurate according to material given us, but it is always wise to phone the theater for any last-minute changes and to inquire about ticket availability. Many theaters offer discounts to students, senior citizens, and the military. Ask at the box office.

Ace

One of the unwritten rules of theater: never let the audience get ahead of the story. If they can anticipate where you're going, you've lost them. Ace, a musical about flying and lost children and inept mothers, tells two stories, but they're the same story told twice. Fathers fly and die. Their sons grow up to be pilots. The musical depicts life-shattering events but never takes them beyond the generic -- and manipulates them for easy emotions. Richard Oberacker's music's on a launching pad: rocketing into the upper registers at full volume. One number like this would be stirring ("I Know It Can Be Done," sung with Power of Positive Thinking conviction by Darren Ritchie, for example). But every song rages to uplift with epic feelings. The auditory overload's so pummeling you may not notice, in the end, that Ace has resolved almost every contradiction in the known universe. In the midst of the din, possibly because he's doing the opposite, young Noah Galvin gives a mesmerizing performance as Billy, identity-seeking foster child. Ace wants to engulf its audience. Galvin brings them in, with subtle facial expressions and minimal body language. He's genuinely confused and hurt (having to wear red Converse All-Star sneakers in 1952, when they didn't exist, would confuse ANYONE!). You'd think that a musical about the early decades of flight would have vivid theatrical representations of its subject. But when pilots take to the skies, director Stafford Arima and choreographer Andrew Palermo ground them with unimaginative miming: running in circles, crouching and turning, pumping their hands for machine guns -- like kids playing in the back yard.

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