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Theater: The BEST OF 1982: Theater

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Cats. Some adore it. Some deplore it. The lyrics of T.S. Eliot, the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the spectacular stage effects of Director Trevor Nunn and Designer-Costumer John Napier have made Cats a conversation piece and a flaming megahit. The Dining Room. Clear-eyed, touching and buoyantly funny, A.R. Gurney Jr.’s drama compassionately graphs the decline of the Wasp, a breed apart.

Extremities. William Mastrosimone’s menacing melodrama about rape brought a low-voltage year to a high-voltage end (see above).

Foxfire. Those who hew to goodness and revere the customs of their forebears are rarely met with on a New York stage. Here they are in this tale of Appalachian tenacity, fashioned by Susan Cooper and Hume Cronyn. And who better to memorialize their griefs and joys than Cronyn and Jessica Tandy? Good. How does a liberal-minded German classics professor become Eichmann’s right-hand man at Auschwitz? In C.P. Taylor’s play, the gifted Alan Howard makes the insidious slope to hell plausible and harrowing.

“Master Harold” . . . and the Boys. To each of his dramas, South Africa’s Athol Fugard brings a tormented conscience, a touch of the poet and scalding honesty.

Monday After the Miracle. This is a tale of fiercely kindled passions and the bittersweet bondage of entwined destinies. It takes up the saga of Helen Keller, Annie Sullivan and John Macy, the man Annie wed, some 20 years after the events in Playwright William Gibson’s earlier The Miracle Worker. Karen Allen, Jane Alexander and William Converse-Roberts irradiate their roles.

Plenty. With envenomed wit and mocking disillusionment, modern British playwrights have sung an elegy in the graveyard of lost Empire. David Hare has added a tantalizing ingredient: an infernally mysterious woman whose moods and manners displace each other as if she were trying on hats. Kate Nelligan brings her to effulgent life.

A Soldier’s Play. Charles Fuller’s drama of tensile strength about a World War II black outfit stationed in Louisiana that gets involved in a racial whodunit. The central character, brilliantly portrayed by Adolph Caesar, is a black Regular Army noncom who is as tough as bully beef.

Torch Song Trilogy. Son of a Brooklyn handkerchief maker, Playwright Harvey Fierstein began working as a drag queen in East Village clubs at 16. As he enacts the key role, he vividly evokes a mode of life that is alternately hilarious and heart-wrenching.

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