Theater: Party Pooper

DRINKS BEFORE DINNER by E.L. Doctorow

This is a play in which a dinner party guest holds his fellow guests and hosts at gunpoint for much of the evening, but talks them to death first. The talk is cosmic-broody and Manhattan cocktail-party modern, which may be a redundancy. As with an onion, the peeling away of each layer of speechifying in Drinks Before Dinner leaves less and less to behold.

The austerely elegant apartment setting at Joseph Papp's off-Broadway Public Theater is an antiseptic anteroom of an urban purgatory. A cubistic formation of white, black, lucite and chrome, the room suggests that a...

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