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‘Moonshot and Cosmos,’ Two Lanford Wilson One Acts, Open Off- Broadway

May 3, 1994

NEW YORK (AP) _ Confession is not only good for the soul, but beneficial for the theater as well - especially when the characters spilling their secrets have been created by playwright Lanford Wilson.

What the enterprising Circle Repertory Company has done is repackage two previously produced monologues by the author of ″Talley’s Folly,″ ″Fifth of July″ and ″Burn This.″ Under the collective title of ″Moonshot and Cosmos,″ this revealing double bill opened Tuesday off-Broadway with two strong performers, Judith Ivey and John Dossett, taking command of the tiny Circle Rep stage.

Wilson is a born storyteller and in these short works, he spins two fascinating webs about characters that remain in the memory long after the plays are over.

Consider the evening’s opener, ″A Poster of the Cosmos,″ a detective story of sorts that takes place in a Manhattan police station. Tom, a swaggering 36-year-old baker, has been taken into police custody. His lover, a blue-collar hospital employee, is dead. Unseen - and unheard - detectives question Tom about the man’s death.

Details about their relationship emerge slowly as Tom defensively talks about their life together. Eventually, it is revealed that the boyfriend had AIDS.

What Wilson concentrates on is Tom’s reaction to the disease and how he coped with the suffering of a loved one. First produced in 1988, ″A Poster of the Cosmos″ arrived on the theater scene after such pioneering AIDS plays as ″The Normal Heart″ and ″As Is.″ It paints a bleak picture of the survivor in a relationship cut short by the disease.

Dossett, one of the New York theater’s most underrated actors, offers a deceptively uncomplicated performance that finally cracks open to reveal the deep despair his suicidal character faces. It’s a harrowing portrayal of what loss can drive a person to do.

Unnerving revelations also are on Wilson’s mind in ″The Moonshot Tape.″ The play is a tour de force for Ivey, an actress too long absent from the New York stage.

In this second and more substantial mini-drama, the unseen questioner is a high school student interviewing a successful short story writer on her return to her small hometown in Missouri.

The writer, Diane, is a boozy, unhappy woman who drinks so she can forget the past. Yet memories of her childhood are brought back by the naive questioning of the student. What returns are tales of sexual abuse by her now- dead stepfather and how she tried to exorcise those experiences.

″Never underestimate the power and excitement of revenge,″ Diane warns her young listener, and proceeds to explain in detail how she accomplished that task.

Ivey brings a sweet, sad self-confidence to the woman who learned how to deal with her past, if not come completely to terms with herself. Her uneasiness is not unlike the ambiguity felt by Tom in the evening’s first play. Both are on paths of self-destruction, roads the playwright depicts with heartaching sympathy for his characters.

″Moonshot and Cosmos″ then are a pair of deft portraits, miniature dramas that are showcases for two fine actors and further evidence of the high craftsmanship of Lanford Wilson.