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A couple of years ago, the summer associates at one of New York’s top law firms were offered free tickets to the Tony Awards, the televised, black tie, theatrical awards show. This year, those on board for the summer may actually find the Tony Awards worth seeing. Broadway, for a change, is offering a few shows that conceivably could appeal to someone under a hundred. And there is still more contemporary theater to be seen beyond Broadway, and not tourist staples (“Les Miserables,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and the rest), either. TWO BROADWAY DRAMAS For instance — and on Broadway — “True West” and “Dirty Blonde.” While they are more or less traditional in writing style, they speak in a more youthful language than the usual dramas. “True West” is a Sam Shepard play that was first produced in Chicago nearly 20 years ago, when the stars were John Malkovich and Gary Sinise. The stars now are two actors any moviegoer will recognize, though most people don’t know their names. They seem to be in every other movie — Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly — and were together in “Magnolia.” On stage in “True West,” they play a couple of brothers, one traditionally educated and well-mannered, the other a ballistic rebel. They argue, nearly to the death, about everything from their mother’s saintliness and their father’s alcoholism to Hollywood screenwriting and the exact nature of driving a truck down a two-lane highway. Beneath it all, playwright Sam Shepard really is getting at the true nature of the American West. Is it the West of pick-up trucks and back roads, the West of Hollywood’s cowboy movies or the West of Hollywood itself? But at the bottom line, this play is about the nature of America. The mood is edgy, the humor unexpected, and the performances electric. More than that, with every performance, Hoffman and Reilly switch roles, and for that reason, many customers are going back to see the show a second time. As a result, tickets are in short supply, but the determined customer will succeed. Circle in the Square Theatre, 50th Street west of Broadway. Telecharge, 239-6200. Another play with a different slant is the brand-new “Dirty Blonde.” Written by Claudia Shear, who also stars in it, this truly different play is not only an homage to the legendary Mae West, the raunchy stage and movie star of the 1930s and early ’40s, but also a love letter to people like the other characters in the play — earnest, hopeful, lonely ones who are entranced by Mae West’s style of confidence, and who feel for her desperate attempts to hold onto youth and sexuality. Her lusty and guileless sexuality was hardly deemed acceptable in the 1930s. Writing her own material as well as performing it in plays with titles like “Sex,” she was the Bette Midler prototype, with a similarly raucous intelligence. Her raunchy wisecracks and double entendres are too much fun to spoil with quotations. It is enough to say that they are still hilarious. Finally, “Dirty Blonde” is a love song for anyone who, like all of us, is different inside his own skin, and alone because of this very differentness. In the case of Mae West, she was a champion of difference and individuality. She was who she was, and in that displayed a rare integrity. Presented in a unique style, the play is very good looking and great fun and brims over with love for the brave and human. Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 West 44th Street. Telecharge, 239-6200. OFF THE WALL There is also an abundance of non-mainstream theater, ranging from rock musicals on Broadway to the nearly weird “De La Guarda,” a show that is literally off the wall. The closest thing to going to a club — without actually going to a club — is “De La Guarda.” This show doesn’t even provide seats or a stage. Instead, and in the dark, the audience stands in the middle of a big room while the performers come roaring in from all four corners, even down from the ceiling. They swing from ropes, crashing into the walls and sometimes plucking up lucky (or unlucky) members of the audience. The music is all but relentless, and there is even a fine mist of rain at times. Inevitably, some people start to dance and the sense of crowd energy is intoxicating. “De La Guarda” is only an hour long, but the 60 minutes are intense and unique. Daryl Roth Theater, 20 Union Square East. Telecharge, 239-6200. “Bogosian’s Wake Up and Smell The Coffee” is named for the performance artist, Eric Bogosian, though he is closer to being a stand-up comedian — Robin Williams with attitude — than a performance artist. Looking 30-ish and slightly disheveled in his almost-conservative suit and tie, Bogosian comes across as the mental rebel in the middle class body. But even his rebelliousness is untraditional, for he does not spare himself. “I’m so smart,” he says with acid self-mockery, “in my righteous anger, going on and on about hypocrisy, irritating people … just enough to sell a few tickets … desperate to preserve my modicum of success so that I can hold my head high in this giant pecking order of art and commerce and celebrity.” Is this honesty or ultra-deep cynicism? At least it isn’t all self-centered. Bogosian ranges from present-day goals (“better parties, better clothes, better cars, better sex, better breath”) to present-day brain models like “Forrest Gump” and “Rain Man.” Of them he says, “We’re looking up at the mentally handicapped. Where does that put us?” Obviously, the man is smart and funny. Jane Street Theater, 113 Jane Street in Greenwich Village. Telecharge, 239-6200. On the nonverbal side, there is the completely percussive “Stomp.” This is a show that nobody over 30 seems to understand while nobody under 30 needs to explain. Made up entirely of banging and clanging on buckets or ash can covers, with the mallets being brush-brooms or just the feet, “Stomp” has its own rhythm, its own point of view and certainly its own audience. Orpheum Theatre, Second Avenue at 8th Street. Ticketmaster, 307-4100. Compared to “Stomp,” “Blue Man Group” is practically traditional even though it is altogether unique. This long-running show has an originality that is both youthful and accessible, which made it just the thing for the “David Letterman Show,” where excerpts have been shown (also, by the way, from “Stomp”) more than once. Zany and art-oriented, and subtitled “Tubes” for no apparent reason, “Blue Man Group” is named for its three performers, all of them painted a bright enamel blue. If that seems weird, there is nothing peculiar about the atmosphere, which is cheerful, or the laughs, which are plentiful. In fact, the fun and games are so popular that there is even a “Blue Man Group” company playing in Las Vegas. Astor Place Theatre, 434 Lafayette Street. Ticketmaster, 307-4100. But why should youth appeal mean weird? Or simply funny in a bright way? Perhaps the most stimulating and fresh stage production in all of New York theater is very contemporary in style and material. This, the newest show in town, is “The Laramie Project,” a documentary play based on a true hate crime, the murder of Matthew Shephard in Laramie, Wyo., a couple of years ago. Most will remember that this horrific crime was committed only because young Shepard was homosexual. Driven to the barren plains outside Laramie by two young men who simply hated gay people, the 21-year-old college student was beaten to pulp, tied to a fence and left to the icy winds that howled across the moon-like landscape. He remained there for 18 hours before being discovered and taken to a hospital, where he died. The play, reconstructing the town, the people, the crime and the criminals, has been created by Moises Kaufman and his “Tectronic Company” (nothing to do with science fiction, which it sounds like), much in the same manner that they created the acclaimed “Trials of Oscar Wilde” several years ago. The director and his actors spent a year and a half on this “Laramie Project,” much of the time interviewing people in the town and tracing the crime from its inception at a local bar to the conclusion at the murder trials. The result is a gripping and sometimes vastly emotional experience. Union Square Theater, 100 East 17th Street, 505-0700. CONTEMPORARY MUSICALS Although the music for a Broadway musical tends to sound as if the show were written a half century ago — and in too many cases that’s true — there are a few that have a more contemporary quality. One of them, of course, is “Rent,” the long-running show about film makers, druggies, drag queens and other familiar types. With its story an improbable adaptation of Puccini’s “La Boheme,” this rock musical is actually about rent, something that its characters — East Village squatters — consider an entitlement and refuse to pay. Their cause is presented as righteous, even significant. More importantly, the show’s energy is abundant and the music has a beat. Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st Street. Ticketmaster, 307-4100. For the Elton John crowd, Broadway has two shows running to his tunes. One is the ongoing “Lion King,” a two-and-a-half-hour stage version of the 90-minute animated movie. Some people do see this show because of John’s songs, but most come out humming the costumes and puppets — rather amazing ones that turn a stageful of dancers into all the creatures of the jungle. New Amsterdam Theatre, Broadway and 42nd Street. Ticketmaster, 307-4747. The other Elton John musical is the brand new “Aida,” the first Disney stage musical that did not originate as an animated movie. This adaptation of the Verdi opera has songs that John not only composed but seems to sing. Everyone in the show, female as well as male, sounds like him. If for only that reason, “Aida” is unique. Palace Theater, Broadway at 47th Street, 307-4747. Its lyrics, incidentally, are by Tim Rice who, in an earlier incarnation, also provided the words accompanying Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music for “Jesus Christ Superstar.” That show, people forget, was only a minor success when it originally showed up, some 30 years ago, as one of Broadway’s first rock musicals. It has since become a classic of sorts, heard and performed all over the world. Some people even consider it Webber’s best show, and now it is back on Broadway. Ford Center, 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. Ticketmaster 307-4100. BY NO MEANS LEAST Last, but by no means least, is a show that will bring grins of recognition, revenge and satisfaction to anyone who has ever tried to get a reservation at a hot and snobbish restaurant. The title is “Fully Committed” because the owner/chef thinks that’s more elegant than “There’s nothing available.” There is only one performer, the guy who answers the phone all day and takes reservations, but he also impersonates the people calling, and soon we get to hear and know everyone from the supermodels with endless demands to the VIPs with endless crises to the owner with endless tirades. Sandwiched between are the everyday people begging for the chance to sit in a corner and pay crazy prices. The performer is ingenious and the play is hilarious. Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, 239-6200.

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