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"CHAIRS FOR Jacob," a new and unusual piece of theater by A.M. Allcott, will be performed tonight and Saturday night in the Big Orbit Gallery on Essex Street. I recommend the production for its design and for its intent, which, if imperfectly realized, is grander than one has come to expect from new plays in Buffalo.

The play is based on a story by Virginia Woolf but the playwright has woven into the script references to the Greek and Roman classics plus Joyce, Rupert Brooke and Britain's pre-World War I neo-pagans, Heidegger and many of the century's other notable writers, scholars and artists.

His purpose seems to be to act as a haruspex, sifting through the entrails of 20th century art for a design that speaks to our collective fortune. His is an ambitious task and it is difficult to follow the connections he suggests, even if one is of a literary bent, which one had darned well better be, steeped in the "thingness of language" and other post structuralist concepts. It's not a play for everyone. I must add that although I did not always follow the skein of the author's thought, I enjoyed the way it rolled around the stage.

The actors, whom I assume were directed by Allcott, played unerringly in his key for good or ill -- remember that intellect, not affect, is the name of game here. Leah Zicari (Virginia Woolf) offered a very odd, icy, unmoving rendering of Woolf, particularly when describing Woolf's molestation at the hands of her stepbrother. Peter Davis, on the other hand, equally implacable, offered a startling and most effective performance of a Teresias character singing Edith Piaf songs in nylons, high heels and a hip-length suit coat. Great gams.

As the eponymous Jacob, drifting through the century on wings of woe, Richard Lambert has a dreamy romantic quality that fits the script. If not a literal "hero," he represents the lost youth, the death of generations, the grim and tragic thread that links war and plague in this century. Allcott's allusions to love and loss, death in war and death from AIDS, the cyclical nature of life and time, are all provocative but could be much more pointed and powerful were the connections more clear.

The design is excellent. The gallery's shiny wood floors and clean white walls are perfect for the elegant costumes, inventive use of choreography and the mournful aria and live cello and piano solos.

Chairs for Jacob

Rating:* * * *
New play by A.M. Allcott on the novel "Jacob's Room" by Virginia Woolf.
Staged by ABCD Productions, featuring Richard Lambert, Leah Zicari and others. Tonight and Saturday at 8, Big Orbit Gallery, 30 Essex St. (882-5329).

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