Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry tells you about SMUDGE, LOVE LOSS AND WHAT I WORE, ZERO HOUR, LITTLE GEM and PRESENT LAUGHTER.

Rachel Axler’s Smudge, at the Women’s Project’s Julia Miles Theatre, is another impressive production from this company, which seems to be thriving under the leadership of Artistic Director Julia Crosby. It’s beautifully directed (by Pam MacKinnon) and wonderfully acted. But, for me, it was awfully hard to watch.

The play is a comedy on a horrifying subject. A young couple has a baby, who is horribly deformed, and we observe their attempts to cope with this terrible situation. Nick does it by pretending there is nothing wrong; whereas Colby copes by pretending that there is no monster baby in her home. Gradually, both go rather bonkers, before retreating into imaginative ruminations about the future life of their daughter.

Cassie Beck and Greg Keller are tremendously compelling as Mommy and Daddy, and Brian Spambati contributes several hilarious turns as Nick’s bombastic brother, Pete.

If you can take the subject matter, this one is worth checking out.

Love, Loss, and What I Wore has been running a while at the Westside Theatre. I finally caught up with it last week, and had a very good time. Nora and Delia Ephron have adapted Ilene Beckerman’s book of interviews with women about their struggles with fashion. Five women sit on stools with scripts on stands, performing various roles. I was one of the few men in the audience. I felt like a spy.

As for said audience, it was yucking it up with guffaws of recognition as Katie Finneran, Michele Lee, Debra Monk, Ellis Ross and Casey Wilson enlightened us about the various travails women experience in their quest to find the right shoes, handbag, dress, etc. If you’re a guy you surely have experienced this with the women in your life, so you might find the show even funnier than did the ladies in the audience.

The above fivesome are in the show through 31 January, to be replaced by Carol Kane, Janeane Garofalo, Caroline Rhea and others.

Zero Hour has also been running a while, at the Theatre at St. Clement’s, and I finally caught up with this, too. It’s a one-man show, written and performed by Jim Brochu, who looks and sounds astonishingly like Zero Mostel. We are in Z’s studio, his sanctum sanctorum where he engages in his first love, painting, when an interviewer (unseen) from the New York Times arrives. Z proceeds to tell the guy his life story, much of which focuses on his travails when he was black-listed. He gets pretty worked up about this, and a lot of shouting goes on – but that’s the way Mostel was, always larger than life.

We also get wonderful anecdotes about A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Fiddler on the Roof, even as we learn to our surprise and dismay that Mostel hated The Producers; though why, he doesn’t say.

Brochu is absolutely wonderful in the show. Highly recommended!

Elaine Murphy’s Little Gem, at the Flea Theatre, is an import from last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Carol Tambor, an American producer, has made it an annual rite to import what she feels was the best Fringe production. Here, she presents Ireland’s Guna Nua Theatre Company in the play, which consists of interlocking monologues by three generations of women – a grandmother, her daughter and the daughter’s daughter. These stories are most compelling; but they are just that – stories. I am starting to get a bit concerned that I am seeing so many plays these days which are narrated. This seems to be a genre particularly popular with Irish writers (Conor McPherson comes to mind). What usually makes these narrative plays work is the acting, and the actors here do not disappoint. They are simply wonderful.

Little Gem appears to be something of a hard-to-get ticket. It’s worth the extra effort, though.

Finally, I quite enjoyed Roundabout’s revival of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter, at the American Airlines Theatre. In fact, of the three productions I have seen of this show-biz comedy, this one is much the best.

Victor Garber stars as Garry Essendine, an aging London matinee idol. Garry is always “on” – even when he is at home, and as he prepares to go off on a tour of Africa he must contend with a feisty secretary, his devoted ex-wife, an ingénue who is in love with him, the wife of his producer who throws herself at him and an almost demented playwright who is a fanatic fan.

Nicholas Martin, the director, keeps this craziness running along smoothly and wittily, and the cast is just great; starting with Garber, who is having great fun with this role of an actor who is always acting. Also wonderful is Harriet Harris as his secretary, and Brooks Ashmanskas is hilarious as the demented playwright/fan.

Present Laughter is great fun. Don’t miss it!

SMUDGE. Julia Miles Theatre, 424 W. 55th St.
TICKETS: 212-757-3900
LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE. Westside Theatre, 407 W. 43rd St.
TICKETS: 212-239-6200
ZERO HOUR. Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 W. 46th St.
TICKETS: 212-239-6200
LITTLE GEM. Flea Theatre, 41 White St.
TICKETS: 212-352-3101
PRESENT LAUGHTER. American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: 212-719-1300

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

—– George F. Will