Abraham Lincoln as a well-intentionednbut ambitious politician. Americansnprefer their villains black and theirnheroes spanking white.nA play that should have no trouble atnall traveling is Joan Ackermann-nBlount’s Zara Spook and Other Lures,nabout three women ofF to a Bass ‘n’nGal fishing tournament, in New Mexico,nand the relations of Evelyn withnher importunate boyfriend, and ofnRamona with her estranged husband.nEvelyn’s boyfriend has surreptitiouslynmade her pregnant, and Ramona’snhusband keeps shooting at her, andnneither man will let the poor womennfish — I think this is what they call ansituation comedy, but it works. Despitensome flaws (a melodramatic rattlesnakenbite and an extraneous yuppie hitchhiker)nthe play is funny and very winning.nLines such as “some folks haventhe cookies, some folks have the jar” asndelivered in context by this assortmentnof oddballs more than make up for thenloose ends.nThere were some equally funnynmoments in Jane Martin’s new collectionnof monologues. Vital Signs. JanenMartin emerged in 1982 as the reclusivenauthor — emerged is the wrongnword — of the successful Talking With,nanother collection of short pieces, andndespite nine years of relative fame nonlady nor a shred of evidence of any ladynhas come to light. General opinionnseems to be that “Jane Martin” is innfact ATL producing director Jon Jory,nbut other names crop up: ATL’snlongtime company member AdalenO’Brien; ATL’s former director of volunteers,nJudy Miller; Lily Tomlin’sncollaborator, Jane Wagner; even JonnJory’s ex-wife, actress Lee Anne Fahey.nSome lean toward the committee theory,ninvolving some of the above andnalso Susan Rowland, another formernATL staff^ member. Martin’s agent isnAlexander Speer, ATL’s administrativendirector, leriding further credence tonthe belief that Jane Martin is pseudonymousnrather than merely hiding. Afternall, even J.D. Salinger occasionally getsnphotographed.nTo return to the work: there was angood bit of humor and some tenminutentragedies, with the former generallynbetter than the latter. There wasna good New Age parody, a wonderfulnmonologue about honeyclimbers (harvestingnwild bee honey with the help ofn54/CHRONICLESnsmoke and faith), and an equally goodnsatire on modern psychology in a piecenabout a woman whose personality testnhas proved she has no personality at all.nI enjoy Jane Martin, whoever she is.nMy only difficulty with her is that shendoesn’t write plays (with one unsuccessfulnexception), and however goodnthe hors d’oeuvres I miss the entree.nBut at least Jane Martin isn’t pretendingnto create a whole, as JanenAnderson did in her very unsatisfactorynplay about Matisse. Warned in thenprogram that The Pink Studio is “pureninvention” and “not meant in any waynto be an accurate portrayal of the life ofnHenri Matisse,” the audience gets insteadna series of scenes built aroundnsome of his paintings, and meant tonillustrate how Matisse might havencome to paint the green vase before anpatterned curtain, or his disappointednwife sitting in a white dress and blacknstockings on a veranda that looks outnover the sea. The actors did not havenmuch to work with — not even history.nThe whole thing was reminiscent ofnthat third-grade exercise in vocabularynbuilding, in which you take ten newnwords the teacher gives you and write anstory with them. It reeked of a playwritingnclass assignment, and as such isnprobably a good idea. But who goes tona concert to hear scales?nI had the same trouble with ThenSwan, Elizabeth EglofFs short playnabout a woman who takes in a woundednswan, which turns into a man andnbecomes her lover. Leda, incubi, andnthe novel Mrs. Caliban (in which anwoman falls in love with a monster) allncame to mind, but the play didn’t gonanywhere.nThe other short plays, Joyce CarolnOates’s two one-acts, were much morensubstantial. Tone Clusters concerned ancouple being taped for television andnasked questions by a disembodied voicenabout their 22-year-old son’s murder ofna teenager. Based on a real incidentnthat happened on Long Island, and asnslightly futuristically staged (and verynwell) by Steven Albrezzi, it rises abovenits cliched premise, that to lift up thenseeming rock of middle-class life is tonfind only little white grubs.nMiss Gates was lucky in her casting.nAdale O’Brien was excellent as thenbewildered and grieving mother innTone Clusters, as was Beth Dixon as anmiddle-aged feminist trying to dealnnnwith her increasingly manic elderlynmother in The Eclipse. Dixon, a topnotchnactress, gave the best performancenof the festival, and The Eclipsenwas an interesting investigation into thenconflicts between a woman’s public lifenand her mother’s need for care; likenTone Clusters its subject matter comesnright out of the newspapers.nLast and least comes Ellen Mc­nLaughlin’s Infinity’s House. Ostensiblynabout “the bomb” and Oppenheimer’snangst and with a historicalnparade of characters ranging fromnGerman settlers lost in the Humboldtndesert to Ghinese railroad workers, itnwent nowhere, and even with somenlast-minute cuts went nowhere for twonand one-half hours. Since the playnwasn’t even commissioned by the festival,nbut by the South Coast Repertory,nand has been previously staged elsewhere,nATL doesn’t even have thenexcuse of having to produce what itnhad commissioned. What is there tonsay about a drama in which the authornacts the part of a deranged mute, in anFreudian slip bit of symbolism?nThe (I hope) trend away from commissioningnnovelists to do plays, a practicenthat has so often backfired at ATL,nwas noted above; other trends includenmore nudity (male and female — innThe Swan, where it could be justifiednby the storyline and in The Pink Studio,nwhere the appeal was more clearlynto prurient interests. There is the furtherndifficulty that ATL used a youngnfemale intern for a stark-naked role: theneminence of the festival, and the numbernof directors and casting agents andntalent scouts who come, offer a greatntemptation to a young actor to take anpart she may later regret. Also I’m anprude). One must note as well that thenfull-length play contest that originatednin 1978, and that became a one-actnplay contest in 1986, is now a tenminutenplay contest for 1991. I thinknATL will continue to commission newnand often good plays, but it will be onlynfrom established playwrights (and novelistsnand journalists), and discovering anBeth Henley or a John Pielmeier exnnihilo as happened in the past is notnthe same as discovering that JoycenCarol Gates can also do drama. And Inwish it were different.nKatherine Dalton is the managingneditor of Chronicles.n