A Variable Passion, Writers’ Theatre–Chicago. This is just the sort of nice, sweet nothing of a show that will go down easy with a late-middle-aged, middle-of-the-road audience in the back of a bookstore in Glencoe. Essentially an anthology of writings on love held together by the thinnest of stories–philandering professor facing divorce spends a couple of regret-filled hours reading aloud his favorite passages about “wooing, wedding, and regretting” to an imaginary class (us)–these bite-size pieces from Shakespeare, Keats, Cummings, Twain, et al contain nothing that might offend or challenge the sensibilities of a literate, comfortable middle-class, upper-middle-brow audience. Or shake anyone out of their dogmatic slumber.

Still, David New reads the material fairly well. He has a strong, resonant voice, though without quite the range one would like. He’s best with comedy–the two most successful pieces are by Wilde and Twain–and weakest with material for which he must evoke deeper feelings of love, passion, or regret. New also seems subtly wrong for the part: he’s more the handsome, enthusiastic young graduate assistant all the women (and some of the men) go gaga for than the mournful full professor suffering through a midlife dark night of the soul. As a result, the story supposedly connecting the literary selections, which is supposed to elicit compassion for Professor Franks and his shattered life, feels about as convincing as Marlin Perkins’s pitches for Mutual of Omaha on Wild Kingdom.

–Jack Helbig