CATCH-22, American Theater Company. Competence in one medium is no guarantee of competence in another. Joseph Heller was a great novelist whose brilliant, funny Catch-22 managed to capture the heartbreaking absurdity of war. But he was an awful playwright. His obvious, awkward stage adaptation strains for the laughs he won so gracefully in the novel. Heller doesn’t even manage to maintain a consistent tone.

Anyone who revives this clinker has his work cut out for him. Why else would director John Mohrlein have underscored this American Theater Company production with merry melodies and cloying sound effects–most of them cadged from Warner Brothers cartoons–unless he felt he had to goose Heller’s flagging material? Or ask his six cast members to approach the script as a romp, not a serious work of theater?

But Mohrlein’s cast win us over with their pluck and energy. With the exception of Andrew Micheli, who plays Heller’s antihero Yossarian, everyone portrays several characters. Watching these actors make quick changes, exiting and reentering a half second later, is theater in itself. And though Micheli’s portrayal never attains the existential pathos of Alan Arkin in Mike Nichols’s 1970 film, he is still very moving.

–Jack Helbig