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A stranger comes to town 

Despite its winning both the Toronto SummerWorks Festival'sBest Play and Outstanding Ensemble Awards, Alan Dilworth's The Unforgettingstrikes me as inchoate and barely effective. The ever-resourceful Downstairs Cabaret Theatre imported this offbeat drama and, because it runs less than an hour, added Canadian folksinger Claire Jenkins with Andrew Penner from the play's cast to perform a mini-concert after an intermission following the play.

A commanding presence, Penner was ironically the most effective player in The Unforgetting, although he is barely onstage and has almost nothing to say. On DCT's opening night, the two actors who carry virtually all of the drama seemed to misjudge the necessary projection and were sometimes inaudible only 20 feet away.

But Dilworth's script is also none too clear in projecting its basic situation. Only a line or two clarifies the setting in Canada during the '30s, when the Depression caused many young men to travel across the country by rail, desperately looking for work.

One such person, played by Penner, shows up at the home of a young heiress and her husband, a doctor, and almost tells them something that almost lets them know a terrible secret about the wife's millionaire father, who has just died. Their shocked response and irresponsible actions thereafter almost clarify what happens to the catalyst-stranger as well as what they finally decide to do.

Patrick Robinson is emotionally telling as the well-meaning young husband trapped by circumstances he can't control. Maev Beaty must have had an off night, because I found her young heiress to be appropriately spoiled and unthinking, but generally dazed and unclear about why she did or said anything.

The play apparently has satirical and serious comment to make about both social interactions and the morality of personal decisions that are affected by economically trying times. Maybe subsequent performances will communicate that material more strongly.

The Unforgetting,written and directed by Alan Dilworth, plays at the Downstairs Cabaret Theatre Center, 540 East Main Street, through November 28. $21. 325-4370, www.downstairscabaret.com

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