The subject of AIDS has been a ripe ground for drama. But when an AIDS play fails, it is particularly painful. Julie Novak-McSweeney's "Night Baseball" at Wooden-O Theatre, is a manipulative tear-jerker in which a dying gay man (Paul Schackman) pays one last visit to his aunt (Teddy Vincent, who alternates in the role with Jody Carter.)
The visit becomes a confrontation over painful issues past, including the gay man's long-ago commitment by his family to a mental institution where he was given electroshock therapy to "treat" his budding homosexuality.
Due largely to Todd Luria's plodding direction, McSweeney's play comes across as more lame than cathartic. Vincent, whose Jewish dialect is more off than on, strains for sentiment that never comes. Schackman also seems to be skimming along the surface of his role, emotionally speaking, although he does have his moments, including a languid opening dance to Lou Reed's "Take a Walk on the Wild Side."
"Aluminum," which closes the evening, is essentially comedian Barry Steiger's gay-oriented stand-up routine. As dry as parched corn, the cerebral Steiger may take some cheap shots at his Kentucky roots, but he does get laughs, a welcome response after the uneventful innings of "Night Baseball."
* "Night Baseball" and "Aluminum," Wooden-O Theatre, 2207 Federal Ave., West Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Feb . 11. $12. (310) 477-2199. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.