At the opening of "Touch of Rapture," a new play by Mary Fengar Gale, Clovis Myrtle Minton, a reclusive sculptress, is dying. She asks her husband Quince Dillingham, a patron of the arts and the proprietor of the prominent Shallots Gallery in the West End of London, "Will you take my hands?" At first, Quince assumes that Clovis is merely requesting that he hold and caress her hands in her final moments. But then, just as his wife dies, something miraculous happens. To Quincy’s amazement, he is suddenly filled with the urge to not only begin sculpting, but to continue working on a series of figurative statues of mythological goddesses begun by his wife, whose work has never been shown. For reasons that the play later explores, Quince has kept Clovis’ work under wraps.

Working under a pseudonym, Quincy is soon displaying and promoting the sale of the goddesses in his gallery. Running a business and sculpting round the clock like a man possessed, Quincy is near exhaustion. The new sculptures, however, are recognized as the work of Clovis by her elder brother and barrister Garlin Mandrake Minton. He accuses Quince of hiding from him his sister’s most recent work, all of which was supposedly left to him in her will. It is not surprising that Quince’s explanation does not satisfy Garlin, who feels that Quince is trying to deny his sister her glory and cheat him out of an inheritance. Garlin is dumbfounded when Quince demonstrates that he has, in fact, somewhat miraculously gained the ability to draw in the exact style of Clovis.

Quincy, who believes that a dealer who exhibits the work of his wife would be perceived as nepotistic, convinces Garlin that they should form a partnership to exploit the sculptures, which are sure to be very valuable. Things get even more strange and unsettling when Clovis’ talent is transferred to Garlin, and then transferred to Rosemary, Clovis’ frumpish cousin.

Under the facile direction of Stewart M. Schulman, "Touch of Rapture" which seems at first like a barrage of silly chatter and absurd situations evolves into a rather sweet and gentle allegory about gender and the rules of the game.

Just know that when Garlin and Quincy decide to bring Rosemary into their scheme to pose as the artist at public appearances, the play begins to assert itself with whimsical twists and turns. The play takes an audacious approach to its theme – the circuitous route to recognition and empowerment that women strive for in a world where men either provide the way or put up the roadblocks.

John Fitzgibbon, as the smug motor-mouthed Quince, rattles off his dialogue faster than the patter of Gilbert and Sullivan’s modern major general. Davis Hall is increasingly amusing as Garlin, a closeted prig. Probably the most interesting turnabout is offered by Marnie Andrews, as the earthy Rosemary. Her transformation from an unappreciated and unmotivated woman to a graceful artist allows for a change in the balance of power, providing the play with its most affecting resonance.

Designer Carrie Mossman’s stylized setting (cleanly lighted by Jeff Greenberg) brings us from a bedroom and parlor at the estate of Fennfield in Hampstead Heath to Shallots Gallery with rotating white panels, some sculptured figures, and a few chairs and tables. Despite frequent lapses into verbosity, "Touch of Rapture," ultimately wins us over through the sheer playfulness of its fantastical plot.

"Touch of Rapture," through Sunday, February 20, New Jersey Repertory Company at the Lumia Theatre, 179 Broadway, Long Branch. $30. 732-229-3166 or E-mail tix@njrep.org

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