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Always leave 'em wanting more?

Who knows what diabolical source is responsible for the devilish thoughts that creep into an artist's mind?

Though the answer may forever remain unresolved there is no doubt some combination of imps, elves, and scamps have compelled playwright Janece Shaffer to compose a work in which two women are physically transformed, one into a fairy and the other, a mermaid.

This is a delightfully wacky premise. Would that the laudably bold author was capable of fully exploring the potential of the theme.

An artist must be bold. Moreover, if the goal is to create a work combining comedy and drama a playwright must possess a keen eye for the nuances of human behavior that transcend the obvious. In this too Shaffer succeeds.

Her weakness appears to be an inability to create an organic whole rather than a universe populated with conceptual bits of radiance separated by empty space.

There is much to enjoy about "Wishful Thinking." Not only does it frequently elicit cascades of laughter, it provides insights into the emotional intimacy of lifelong female friends.

Shaffer has demonstrated a gift for such revelations in a previous work, "The Genes of Beauty Queens," and the continuing evolution of her skill and acuity are evident in "Wishful Thinking."

These creative gifts are embellished by the actors portraying Norma, the fairy (Deborah Polston) and Amy, the mermaid (Tess Malis Kincaid).

Polston is terrific as the mouse-like housewife who appears to exist only to serve others, to cook and clean and never, ever make a fuss or demonstrate a personal need. Her every movement a tentative foray into a world strewn with eggshells, Norma epitomizes women trapped by their own passivity.

As a counterpoint the playwright imbues Amy with the hard-edged aggressiveness of a successful L.A. entertainment lawyer. Played with an ideal balance of assertiveness and vulnerability, Kincaid's Amy has returned to the Ohio of her youth for she has discovered that concurrent with her transformation into a mermaid her childhood friend Norma became a fairy, wings and all.

Emily Gill designed the costumes and while the mermaid is very good the fairy outfit is perfect. Moreover, in the spirit of a newly released film, the melding of Polston and the costume is perfecter.

The play opens with these simultaneous individual metamorphoses and the occasion is enhanced by crisp comic timing. Lisa Adler, Co-Artistic/Producing Director and co-founder of Horizon Theatre Company, directs.

Also enhancing the gaiety, John Fischer's flouncing, fruity Dean, personal assistant to Amy, is the archetypal flaming homosexual male at whom so many enjoy laughing. To our collective delight it is a role in which Fischer revels and is perhaps no more or less prototypical than those of Polston and Kincaid.

Through no fault of his own, however, Fischer is responsible for emphasizing one of the weaknesses of Shaffer's play. Too often there are empty spaces separated by Fischer's hilarious burlesques.

Sure, he's a gifted clown and flaming homosexual men are as inherently amusing as bunny slippers, but where's the play?

For that matter, where's the craft?

Too often the playwright tells us that something is magical rather than employing her craft to render it so. Instead of creating an environment which may only be interpreted as enchanted Shaffer's characters tell us to perceive various events and objects as marvelous.

Because she is not capable of transforming our perceptions through her craft Shaffer asks us to meet her halfway. This is half good.

Less good still is the playwright's inability to bring the work to an accomplished conclusion. Rather than weaving something substantive (amusing or dramatic, it does not matter) out of the web of complex emotional possibilities before us we get Norma's husband Tom (Jeff Portell) dressing up in an Vegas-era Elvis costume and crooning.

Sure it's cute but it too is the equivalent of bunny slippers. And, perhaps to distract us from this obvious weakness Shaffer drags out Dean the queen in drag as a backup singer.

This suggests either the playwright was incapable of writing herself out of the situation or was under some deadline that prevented her from giving the piece the attention it deserves. Whatever, the conclusion feels incomplete, cursory.

This is particularly grating because when she's on her game Shaffer can be illuminating with regard to those rich, textured intimacies women share. Through her characters we come to appreciate the depth of the bond, the trust, seemingly unique to the gender.

This ability to call attention to and find beauty in that which otherwise passes before us unnoticed is the essence of art.

Shaffer's got something; is it wishful thinking to expect more?