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Taboo nicely put for 'A Naked Girl'

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NEW YORK -- A few years back, one of our most celebrated playwrights demonstrated how love can conquer all, even when challenged by a squirm-inducing sexual taboo. Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? collected a Tony Award and other honors.

Richard Greenberg's A Naked Girl on the Appian Way (*** out of four), which opened Thursday at the Roundabout Theatre Company's American Airlines Theatre, isn't likely to inspire as much controversy, or as much hyperbolic praise. That's in part because the taboo this time isn't as off-putting as bestiality, but it also is because Greenberg, who earned a best-play Tony for 2003's Take Me Out, seems motivated more to entertain than to shock, enlighten or admonish us.

Like Goat, Naked Girl focuses on a smart, happily married couple whose open-minded and progressive instincts are tested by a sudden revelation. Bess Lapin, a cookbook author, and her businessman husband, Jeff, are devoted both to each other and to their three twentysomething adopted children: Bill, who is of Japanese descent; Thaddeus, who is white; and the dark-skinned Juliet, whose heritage is Dominican.

As the play opens, Bess and Jeff are preparing to welcome Juliet and Thaddeus back from a European sojourn. What follows is an affectionate sendup of baby-boomer idealism, tinged with elements of sharper satire but offering the perspective that peace, love and understanding are not just pie-in-the-sky goals.

Jill Clayburgh and Richard Thomas imbue Bess and Jeff with effortless warmth and wit. Matthew Morrison is beguilingly guileless as the sweetly dopey Thaddeus, while Susan Kelechi Watson and James Yaegashi amuse as the sensible Juliet and wry, self-pitying Bill. John Lee Beatty's scrumptious set makes the Lapins' home especially inviting. You'll enjoy their hospitality, even if you leave their gathering a little confused.

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