"Have you seen a 7-foot naked statue that seems to have disappeared off the face of the Earth?" This is the central mystery driving ACT Artistic Director Carey Perloff's new romantic thriller about three archaeologists linked in an obsessive search for the Praxiteles Aphrodite, a tall marble nude that aroused fixations in 5th-century B.C. before vanishing without a trace. When a disturbing burial ground of murdered children is excavated in Cyprus, the mystery of the missing statue deepens. Much of the play's dynamic tension comes from the characters' opposing professional ideologies. Driven by instinct, emotion, and (at times unethical) passion, Angela (René Augesen) clashes with former lover Nigel (Stephen Barker Turner), a military historian who has no patience for subjectivity in his research. Victor (an excellent Gregory Wallace) provides needed humor as the queer theorist caught between the other two. Perloff is too zealous in trying to link the past with the present, and her writing is sometimes unconvincing for example, when the cranky old cleaning lady (Ching Valdes-Aran) starts to creep around as if channeling Aphrodite and growl out lover's advice, and when Nigel's personal life starts to mimic the final revelation of their archaeological dig. Beyond these glitches, however, Dating works wonderfully as a thrilling and intellectually stimulating Indiana Jones-style puzzle. Nathaniel Eaton
Through Dec. 23 at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Bldg. D, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Tickets are $31-40; call 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org.