Pacific Resident Theatre
DRAMA-LOGUE Theatre Review
August 14-20 1997
Produced by Joan Chodorow and Sarah Keiley with Judith Borne for the Pacific Resident Theatre, 705 1A Venice Blvd., Venice; (213) 660-TKTS. Opened Aug. 9; plays Thurs..Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; runs indefiniteiy. As the typically French playwright loves to explain himself through his characters in great detail, Gaflic comedy and tragedy are equally garrulous and, by American standards, static rhetorical displays that offer relatively little action. On the other hand, American dramas, with their abundance of on-stage events, must often look rushed and ungainly to the French — filled with half-explained behavior and subconscious drives that would be transparent to any character who would simply spend a moment in self-reflection. While French theatre grows out of a more formal tradition than ours, it is in no way less truthful. The differences are a matter of style, not substance. In Ardele, a fascinating tragic comedy written when playwright Jean Anouilh was 38, the characters are living very close to the edge, but that does not prevent them from constantly turning a pretty phrase and keeping an eye on universal truths as well as their own personal predicaments. Fortunately, Lucienne Hill’s suave translation captures sophisticated lingual charms and at the same time makes Anouilh’s characters, living almost a century ago,The title character, Ardele, sister to the General, is a hunchback who has fallen in love with another hunchback. The General is appalled by the scandal Ardele’s marriage might cause, and calls a family conference to prevent it. The family, it turns out, is the real scandal, beginning with the General himself. He is so unfaithful that his wife, Emily, screams for his company ev ery 10 minutes to make sure he is not betraying her. That has not prevented the General from seducing his sexy maid. His other sister Lillian travels with a lover as well as her husband who, in turn, is having an affair with a seamstress. The General ‘s daughterin-law, Natalie, is in love with her boyish brother-in-law — and he with her. The children, roughly 10 years old, imbued with all this passion, are already suffering lovers’ quarrels. How will it all end? — Not as cozily as the laughter would lead you to believe. There are drawing room comedies and drawing room comedies. In this particular drawing room, located in a French country house circa 1912, elegantly designed by Kurt Wahlner, stairways are placed at each end of the stage that connect to the same landing. This ensures a variety of blocking possibilities which director Alec Doyle— a man who clearly understands Anouilh — explores throughout the evening. Though the theatre is small, we never feel claustrophobic.
Doyle’s grasp of the emotional demands Anouilh makes upon cast and audience alike is also impressive. Anouilb’s characters are always talking about their feelings, and yet they must feel whatever they are talking about at the same time. In most plays, to comment on one’s feelings is considered a great gaffe. How can one be real when one is talking about how real one is? In French comedy, this is a centuries old tradition, and it works if the director, like Doyle, takes the dilemmas seriously without ever losing his sense of humor or his respect for bons mots. One essential quality for any actor doing Anouilh is considerable charm —this is a delightful cast as well as a singularly amusing one. Richard Fancy as the General has the blustering authority of a military leader whose shrewd stratagems on the field are exceeded only by his hopeless ineptitude for domestic crises. Fancy offers great energy, sly wit and a master clown’s exaggerated anguish. Cheryl Dooley as Ada, the maid, provides calm practical sense. So too does the lovely Shannon Fill as Natalie, one of the few characters who practices fidelity. Will Rothhaar as Toto, the sexually precocious child, is well cast and ouite convincing. Michael Rothhaar as the Count is put-upon and sympathetic. Kathleen Garrett as the Countess gives a remarkable performance of a woman struggling with love and vanity — not necessarily in that order. The handsome Robert Lee Jacobs as Villardieu, the Countess’s lover, is. a magnificently strutting definition of the word “puerile.” David Rogge as Nicholas, a young swain in the throws of passion, manages to convince us he is hopelessly in love without ever overacting. That is a feat very few performers can manage successfully. Little Jessie Clemens as Marie-Christine is a fine child actress, and we can understand every word she says. David Dionisio is properly spooky as the Hunchback. Audrey Eisne~’5 costumes are exceptional~ Deena Lynn Mullen’s lightingdesigi is wonderful. The storm is especially impressive, and most welcome in a city that has not seen rain in six months. Alexander Enberg’s sound design is gracefully appropriate.
703 Venice Blvd. , Venice CA 90291 Box Office 310 822 8392