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Stage Review : 'Trouble In Tahiti' Is A Delight In The Aisles

March 05, 1986|DON SHIRLEY

David Galligan's revival of Leonard Bernstein's 1952 chamber musical, "Trouble in Tahiti," is a pleasure from beginning to end.

The beginning and the end aren't 60 minutes apart, but who's counting? The length is appropriate for the ambitions of the piece; just don't enter the Skylight Theatre expecting an epic.

The show's structure is simple --in seven scenes, we examine a day in the life of a suburban couple. The only other performers on stage are three doo-wah singers. It's a jazzy, witty, streamlined "Scenes From a Marriage."

The couple is deeply depressed, but the show is neither deep nor depressing. Instead, it's a bittersweet little zinger aimed at '50s domestic complacency. The husband is more of a caricature than the wife, but it wouldn't be surprising to see either of them in a New Yorker cartoon. A few of Bernstein's lyrics veer close to pretense, but his music remains fresh and fun after all these years.

Eileen Barnett is almost too glamorous to play a frustrated housewife; she looks more like an Italian movie queen despite Bonnie Stauch's sensible outfits. Barnett's voice isn't quite as enchanting as her face, but it comes close, and it carries well in the intimacy of the Skylight. Furthermore, she knows how to shade her voice for a wide range of effects.

Lawrence Guittard's square-jawed visage and growly baritone are ideal for the role of the peevish, preening husband. He's especially funny as he sings a fevered salute to male winners, while admiring the tiny loving cup that he just won in his gym's handball tournament. What a guy.

Frank Basile leads the three-man band and the breezy Greek chorus (Dale Kristien, Gary Imhoff and Brian Dyer) with verve. Trinidad Crystal contributes notable flourishes on the clarinet. A. Clark Duncan's set--a collection of bright boxes and a backdrop--is artfully lit by Steven B. Mannshardt.

Performances are at 1816 1/2 Vermont Ave., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. (213) 874-3678).

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