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STAGE BEAT

'L'amante Anglaise' At Stages Goes For The Kill

June 06, 1986|RAY LOYND

Ever thought about the possibility of murder or, worse, dreamed that you murdered someone? Claire Lannes, a French housewife, did. And on an early morning in 1949 she mutilated her husband with an ax, dumped his remains off a bridge into several boxcars, was arrested, confessed and was put away. Those are the tawdry, real-life facts.

"L'Amante Anglaise" by Marguerite Duras at Stages is the emotional core, exposing in a simply staged interrogation the motivations and needs of the husband and wife, stunningly performed by Hal Bokar and Grace Zabriskie.

The production, mounted at Stages in 1983, has been revived intact under the direction of Paul Verdier, who reprises his role as the interrogator. The translation, uncredited because of ongoing negotiations, is lean and accessible. (Playwright Duras, a doyenne of French literature, is probably best known here for her screenplay of "Hiroshima, Mon Amour.")

The play's title is a bewitching set of homonyms. The pronunciation of "L'Amante Anglaise" ("English Mistress") sounds like "La Menthe Anglaise" ("The English Mint" refered to in the text) and also--and more pointedly--alludes to the French word for praying mantis.

This trickery informs the layers of the story. The power of the play is that of a mirror and its form is spare as a twig: Act I is the husband, Act II is the wife. The only prop is a chair.

Detection and judgment are not the interrogator's aim. He wants to isolate and strip down inner events. Why did the woman do it? Duras took license with the facts and made the murder victim a deaf mute cousin/housekeeper in order to dramatize the husband--a petty bourgeoisie and the wife's real psychological target.

The performances are burnished. Smugly compassionate, a man who treats his wife like a tarnished curio, Bokar's husband is deadly normal enough for a wild wife to kill. Zabriskie's performance is searing, alternately seductive, crazed, manipulative. The point of her remarkable physical and emotional control is that she is never melodramatic. Both actors never leave their chair, and director Verdier's steady questioning (really of the mind) creates its own light.

Performances at 1540 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood, are Mondays only, 8 p.m., indefinitely (213) 465-1010).

'TALKING WITH . . .'

Collectively written under a pen name by actresses in a workshop in Louisville, "Talking With. . ." at the Olio Theater spotlights nine monologues about women as diverse as a baton twirler, an auditioning actress, a grieving daughter, a woman in labor. The nine performers, in 10- to 12-minute sketches, dramatize a cornucopia of feminine Angst but not about sex, equality, men or independence. These are women just dealing with the moment.

The evening is lit by some notable touches. Most authentic and startling is Diana Bellamy's snake handler. Bellamy's country twang and manner is backwaters Southern. This is not an actress, this is a swamp woman holding a box with holes in it. When she pulls out her reptile--it's a real snake--and it curls around her arm and she says "If you haven't got the spirit, if you're empty, it'll bite you," Bellamy has crossed into her own realm.

Another crackling monologue is C. C. H. Pounder's "French Fries." The program's only black actress, Pounder plays a cheery, dispossessed upscale bag lady who loves to hang out in McDonald's.

Kristen Lowman's religiously maddened twirler ("drawing in the sky") and Linda Mellor's obsolete rodeo rider ("You're just merchandise to 'em.") paint other swaths of color. The other actresses, capable in varying degrees, are Noreen Hennessy, Susan Falcon, Diane Delano, and Anne Gee Byrd.

Performances at 3709 W. Sunset Blvd., run Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., through July 5 (213) 469-1375).

'THREE SISTERS'

One of the challenges with Chekhov is focusing the stagnation and deceptive aimlessness of his characters into a fugue that is, well, Chekhovian.

Director Matt Chait in the Flight Theater production of "Three Sisters" reaches momentary success, as in the closing, dimming image of the sisters arranged together like fading flowers, but the production is uneven in its casting and pacing.

The opening act of this three-intermission production plays slowly for the wrong reasons. There's a languor evident that should not be confused with the designed languor of the play. The soldiers who lounge around the sisters' provincial house never seem like they really belong there--a miscalculation of tone.

On the plus side in the 15-member cast, Jay Bell as the bemused doctor, Eric Waterhouse as the dashing and fated lover and Susan Jenks Dudley as the preoccupied and fatally wedded Masha deliver a measure of the production's strength. Patricia Alameda's quiet older sister Olga and Angela Wallace's violent-tempered, usurping Natasha also have dimension. Costumes by Barbara Cox are excellent, sets (Tim Glasby) and lighting (Michael Bowe) credible.

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