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Stage Review : Eight Actors In Search Of Luigi

June 18, 1986|LAWRENCE CHRISTON

You can find yourself at a smart cocktail party or a prestigious social function feeling unaccountably dead on your feet. You blame the drink, the food, or you remember all the put-downs or past blows to the ego that now anchor your sullen un-chic spirit in some shoal of despond.

Then something happens that slices through the funk like a laser, and suddenly you know the deadliness isn't issuing from you after all.

That's what happened to this observer when Pino Micol stepped out front late in the program of "Hollywood's Salute to Pirandello" Monday night at the James A. Doolittle Theatre.

The salute was a benefit performance for the Italian Heritage Culture Foundation and the Center for Advanced Research in the Performing Arts-UCLA. It also marked the 50th anniversary of Luigi Pirandello's death. (That's a dubious celebration, if you think of it, as opposed to an artist's birth. Why honor the day he stopped producing?)

Nine Foch, Anthony Franciosa, David Marshall Grant, Julie Harris, John Houseman, Amy Irving and Michael York--in addition to Micol--took the stage for solo turns of Pirandello selections.

From the moment Houseman as the magician Crotone began flapping his arms and delivering the verbal sten-gun bursts that have filled up his scenes in "The Paper Chase" and his Smith-Barney commercials, you sensed the portent of what was to come.

The entire cast played a scene from "Six Characters in Search of an Author" that might have been subtitled "Back From the Dead." Grant, a slight, almost fey figure, was miscast as Pirandello's Italian stallion "Liola," the priapic young man who lovingly crushes women to his chest like flowers. York followed with what was, in contrast, an elegant reading of Count Romeo from "You Never Know." (He's beginning to resemble a young James Mason.)

Foch played Signora Frola from "It Is So (If You Think So)," a lady much aggrieved over the neglect shown her by her daughter and son-in-law, and whose martyrdom is undaunted by the revelation that her daughter has been dead for four years (this piece works like a hall of mirrors). Irving followed as Momima from "Tonight We Improvise," where a mother, in this context, slumps to the floor from terminal envy over her sister's success.

Harris gave a clear reading of the poignant Donata, the actress in "Finding Yourself" who has a tough time distinguishing between being a woman and an actress, before she lost her concentration in her notes.

Franciosa came on to do a scene from "Henry IV," one of Pirandello's most eloquent works ("Ghosts are images we can't contain in the realm of sleep"), which served to remind us that Franciosa has always been a gifted auditioner.

A number of references were made to the moon in the course of the evening, and an eerie, capricious, haunting moonlight is just what this literal-minded program lacked (Franco Tonelli gave us the selections and the academic-sounding translation). This is the kind of program for which you're obliged to feel grateful--name actors giving their services for a worthy cause, attended by a fashionable crowd dripping with Culture--and whose museum stuffiness makes you feel the self-reproving churl if you don't play along.

When Micol came on to do two selections from "The Late Mattia Pacal," the idolatrous torpor vanished in a flash. In the first, Micol's Pascal as a writer questions the efficacy of words (Micol reclined on the stage and picked the words out of his book to examine them as though they were fleas). In the second, he has taken on an assumed identity, and when it comes time to commit suicide, he's confronted with the dilemma of which person will die.

It made a big difference that these were the only segments performed in Italian; instantly you felt the linguistic rush and excitability that gave Pirandello's lines their charge (the English is contrastingly rife with gray no-man's-land abstractions), and his points poked through the scrim of the non-Italian-speaker's incomprehension.

Micol also is an extremely nimble actor; lines and colors and feelings seem to burble through every portion of his body. He's a swift reminder that Italians are among the best natural actors in the world, if not the best natural comedians. It gave the crowd something to buzz about on its way out to the lobby where (while we're at it) some of the silliest and most deranged art hanging in any major cultural institution in the city can be seen.

Maurizio Scapparro directed.

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