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STAGE BEAT

Fringe Festival : Surreal Comedy In 'Garden Of Delights'

September 11, 1987|ROBERT KOEHLER

"I feel a bubble rising into my heart, screaming in madness"--the words of Lais, Fernando Arrabal's tortured heroine in "Garden of Delights." She is the quintessential product of the Spanish Catholic school system: wracked with self-doubt, self-guilt and self-indulgence. She keeps a herd of sheep, plus a virile, Calaban-like savage in a cage. She can afford to--she's a world-renowned actress on the level of Elizabeth Taylor.

Arrabal wrote a comedy, but perhaps why that fact doesn't come through in the Latino Ensemble/Purple Stages production at the Aerobics Unlimited Studio is because "Garden of Delights" is a very Spanish comedy. Neither director Robert Prior nor his Latino and Anglo cast have penetrated to the surrealist's complex and satirical cultural reference points.

Allegra Swift's Lais, though as beautiful as the text requires, doesn't draw us into her world of pain and her ultimately strange triumph. Surrealism, especially on stage, can work only if the foundation is absolutely credible. This Lais comes off as a petulant adolescent prone to changing her mind.

As Miharca, Lais' loving school friend who turns into an adult sadist, Norma Maldonado travels Arrabal's time shifts with ease. Larry Acosta's Teloc, the man capable of sending Lais back and forth in time, is less than magical.

So is the production, which trips when it should fly through numerous scene changes and blackouts (see it at night, when daylight won't spill into the studio). Sylvia Jahnsons' set is all white chiffon and white furniture (for virginity?) and Julia Bigler's footlights cast a celestial glow, marred by slippery lighting cues.

Performances at 4370 Fountain Ave. on Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. and Sundays, 1 p.m., through Sept. 27. Tickets: $10; (213) 484-9005.

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