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STAGE WEEK

Double Dip of 'Surrender Dorothy'

December 20, 1987|JANICE ARKATOV

Seasonal fare with an American/Scottish/Parisian flavor comes to town in "Surrender Dorothy," newly opened at the Powerhouse Theatre in Santa Monica. Surrender Dorothy is also the name of the company, five Paris-based actors who came together two years ago to create a project for themselves, and wound up taking the finished work ("Dorothy") to the Edinburgh Festival in 1986.

"The story is about five 30-year- olds who still find themselves in an orphanage," said director Dana Burns Westberg, who came aboard last year. "It takes place around the time they're preparing for a Christmas show. One of them has the possibility of leaving, being adopted and going off to Ecuador with a couple who want to do anthropological research. So it's about how they deal with Elizabeth's leaving. And they play it completely straight. It's really about how families organize, what family is."

The company (which includes Suzanne Andrews, Judith Burnett, Christian Erickson, Garrick Maul and Joseph Sheridan) is also looking forward to a European tour next year--while nosing out potential contacts in Los Angeles. "We picked this eight-week period to come here because everyone was free," explained Westberg, former artistic director of the Yale Cabaret. "Actually, I'm not so free. I have to get back to England the first week of January and help my wife deliver our second child."

As for the confusing business of group monikers and show titles, Westberg isn't particularly worried: "In the future it may change, but right now it's 'Surrender Dorothy,' presented by Surrender Dorothy, by Surrender Dorothy. . . ."

CRITICAL CROSS FIRE: A touring production of Robert Anderson's "I Never Sang for My Father"--directed by Berkshire Theatre Festival artistic director Josephine R. Abady and starring Harold Gould, Daniel J. Travanti and Dorothy McGuire--recently touched down at the Ahmanson.

Said Dan Sullivan in The Times: "The play's honesty is its admission that a particular kind of son is never going to be able to play the scene that he wants to play with his father. Somewhere the old man will always have him over a barrel. And yes, it matters. It's a play with reverberations, at least for conscientious sons, and this revival is decently enough acted so that you can put yourself in the situation. But there was a lot that Abady's players didn't get across, maybe because they were working so hard to get the lines across."

From Lee Melville in Drama-Logue: "Abady has guided the play efficiently but provided neither heart nor soul. . . . Garrison's monologues to the audience seem pretentious the way Travanti delivers them. In some scenes he holds back, fading into the background instead of pitting his strength against the other leads. . . . Gould finely textures his portrayal, adjusting his exaggerated gestures and vocal delivery to fit the character. McGuire retains the elegance and grace associated with her film roles and they work in perfect accord for Margaret."

From Tom Jacobs in the Daily News: "Abady's production reaches deep down into the play, and concludes on a shattering note. It's hard to imagine anyone not being profoundly moved as Travanti's voice cracks during his final monologue. But that virtuoso turn doesn't make up for Travanti's mannered performance through the rest of the play."

Said Richard Stayton in the Herald-Examiner: "This production was originally mounted for the Berkshire Theatre Festival last August, which perhaps explains why it seems baffled here. 'Father' demands literal intimacy between actors and audience, but upon the Ahmanson's cavernous stage, the subtle emotional detailing is lost. Director Abady has attempted to compensate, but the resultant declamatory style only increases our distance."

In the Anaheim Bulletin, Larry Taylor noted that "Travanti gives us a man who is almost infuriatingly passive through most of the play. When he finally stands up to his father, the moment is gut-wrenching in its effectiveness. As the father, Gould's is a towering performance. This role of the crotchety, self-centered 80-year-old is a star turn."

Kathleen O'Steen of Daily Variety concluded that "Abady does not have a grip on the incisive emotional demolition that is occurring here as these two men try so hard to come to terms only to fail. It really cheats the audience of the show's punch. . . . It hasn't been a good year at the Ahmanson so far, and this production doesn't appear to be the one that will turn things around."

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