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'Darlinghissima Letters' at Itchey Foot

January 31, 1988|JANICE ARKATOV

Thirty-one years of globe-trotting correspondence is the basis for "Darlinghissima: Letters to a Friend," a collection of letters by New Yorker writer Janet Flanner to broadcast journalist Natalia Danesi Murray. Presented by the Mark Taper Forum's literary cabaret at the Itchey Foot Ristorante, "Darlinghissima" (Sundays at 6 p.m.) features Emmy winner Christina Pickles, with additional commentary by Murray herself.

"The letters started in 1944, when Janet and I left New York to go abroad during the war--and lasted all through our lives," Murray noted. "At that time, she was in France and I was in Italy (as a captain with the Office of War Information, broadcasting over NBC). When I read our letters later on, I found them so extraordinary: They depict a life, a time--not only of historical events, but working women within the background of war, who could establish and maintain a friendship through the years of travel, responsibilities. . . .

"She was the American Europeanized, I was the European Americanized," Murray added. "It's what made our lives so interesting." A past one-woman show dramatizing Flanner's "Letters From Paris" inspired "Darlinghissima."

The show covers only one side of the correspondence--the letters that Flanner, who died in 1978, wrote to Murray. "Janet was anti-domestic," Murray explained. "She left America very early in life, never wanted a home, always lived in hotels and never kept papers. She did keep some of my letters, but later destroyed them. I never destroyed hers because they were so beautiful."

Relationships, '50s-'60s style, get the theatrical once-over in Enid Rudd's "The Marriage Gambol," opening tonight at the Cast. Sandra Bogan and Robert Wightman star, Peter Flood directs.

"It's a two-character romantic comedy, spanning 10 years of a relationship," Bogan explained. "It goes from their living together to her announcement that she's pregnant--and since it's 1955, you get married the next day--to the honeymoon. Meanwhile, he goes from being a struggling writer with no money to being very successful, writing detective novels and selling them to TV. Then he cheats on me. I throw him out, and eventually he comes crawling back.

"What's nice," added Bogan (who was recently seen on "Moonlighting" rebuffing Bruce Willis at a maternity fashion show), "is that the woman ends up in a position of power. If you just read the play, you might miss it, because she does take him back. But it's on her own terms. And as Peter Flood pointed out, there are no better answers today--for marriage, children, career, infidelity--then there were back then. It's the same old song."

CRITICAL CROSSFIRE: Marlane Meyer's "Etta Jenks," which tells of a young Midwestern woman's slide into the Hollywood porn industry, opened recently at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.

Said Dan Sullivan in The Times: "Meyer tells her story as objectively as David Mamet told his in 'Glengarry Glen Ross.' Her people are sleazeballs (the men anyway), but each has worked out a rationale for his behavior, and may even have a sense of humor about it."

The Herald-Examiner's Richard Stayton applauded "a superior supporting cast," yet felt that "as docudrama, 'Etta' lacks the pathos and realism of Wendy Apple's brilliant documentary on the porn industry, 'Fallen Angels'; as feminist text, it borrows heavily from Caryl Churchill; as 'extended realism,' it doesn't extend far enough."

In the Daily News, Tom Jacobs grumped, "I hesitate to call 'Etta' a play at all, for it feels more like a 'B' movie--or perhaps an R-rated 'Afterschool Special.' It has a single message, but it's a pretty profound one: 'Stay away from the porn business. It can ruin your life.' Thanks. I'll keep that in mind."

And from Amy Dawes in Daily Variety: The "play features a host of memorable characters, pumped up to comic dimension by director Roberta Levitow and an excellent cast, along with well-timed comic exchanges. . . . Deirdre O'Connell does a fine job with the lead, giving Etta many dimensions beyond her raunchy vulnerability."

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