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THEATER : THEATER REVIEW : A Night of Bard Hopping : A fairly personable offering of excerpts from the master's plays explores the battle of the sexes.

April 02, 1993|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Robert Koehler writes about theater for The Times

You see them when browsing through the classical record bins: those sample recordings of "Handel's Greatest Hits" or "Dvorak's Greatest Hits," custom-made for the listener who has no time for exploring the individual works. It's the recording business' answer to fast food.

Theater has a rough equivalent, and a fairly personable example of it is at Company of CharActors. With "Shakespeare's Greatest Hits," actor Don Warburton has assembled excerpts of scenes from the Bard's comedies, tragedies and histories, but it isn't merely a display of Warburton's knowledge.

The game here is to explore permutations in the battle between the sexes. With Sabrina Roland as his partner in this gallery of duet scenes on a bare stage in front of a black curtain, Warburton has more than his match.

In the Orlando-Rosalind scene in the Forest of Arden from "As You Like It," for example, Warburton is a little too old and pudgy to fit the virile Orlando image you see in full productions of the gender-switching comedy. While it's impossible for her to fully conceal her femininity, Roland's disguised Rosalind is a winning, wink-wink-nod-nod performance.

The twosome then switch to "Richard III"--a kind of right- to left-brain transfer. Warburton dissolves into the role while introducing the scene, arching his back and contorting his hand and injecting a tone of bitterness into his voice. It's borderline comical, and Roland's weepy Lady Anne pours on the quivering tone a bit too heavily.

A spontaneous scene, not on the program, from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" fits the pair better, especially Warburton, who's a natural Nick Bottom. And the next switch, to "Macbeth," exhibits some gutsiness: The way Roland's blood-lusting Lady Macbeth comes on to her husband suggests a kinky private sex life. It also suggests a way of reading "Macbeth" in which the quest for power and sexual domination are linked.

Othello's bedside murder of Desdemona, is staged by director Len Luntsford with irising lights and a deliberate silent-movie excessiveness--with Warburton's Moor accent being a little too excessive. Roland, though, plays his victim as skillfully as she plucks audience requests out of a hat during a portion titled "Potpourri." On Saturday, she actually recalled Cressida's climactic speech from the unjustly obscure "Troilus and Cressida."

This "Potpourri" section is the kind of anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better exercise that can reduce acting to just that--a sheer display of artistic muscles. The final scene, from "The Taming of the Shrew," seals the case that Shakespeare's female roles were as proscribed as the women of his time, but also that a talented actor such as Roland can make a role like Kate as large as she wishes.

WHERE AND WHEN

What: "Shakespeare's Greatest Hits."

Location: Company of CharActors, 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City.

Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, through April 17.

Price: $10.

Call: (213) 466-1767.

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