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THEATER REVIEW : 'On the Razzle' Mixes Dazzling Wordplay With Horseplay : Santa Barbara City College Theatre Group gives Tom Stoppard's play a suitably elaborate and light-spirited treatment.

July 15, 1993|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Unhand my foot, sir!" barks the flustered shopkeeper to the groveling suitor.

"I love your niece!"

"My knees? Oh, my niece . Well, my niece and I are not to be prised apart so easily, and nor are hers . . ."

It's a typical exchange of puns and innuendo from Tom Stoppard's "On the Razzle," which receives suitably elaborate and light-spirited treatment in the Santa Barbara City College Theatre Group's summer production.

In this elegantly constructed tangle of role reversals, dazzling wordplay, and class warfare, two small-town shop assistants (Jay Carlander and Devin Scott) abandon their posts to seek adventure in downtown Vienna when the boss (Larry Cross) takes off in pursuit of his eloping niece.

Immersing themselves in a way of life above their customary station, the two rebels-for-a-day keep crossing paths with their employer and his quick-witted servant (Anthony Abbriano), and must find increasingly elaborate ruses to keep from discovery.

Their disguises inevitably beget hilarious complications. Hiding from the approaching Herr Zangler, Carlander ducks into a fashion shop and wraps himself in a large cape. When informed that the garment is not only a woman's cape but has already been sold, he pretends to be the buyer's husband just stopping by "to confirm intention to buy."

Unfortunately, the buyer is a widow (Nancy Nufer)--who arrives just in time to coerce her new "husband" into taking her to dinner at an exclusive (and expensive) restaurant. "I won't feel really married until we've had the consume," she says brightly.

The Viennese setting is one of the few fidelities Stoppard concedes to his source, an obscure mid-19th-Century farce by Johann Nestroy originally titled "Einen Jux will er sich machen" (rough translation: "Meister Bueller's Day Off").

This adaptation preserves only the major landmarks in Nestroy's plot and its classic theme of "country mice in the city"--the dialogue is entirely original, and in Stoppard's case, that means very original indeed.

"Do you suppose I'd let my Airedale be hounded up hill and-- my heiress be mounted up hill and bank by a truffle-hound--be trifled with and hounded by a mountebank?" sputters Herr Zangler at one point.

The play's marriage of bristling intellectual wit and broad slapstick makes a curious, sometimes contradictory and always ingenious appeal to our highest and lowest natures--Oscar Wilde by way of "I Love Lucy," as it were.

It also makes strenuous physical and timing demands on the performers, who happily meet the challenge. The cast, which features several established actors from the Santa Barbara area, admirably convey the required multiple nuances, and director Rick Mokler skillfully wraps the package in frothy fun and rapid-fire pacing.

Dictionaries are optional, but highly recommended.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"On The Razzle." Performed through July 24, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. at the Garvin Theatre, 721 Cliff Drive in Santa Barbara. Tickets are $12 to $14. For reservations or further information, call 965-5935.

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