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Suppressed Tensions Surface in 'Rapture'


David Hare's "The Secret Rapture" at Theatre 40 is an engrossing drama full of subtle characterization and sophisticated ethical quandries. Yet it also has moments of good old-fashioned suspense. So even though the players in this bare-bones production aren't all up to the task, Hare triumphs.

A very British look at the suppressed tensions between two sisters and several significant others in their lives, "The Secret Rapture" tackles complex philosophical questions of obligation and duty without sacrificing the interpersonal drama. It's about the imperative of truth, as well as the ties that bind.

Isobel (Ann Hearn), the enigmatic central character, runs a small design firm with her boyfriend Irwin (Andre Barron). Her sister Marion (Carlyle King) is a government minister married to an evangelical businessman (Webster Williams). The siblings' lives are complicated when their father dies, leaving behind an alcoholic young wife (Rachel Davies) whom Isobel takes in.

"The Secret Rapture's" essential subject is the loss of purpose, a theme that plays itself out in different ways with several of the characters. As in Hare's "A Map of the World" and "Plenty," personal desires are pitted against the needs of others, with consequences that are not only ambiguous but unavoidably painful.

Hare's 1988 play, which is due out this year as a feature film starring the highly regarded stage actress Juliet Stevenson and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, belongs to the women, or rather it should. But it's the men who deliver the admirably and appropriately restrained performances in director Stephen Tobolowsky's intelligent production.

* "The Secret Rapture," Theatre 40, Beverly Hills High School, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. Mondays-Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Ends April 19. $10. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

'The Blue Angel' Goes to Boston


What is it about a nerdy man and a sensuous woman? The combination has long been a staple of Western literature. Beyond the good vs. evil conundrum, it seems to stoke our fantasies (and fears) of sexual and moral escapism. And that's certainly the appeal of "The Night Angel," a flawed but provocative play in an intermittently compelling production at the Open Fist Theatre.

Set in the pubs of pre-World War II Boston, William Piana's adaptation of the Heinrich Mann novel "Professor Unrath"--the same work on which the film "The Blue Angel" was based--has both milieu and character going for it. But the story of the lonely professor and the siren singer gets bogged down by a misplaced and unrelieved sense of its own weighty undercurrents.

As a parable of repression and indulgence, "The Night Angel" ably pits an archetypal female character against a familiar male persona. The interest isn't so much in what will happen--we know it will end badly, if not how--but in watching the intellectual man reduced to total subjugation and humiliation. Libido liberates, then destroys, while Lola emerges unscathed.

Still, for all the symbolism, there's something missing. "The Night Angel" isn't Expressionistic, but it's not realistic either. Instead, Piana's adaptation is waylaid between the two styles.

Sherri Stone Butler is the winningly zaftig Lola, an equal opportunity vamp who's just as happy ensnaring school boys as toying with the affections of cloistered academics. Marc Sandler is convincing as the uptight Dr. Rath, the kind of guy who listens to Delibes and Puccini arias in his study and breaks out in a cold sweat when he comes near anything female.

Unfortunately, the theatricality of this amorality tale is diminished by director Dalene Young's lugubrious pacing. And the game supporting ensemble isn't seasoned enough for this kind of material.

* "The Night Angel," Open Fist Theatre, 1625 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends May 7. $15. (213) 882-6912. Running time: 2 hours.

'Bluefish Cove' Quaint but Viable


The late Jane Chambers' "Last Summer at Bluefish Cove" at Theatre Geo is a perennial of lesbian theater that's been much seen in L.A., including a 20-month run in 1983 and a 1985 revival. The only surprise now is that a top-notch cast can still make this rigged melodrama work.

Set in a summer beach colony in 1980, the play focuses on eight women: three couples, one single and a stray straight woman named Eva (Dey Young), who just happens to rent the one vacant cottage for the season.

Naturally, the innocent Eva doesn't know what kind of Garden of Eden she's gotten herself into. And just as predictably, she falls for the loner Lil (the singularly magnetic Denise Crosby), who happens to be dying of a brain tumor (gals, get your hankies ready).

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