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Theater Review : Strindberg, Light but Biting

March 24, 1995

HOLLYWOOD — Strindberg as satirist? Believe it.

In 2nd Stage's "Comrades," a biting sendup of emancipated women first published in 1888, Strindberg departs from his typically grim M.O. and tries for a lighter touch.

Strindberg, however, can't escape being Strindberg. "Comrades" proves he can be witty--but never mellow. Try as he may for laughs, the misogynistic ire oozes between the wisecracks.

Axel (Scott Utley), an aspiring artist, has agreed to be a "comrade" rather than a master to his wife, Bertha (Karen Foster), also an artist. Axel's egalitarian notions are softheaded and dangerous--or so Strindberg would have us believe. Indeed, Axel has been handling Bertha with kid gloves, when a whip and chair would be more in order.

Written during his turbulent first marriage to the actress Siri von Essen, "Comrades" is Strindberg's ultimate wish fulfillment, his chance to replay his relationship with Siri in another key. Axel is transparently Strindberg; Bertha is transparently Siri.

Director Paul Fagen's decision to set the play in Paris in the early 1950s works well, although Douglas D. Smith's uninspired set design doesn't quite do justice to the period.

--F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

* "Comrades," 2nd Stage, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. Ends Sunday. $12-$15. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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