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There's Trouble in This 'Captain's Paradise'

August 30, 1995|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LONG BEACH — Alec Coppel's "The Captain's Paradise" is one of those charming, frothy, gentle comedies playwrights used to write, with an innocent hint of sexual misconduct excused by larger issues of romance and slight adventurousness. Its effects are subtle, and its style is high comedy.

Director J.D. Reichelderfer, in his production at Long Beach Playhouse, doesn't see it that way. Obviously mistrusting the script's ability to please an audience, Reichelderfer has directed his cast to overdo, overact and overemphasize with mugging, leering, low physical comedy. The result is "Captain's Paradise Lost."

Capt. Henry St. James, for those who missed the delightful 1953 film version with Alec Guinness, operates a shuttle boat between Gibraltar and the African town of Linea, across the Straits. His paradise is having a prim hausfrau of an English wife in Gibraltar, and an exotic tornado of a wife in Linea.

Three days here, three days there--what could be more Utopian? Until, that is, the wives reveal their true marital dreams, discover each other's existence and force St. James out of his Eden.

Directed with more insight, this obviously capable cast could give Coppel's gentle play the flavor it deserves. They have more style than Reichelderfer gives them credit for.

Keith Decker's Captain St. James is naively confident enough, Gina Altizer as his Gibraltar wife has the right British aplomb, and as his Linea wife, Roxanne Coyne is properly buoyant and exotic. Both Altizer and Coyne also easily make their transitions to their hidden personalities. But all three are many sizes too large under the director's magnifying glass.

*

John Del Gatto, as the Captain's Italian first mate Ricco, sounds a lot like Chico Marx, but his Latin flavor excuses his very few excesses, and he has some funny moments. The members of the supporting cast--Paul Teschke, Alan Katz, Jerome H. Loeb, Daniel DeLave, Sandy Goo and Kevin Groot--don't survive the burlesque turns Reichelderfer has made them into.

This production does the play the disservice of hiding cleverness behind a pratfall, and though the opening-night audience seemed to enjoy the show immensely, it was generally laughing at the staging, rather than with it.

* "The Captain's Paradise," Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sunday and Sept. 17, 2 p.m. Ends Sept. 23. $10. (310)

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

494-1616. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes. Keith Decker: Capt. Henry St. James

Gina Altizer: Maude

Roxanne Coyne: Nita

John Del Gatto: Ricco

Paul Teschke: Lawrence St. James

Jerome H. Loeb: Absolem

Alan Katz: Police Sergeant Watkins

Daniel DeLave: Bob

Sandy Goo: Mrs. Reid

Kevin Groot: Policeman/Deliveryman

A Long Beach Playhouse production of Alec Coppel's comedy. Directed by J.D. Reichelderfer. Scenic design: R. Todd Parker. Costume design: Melissa M. McCully. Light/sound design: J.D. Reichelderfer, Elon Abrams. Stage manager: Daniel DeLave.

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