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THEATER REVIEW : Slow 'Mode' of Transport Puts Brakes on Comedy

November 03, 1995|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

FULLERTON — After a highly successful career in the 17th Century, George Etheredge's Restoration comedy "The Man of Mode" fell into oblivion, along with his other two plays.

In spite of renewed interest early in this century, Etheredge was still in shadow until "The Man of Mode" was rediscovered in the '70s. This production at Cal State Fullerton's Little Theatre does little to dispel the shadow that hid the play for 300 years.

It's true that the script is bawdy, appears to have many bits of dialogue that might be very funny and has a plot as amusingly involved as any from the Restoration. Yet director Don Finn's staging does nothing to breathe comic life into it.

Most of the production is disastrously lethargic, including scene changes staged in slow motion and way overplayed by the ensemble, supposedly to make them more interesting but only causing big holes in the comic tempo.

Finn also has his actors, for the most part, speaking their lines at a snail's pace, pronouncing each word so distinctly and carefully that their English sometimes sounds like a second language.

The actors can't be blamed. It's obviously a directorial choice. But it doesn't work, any more than Christine Walters-Murphy's costume design, which veers from on-the-period-nose to eclectic abandon, even making some of the ensemble look like fancy cowgirls. Todd Muffatti's classically austere scenic design is the only part of the production with theatrical integrity.

Trevor H. Olsen is Dorimant, admitted rake-hell, whose several mistresses are about to become an amorous traffic accident; Olsen's suave, debonair surface would work well at a brighter tempo. His friends Medley (Paul Pederson) and Young Bellair (Matt Schleicher) also are lost in the slows.

The women come off much better.

Kathleen Gilbert is a tantrum personified as Mrs. Loveit; Adreanna Rivoli is lusty and full-blown as Bellinda. Kari Hayter and Stacey Leigh Miller are charming as further prey for Dorimant, the former averting disaster by falling in love with Bellair, the latter by finally turning Dorimant honest and loving. However, Miller and Olsen's Beatrice-and-Benedick bickering should sparkle but doesn't.

*

Michelle Loza is notable as an insubordinate lady's maid, and Rosemary London is stylish and on target as Miller's paranoid mother; they both know the genre and its rhythms.

Finn is most at fault in his treatment of guest artist Lara Teeter as the phony fop Sir Fopling Flutter, who apes high society in ridiculous parody.

Instead of the comic reserve this type of character calls for, Finn and Walters-Murphy have turned Teeter into a sight gag that gets large but misplaced laughs and leaves the actor at odds even with this odd and ultimately boring production of a potentially funny play.

*

"The Man of Mode," Little Theatre, Cal State Fullerton's Performing Arts Center, 800 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton. Tonight, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2:30 p.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m. Ends Sunday. $8. (714) 773-3371. Running time: 3 hours, 30 minutes. Trevor H. Olsen Mr. Dorimant

Paul Pederson: Mr. Medley

Matt Schleicher: Young Bellair

Lara Teeter: Sir Fopling Flutter

Kari Hayter: Emilia

Kathleen Gilbert: Mrs. Loveit

Adreanna Rivoli: Bellinda

Rosemary London: Lady Woodvill

Stacey Leigh: Miller Harriet

A Cal State Fullerton Department of Theatre & Dance production of George Etheredge's Restoration comedy. Directed by Don Finn. Scenic design: Todd Muffatti. Lighting design: John Vasquez. Costume design: Christine Walters-Murphy. Makeup/hair design: Susan Mershon. Composer/musical direction: Jeff Fairbanks. Stage manager: Michael Cox.

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