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THEATER BEAT

Dry Historical Detail Hinders 'Last Dance'

June 28, 1996|SCOTT COLLINS

An accused spy, exotic dancer and notorious courtesan, Mata Hari was one of history's great naughty women. That's why James Grant Goldin's somewhat lifeless period piece "Mata Hari's Last Dance" at the Court Theater is such a disappointment.

Irina Maleeva--who, we're told, was a Fellini regular who appeared in "Satyricon"--plays the title character, the Dutch-born Margaretha Zelle, who under her stage name shocked pre-World War I Parisians with her erotic dancing. But Goldin, in an apparent effort to rehabilitate her reputation, focuses on the events leading up to her 1917 trial for espionage, ponderously establishing that Mata Hari was framed by the French Capt. Ladoux (Brian Carpenter).

Although roughly the right age (Mata Hari was 41 when she was executed), Maleeva seems otherwise an odd choice for the role. She looks self-conscious and ill at ease, like someone trying to conquer a bad case of stage fright, and is hardly credible as a famous dancer.

But a more fundamental problem is Goldin's script, which gets bogged down in history's dull facts at the expense of Mata Hari's infinitely more dramatic legend. Instead of a look at an intriguing woman, the play becomes a windy blow-by-blow of diplomatic process, stolidly narrated by Carpenter.

Director Susan Snyder's shaky production, marked on review night by a disconcerting number of flubs, could probably benefit from a few more rehearsals.

* "Mata Hari's Last Dance," Court Theater, 722 N. La Cienega, Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends July 21. $20. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes.

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