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THEATER BEAT

A Lesson in Revenge in 'Miss Margarida'

August 16, 1996|JANA J. MONJI

Knowing that playwright Roberto Athayde was expelled from three schools helps explain the dark, unforgiving "Miss Margarida's Way," an angry revenge upon all teachers that misunderstand young boys. Although Tom Morris portrays this sexually frustrated spinster, this intriguing Zephyr Theatre production isn't a gender-bending drag show, but a fairly convincing one-woman show performed by a man.

Miss Margarida is a Kmart fashion plate: hyper-white fake pearls; cheap, white thin-soled canvas loafers; a full, fluttery peach-colored skirt; and a shapeless hunter-green cardigan. Towering over the audience, this buxom woman alternately coos and bellows, writes key words and phrases on the chalkboard and teaches with all the subtlety of a charging rhino.

Her red lips carefully enunciate each word as Miss Margarida, who refers to herself in the third person, promises her class that she will not teach "how to kiss, how to fornicate." This is the eighth grade and "the facts of life are only taught in your senior year," and besides, "the principal forbade me to take my clothes off in front of you."

Morris attacks Athayde's script with a bellicose fervor yet hints at a soul damaged beyond hurt into rage. Director Leon Martell carefully orchestrates the flow of hysteria, breaking each crescendoing wave of malevolence with periods of temporary sanity.

As the targets of Miss Margarida's misdirected despair, one can laugh with empathy remembering one's own childhood grudges, although teachers may squirm with worried recognition. It's a disturbingly entertaining evening.

* "Miss Margarida's Way," Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Aug. 31. $15. (213) 660-8587. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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