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Theater | STAGE REVIEW

'Orphans of the Storm' Updates Timeless Tale

June 19, 1997|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Upon their arrival in Paris, two beautiful orphan sisters run into a spot of trouble. The elder is abducted by the agents of a notorious procurer, while the younger (did we mention she's blind?) falls prey to the wiles of a sadistic gang. How will they escape their respective fates of concubinage and beggary?

"Orphans of the Storm" (named for the famous silent film version starring the Gish sisters) was titled "The Two Orphans" upon its premiere in 1874. A lurid melodrama with more twists and turns than a Olympic luge run, the play quickly became a popular sensation.

But how does one translate the moustache-twirling conventions of a bygone era to suit current popular tastes? Although not entirely successful, the current production at Theatre 40 goes a long way toward resolving the dilemma.

Delicately poised between sincerity and burlesque, director Howard Teichman and an exuberant cast polish the proceedings to a high sheen, despite the occasional slip into sluggish pacing and interruptive songs. As the orphans, Gwendolyn Sanford and Amy Beth Cohn flutter charmingly; Barbara Keegan is a riot as a bad girl turned saintly by the sisters' virtuous example; Dean Wood's stalwart, manly hero and Jerry Beal's selfless hunchback rush to the orphans' rescue in the nick. All this, and an intermission sing-along, too.

* "Orphans of the Storm," Theatre 40, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends July 6. $15-$18. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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