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THEATER REVIEWS

Stagings Do Cervantes Comic Justice

August 11, 1998|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Despite Miguel de Cervantes' fame as the creator of "Don Quixote," his plays met with relative obscurity. Director Florinel Fatulescu makes us keenly aware of this oversight in his witty adaptation of two of the 17th century writer's "Entremeses" (Interludes) for "The Cervantes Project" at Stages Theatre Center. Adroitly bridging lowbrow slapstick and sharp intellectual satire, Fatulescu and his 10 perfectly cast actors unearth buried treasure in Cervantes' wry chronicles of social foibles and hypocrisy.

Never performed in Cervantes' lifetime, these playlets were intended to provide comic relief between the acts of a major drama. Fatulescu slyly incorporates this mission into the staging, as the performers gather backstage at a production of "Quixote" that casts larger-than-life shadows on a semi-opaque curtain behind them. In a set reversal a la "Noises Off," the action shifts to the other side of the curtain for each segment.

"The Sentinel of Love" depicts an obsessed street soldier (Jean-Louis Darville) who, in frantically fending off rival suitors for a scullery maid (Nicole Burleson), unknowingly battles the master of the house (Steve Ruggles); the hot-tempered wife (Anna Lluch) flails her castanets in a hilarious display of grief.

In "The Theatre of Wonders," a stage-centric variant of "The Emperor's New Clothes," a traveling theater troupe engages gullible townsfolk with an imaginary play. Part of the fun is the casting of Stages artistic director Paul Verdier and Deborah Lawlor (producing artistic director of the Fountain Theatre) as the purveyors of this cynical ruse, abetted by Bernadette Colomine as their grubby sound-effects specialist.

In multiple roles, Jose A. Garcia, Jose Vidal, Antonio Yepis and Darville impeccably scatter comic barbs through every rung of society. Cervantes gets the last laugh with parody verses aimed at literary rival Lope de Vega.

* "The Cervantes Project," Stages Theatre Center, 1540 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. Ends Sunday. $18. (213) 465-1010. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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