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THEATER | Stage Review

Beastly Marriages, Both Personal and Governmental

December 02, 1999|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A surreal erotic fable chock-full of Freudian themes and imagery, "Mariage Blanc" (White Wedding) is a good fit for the libido-drenched avant antics of Santa Monica's City Garage. Nudity, emotional confrontation, sociopolitical satire and absurdism abound in this tale of a girl's frightened resistance to an arranged marriage and her own emerging womanhood. But Tadeusz Rozewicz's wry allegory also lets the ensemble demonstrate its facility with more traditional performance and stagecraft, thanks to linear narrative, continuity of character and turn-of-the-century setting.

In a striking departure from the company's frequent forays into stark, existential modernism, production designer Charles A. Duncombe Jr.'s ornate period scenery and warm-hued lighting prove well-suited to the 1968 play's deliberate construction as a distant fairy tale--necessary to avoid censorship in the playwright's native Poland.

Cynthia Mance gives a sympathetic, multilayered central performance as Bianca, a tomboy whose terror of sexuality manifests itself in fanciful visions almost as strange as her peculiar family. Particularly effective are her philandering father (Richard Grove), who furtively chases the domestic help; her uptight mother (Katherina Lejona), who derives her only sexual gratification reciting mail-order catalogs for china and undergarments; and her lecherous grandfather (Gene Williams), who has no qualms about preying on his own descendants.

Initial naturalistic presentation gives way to increasingly menacing hallucinations that torment Bianca with the approach of her marriage to a pompous, inexperienced poet (Jonathan Liebhold), who appears sporting a phallic mushroom with angry red cap; the other males follow suit and ultimately mutate via animal masks into grunting beasts at the wedding feast.

Metaphorically extending paternalistic sexual dominance into the political sphere with a thinly veiled assault on government, Rozewicz's point doesn't require quite this extended a treatment. Despite director Frederique Michel's often inventive flourishes, the final third bogs down in restatement but redeems itself with a haunting finale.

BE THERE

"Mariage Blanc," City Garage, 1340 1/2 4th St. (alley), Santa Monica. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5:30 p.m. Ends Dec. 19. $20; Sundays pay-what-you-can. (310) 319-9939. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

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