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Capturing the Lively Yet Sobering Essence of 'Hostage'

May 07, 1999|PHILIP BRANDES

Though relatively tame by today's standards, Brendan Behan's quirky 1958 black comedy "The Hostage" still speaks topically to the messy polarization of humanity and politics in the ongoing troubles between Ireland and Great Britain. Under Patrick Towne's adroit staging, a handsome Zoo District revival captures Behan's affection for his Irish compatriots and his sobering vision of the street war and its consequences.

Set in a dilapidated Dublin boarding house, Behan's unwieldy beast of a play depicts a sprawling population of deadbeats, prostitutes, a transvestite and a host of economically downtrodden but spiritually undefeatable eccentrics who all share a love of drink and gab. Sporting lively, musical brogues, the large ensemble could easily outnumber the audience on a slow night, but the actors succeed admirably in evoking a lively, engaging community.

With exactly the right combination of bemused detachment and smoldering ideology, Jonathan Goldstein and Brett Paesel portray the inn's open-minded proprietors, who try to keep the antics of their residents within tolerable limits. Their diplomatic skills are tested when a humorless IRA officer (Loren Lazerine) commandeers their lobby to sequester a kidnapped British soldier (Rich Hutchman) he hopes to exchange for a condemned terrorist.

Other standout performances include Katie Dawson as the naive serving girl who strikes up a poignant romance with the prisoner, Christine Deaver as a religious zealot who prays for his soul, and Mark Epstein as the befuddled inn owner.

The growing rapport between Hutchman's convincingly sympathetic youth and his oddball captors is touching and heartfelt, setting the stage for a hard-hitting finale when forces spiral out of control--as they sadly do in such impassioned conflicts.

* "The Hostage," Art Share Los Angeles, 801 E. 4th Place, Los Angeles. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends June 6. $12-20. (323) 769-5674. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

Energetic Farce in 'The Witless Lady'

Long before the proliferation of self-help books, the notion of reinvented identity supplied the object of satire in Lope de Vega's "La Dama Boba" (The Witless Lady). In an alternating English-Spanish production at Bilingual Foundation for the Arts, a new adaptation by director Agustin Coppola maintains De Vega's comedy in its original 17th century setting and gives it a handsome, elaborate staging (with Estela Scarlata's elegant set and Carlos Brown's period costumes) that enhances appreciation for the proud tradition of Spanish classical theater's Golden Age.

In the play, competing suitors (John Paul, Jaime Arze) vie for the hands of two sisters--the wild, embarrassing imbecile Finea (Diana De Barros), possessed of an enormous dowry; and the haughty, intellectual Nise (Rosita Fernandez). Allegiances and intentions get scrambled when Finea embarks on a crash education under her long-suffering tutor (Eleazar Del Valle) to earn the love of the more literary-minded suitor.

The farce is played very broadly, scoring plentiful laughs but skimming over opportunities for more subtle observations on the adaptability of romantic interests to economic and social considerations. The cast is energetic and committed, though performance quality varies among the supporting characters.

Too bad De Vega never revealed his formula for transforming nitwits into wise, intelligent adults--Lord knows, there are still plenty of candidates for it.

* "The Witless Lady," Bilingual Foundation for the Arts, 421 N. Avenue 19, Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends June 6. $18. (323) 225-4044. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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