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Theater Review

Executing Feminist Maneuvers

Director and leading actress turn 'Scenes' of art and war into a fast-paced, attractive piece of camp.

May 14, 1999|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Galactia is a female Renaissance painter in Venice, loosely inspired by real Venetian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. She has been commissioned to paint a grand, 100-square-foot painting celebrating the Battle of Lepanto.

This story, in Howard Barker's play "Scenes From an Execution" at Fullerton College's Bronwyn Dodson Theatre, is sweepingly panoramic in the same way as Galactia's painting. But at 1 1/2 hours, it's not much more than a pocket pageant, and Barker's humor, and obvious agenda, barely survive the brevity.

The agenda, simplistically feminist, has the super-heroine artist browbeating everyone around, including her model and lover, a faintly talented painter named Carpeta. His name, like those of other characters, makes up for the play's lack of depth by describing his purpose, in this case a rug on which Galactia walks.

She also tries to tread over Urgentino, the Doge of Venice, in creating a realistic depiction of the battle rather than a glorification of its participants, particularly the Doge's brother, a homosexual admiral. Galactia's strength is crushed in this male-dominated society, and the commission is turned over to Carpeta. Yet, at the speeding finish, Galactia, like the Phoenix, finally rises to glory out of the ashes of her defeat.

*

Also rising above the play's ashes, director Gary Krinke has built a snappy little production of a play that always looks better hiding behind good performances and production elements. He keeps things moving quickly so one doesn't mind the silliness and blends the action and performances into a neat little piece of camp that is amusing and attractive.

One big reason for the production's crisp look and sound is the entrancing performance of Sarah Dunkerly as Galactia. Dunkerly sweeps up the stage with the other actors, especially Brian Fowler's wimpy Carpeta. She creates an inner grandeur that points up Barker's agenda and makes Galactia totally believable.

Keola Simpson is reserved and haughty as the Doge, with the aura of eminence he should have, and Bill McCormack plays the gay admiral gently and without obvious stereotypical outlandishness. Jill S. Luevano's art critic has the right edge of pomposity mixed with a pleasant outer shell of humor. Brianne Gates and Kat Scofield are very strong as Galactia's obnoxious daughters, respectively Supporta and Dementia.

Two standouts are Jesse Patch's Prodo, a veteran with a couple of ludicrous wounds, who poses for Galactia with the avaricious glee of a sitcom star, and Matthew White as Ostensible, a fogged-in Roman Catholic cardinal, a character performance that is subtle, detailed and very funny.

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* "Scenes From an Execution," Bronwyn Dodson Theatre, Fullerton College, 321 E. Chapman Ave. Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Ends Sunday. $8-$10. (714) 992-7433. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.

Sarah Dunkerly: Galactia

Brian Fowler: Carpeta

Jesse Patch: Prodo

Keola Simpson: Urgentino

Brianne Gates: Supporta

Kat Scofield: Dementia

Bill McCormack: Suffici

Jill S. Luevano: Gina Rivera

Matthew White: Ostensible

A Fullerton College theater arts department revival of Howard Barker's play. Director: Gary Krinke. Scenic design: Chuck Ketter. Lighting design: Steven Pliska. Sound design: Bradley Enochs. Costume/makeup/wig design: Mela Hoyt-Heydon. Stage manager: Philip Michael Larsen.

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