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'Sleep!' Can Be a Real Eye-Opener

Theater Beat

March 17, 2000|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

"Sleep! I Want You to Sleep!" at Stages provides a rare opportunity to experience an obscure, seldom-produced work by Georges Feydeau, the master of the French boudoir farce.

Written in 1897, Feydeau's bright, slight playlet parodies the fad of mesmerism, the rage in Paris at the time. In a lively new translation by Paul Verdier, who also directs, this theatrical trinket has surprisingly lacerating edges--Feydeau's scathing commentary on the ludicrous entitlements of the French aristocracy, portrayed here as social dinosaurs stampeding into extinction.

For the physical production, Verdier adopts a strictly minimalist approach--a few sticks of furniture and simple, contemporary attire. Verdier pours all of his efforts into fine-tuning the comic timing--and with the help of his accomplished cast, he succeeds admirably.

Arye Gross plays Justin, the tricky servant who exerts a Svengali-like control over his master, Boriquet (David Prather). With flashing eyes and waving arms, Justin reduces Boriquet--and all who venture near, including Boriquet's spinster sister, Francine (Sheelagh Cullin), and nubile fiancee, Emilienne (Nicole Burleson)--to mindless slaves. Justin's handy trick excites the envy of Eloi (Jose A. Garcia), another servant who longs to turn the tables on his own demanding master, Valencourt (Steven Ruggles). However, servants beware. Valencourt just happens to be a crack mesmerist himself, and when he discovers Justin's perfidy, he retaliates in kind.

Sprightly original music and sound effects, performed live by composer Gary Peterson, contribute to this modestly mounted, crisply performed production of Feydeau's unjustly neglected divertissement.

*

* "Sleep! I Want You to Sleep!," Stages, 1540 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends April 16. $18. (323) 465-1010. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.

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