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'Laura' a Mystery Between Drama, Camp

November 17, 2000|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

Vera Caspary and George Sklar's "Laura," now at the Tiffany, is a daring but somewhat imprudent vehicle for its star, Linda Hamilton. Famous more for the haunting strains of its score than for any dramatic merit, the 1940s-era film, based on Caspary's best-selling novel, has become indelibly associated with the film performance of Gene Tierney in the title role.

The stage play differs considerably from the film in terms of plot, but it's inevitable that any actress playing Laura will be compared to the luminous Tierney. Not that Hamilton isn't perfectly trim and attractive, or that she doesn't acquit herself surprisingly well under difficult circumstances.

She simply lacks the iconic glamour of Tierney--a real stumbling block, considering that craggy Detective McPherson (Robin Thomas) must fall in love with Laura sight unseen, inspired solely by her portrait.

However, even if Tierney could be channeled from the back of beyond to star, Caspary's stage noir would still seem badly dated, not least because director Lynette McNeill allows it to drift in that no actor's land between drama and camp.

Stanley Kamel's performance as Waldo Lydecker, played in the film by the famously waspish Clifton Webb, also inspires unfortunate comparisons. Although we can better believe that Kamel's more subtly macho Lydecker entertains an unresolved sexual obsession for Laura, Kamel fails to convey the intellectual superciliousness that was Webb's stock in trade. What results is a kind of Waldo-light, a half-baked pundit whose cerebral qualifications are a bit in question. As for Thomas, he skims through it all with a breezy panache that smacks of the tongue-in-cheek--not so bad an approach to this period chestnut.

Apart from the stunning set and interiors by John Iacovelli and Pat Emery, respectively, there really seems little reason to have trotted this play out of mothballs except as an ill-considered vanity showcase for Hamilton. Nevertheless, against all odds, Hamilton's acting talent almost compensates for her miscasting. Almost.

*

* "Laura," Tiffany Theater, 8532 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Dec. 17. $25-$30. (310) 289-2999. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.

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