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Theater | Theater Review

Wuthering, Tempest-Toss'd Lives

Fun new spoof takes aim at the Bronte sisters and their literary cousins.

September 07, 2000|MICHAEL PHILLIPS | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

Here's a find, and a very funny one. Spoofing Gothic literature and its 20th century spinoffs, as well as various florid movie adaptations of same, Circle X's "In Flagrante Gothicto" (now at the tiny McCadden Theater) mushes together bits of "Jane Eyre," "Wuthering Heights" and "Rebecca."

Let's call the results satiric meatloaf of an exceptionally tasty order. There. I've used up my per-career allocation of meatloaf metaphors.

Co-authors Alice Dodd and Jillian Armenante begin their saga with the adoption of a "gypsy beggar" (William Salyers), in the manner of Emily Bronte's Heathcliff. His new home is not a happy one. Dad (John Sylvain) dies, and the adoptive mother (Cindy Basco) turns the lad out.

"I must wrest my fortune from the hands of Fate," he says.

Meantime the mother's niece (played with artful subtlety by co-author Dodd) is consigned to a boarding school ripped from the "Jane Eyre" playbook. Eventually she lands at Moorcliff Manor, where she serves as governess to the coquettish ward (Tom Beyer in a tutu) born to the brooding, tempest-toss'd Hampstead Hamilton (Salyers).

Hampstead is strangely attracted to this governess but, then, so is the steely housekeeper, Mrs. Bernely. As acted, delightfully, by a first-rate Chicago import named Anastasia Basil, Bernely's clearly on a Mrs. Danvers "Rebecca" fellowship, a step or two further out of the closet than Danvers ever ventured.

"In Flagrante Gothicto" scrupulously blends the artful and the cheap, in ways recalling Charles Ludlam's "Mystery of Irma Vep." The text honors its literary sources, yet the show is not above gags involving voice-over narration cliches and ill-timed fits of coughing.

Co-author and director Armenante won acclaim for her performance as Melony in "The Cider House Rules" (at the Mark Taper Forum and, later, New York) and plays Donna Kozlowski-Pant on "Judging Amy." She keeps the thing moving swiftly.

Some of the slapstick is routine, especially in the last 20 minutes; certain bits go thud, such as Hampstead's adoptive father's suffering from an R-rated case of Tourette's syndrome. It's five minutes into the show, by which time we haven't heard enough of the plummy period language to make the contrast work. (Also, Sylvain bellows throughout, which helps not.)

Minor problems. With its arched eyebrows, 10-months-pregnant pauses and swoony romanticism, Gothic lit isn't unfamiliar satiric territory. But the Circle X season opener, awash in the film music of Bernard Herrmann, is simply--and sophisticatedly--a lot of fun.

BE THERE

"In Flagrante Gothicto," Circle X Theatre Company, McCadden Theater, 1157 N. McCadden Place (one block north of Santa Monica Boulevard). Thursdays and Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends Sept. 30. $15; matinees, pay-what-you-can. (323) 969-9239, Ext. 2. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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