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Theater | THEATER BEAT

It's no-fuss Bardery, 'As You Like It'

March 07, 2003|F. Kathleen Foley; Don Shirley; Philip Brandes; David C. Nichols

Recalling the site-specific presentation of the long-running hit "Tamara," the audience splits into three smaller groups, which witness simultaneous events unfold in various rooms. The scenes are repeated in different order for each group, however, so return visits are not required to see the complete story.

A saga of the rich and mighty in the grand tradition of prime-time soaps such as "Dynasty" (with shades of Bronte's "Wuthering Heights"), the two acts of "The Manor" span a decade of destiny for the fictional MacAlister clan: Charles (Darby Hinton), a self-made mining tycoon; his enigmatic wife, Marion (Bates), who harbors dark secrets; their too-good-to-be-true son and heir, Sean (Mark Bradford Hill); and his eager new bride, Abby (Nanette Hennig).

Despite being likable, socially responsible and even patriotic businessmen, the MacAlister men are terrible judges of character. Charles lets his lifelong friendship with a weak, corrupt senator (Dan Leslie) draw him into an ill-advised loan arrangement, with dire political and criminal consequences, while Sean extends puppy-like trust to Abby's former beau (Seamus Dever), who's now married to a scheming British dance-hall trollop (Cynthia Gravinese). In supporting roles, Michael Bonnabel and Gloria Strook register appropriate suspicion, shock and horror, while the domestic staff (Nina Borisoff and Esther Richman) assist in herding the audience from room to room.

"The Manor" capably handles the challenges inherent in its overlapping scene structure, with each episode timed to end simultaneously (though not without some filler -- the versatile Bates even provides some keyboard interludes). But then, what self-respecting melodrama would be complete without some padding and false leads? Besides, there's plenty of stunning scenery to chew on during this unique, agreeable outing.

-- Philip Brandes

"The Manor," Greystone Mansion, 905 Loma Vista Drive, Beverly Hills. Sundays, 1 p.m. Ends April 6. $25. (310) 550-4796. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes.

Mysteries opened in 'Pandora's' box

Blaine Teamer's new play, "Pandora's Trunk," at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, is the theatrical equivalent of an oxygen bar -- a blast of pure, heady energy. Kim Fields, the former child star best known as Tootie on the hit '80s sitcom "The Facts of Life," is all grown up now, with the insinuatingly sexy manner to prove it. Displaying the ease of a lifelong trooper, Fields forms the twirling center of this feel-good evening. She sells Teamer's modest play like a medicine show huckster. And, dazzled, we buy it.

In Teamer's rudimentary but effective tale, Fields plays Pandora, an insatiably curious creature who, like her legendary namesake, gets into a lot of trouble by opening a trunk. In this case, the trunk contains the belongings of Pandora's birth mother -- a mysterious figure who has assumed mythical proportions in Pandora's mind. When Pandora dresses in the outfits she finds in the trunk, she takes on the various personae of the women she imagines could have been her mother.

No mundane archetypes need apply. Pandora's imaginings conjure up a series of hilariously extravagant characters, from Batgirl to a fabulously wealthy pop diva -- all of whom have perfectly logical if hilariously convoluted reasons for abandoning Pandora at birth.

The truth, of course, is of a far darker stripe, and Teamer's abrupt shift into the downbeat badly rattles the play's chassis. However, under the brisk direction of Che'Rae Adams, Fields switches from the broadly comic to the poignant with nary a hitch. Indira Gibson, who plays Pandora's adoptive mother, Audrey, as well as other characters, provides lively backup throughout this unabashedly broad and rousing evening.

-- F.K.F.

"Pandora's Trunk," Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., L.A. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends March 23. $15 to $20. (213) 473-0660. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

The grim visage of 'Leatherface'

Links between media violence and police malfeasance provide the underpinnings of "Leatherface" in its U.S. premiere at Cal Rep in Long Beach. Helmut Krausser's esoteric 1994 psychodrama, a sensation abroad, receives a determined, valiantly performed production. For many, that may suffice.

German playwright Krausser attempts commentary by playing social diatribe and sexual satire simultaneously. His premise pits an archetypal male (Chace Farguson), who is rabidly devoted to "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," against his female counterpart (Tannis Hanson), who finds his fetish unsettling, to say the least. Their interaction gradually unpeels one reversal after another.

Director Thomas Blubacher goes for Bauhaus-flavored staging, with Danila Korogodsky's white-and-brick loft setting most impressive. However, Mark Abel's aggressive sound and Chris Kittrell's stark lighting are erratically deployed.

More critically, Krausser's voice doesn't travel well, his outsized thesis unraveling in Tony Meech's labored translation. This creates hurdles that the actors only sporadically overcome, and the gaps are telling.

Farguson's initial bloody pantomime is gripping, and he clearly understands Krausser's ambiguous intent, but the character's load of explicated message would tax Laurence Olivier.

Hanson enters at full tilt, a strident banshee, relaxing into some inspired, spontaneous reactions. Jason K. Martin plays key offstage roles with admirable lack of ego.

-- David C. Nichols

*

"Leatherface," Edison Theatre, 213 E. Broadway, Long Beach. Tuesdays-Thursdays, Sundays, 7 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 and 8 p.m. Ends March 15. Mature audiences. $15 to $20. (562) 432-1818 or (562) 985-7000. Running time: 70 minutes.

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