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THEATER BEAT

Maybe it plays better in German

May 26, 2006|F. Kathleen Foley

Residents of a nursing home, two senile old woman share shifting memories of their pasts in "Irma & Emma" by Cornelius Schnauber, translated from the German by Tom Schnauber and directed by Louis Fantasia.

Now in its U.S. premiere in the MET Theatre's tiny Great Scott space, "Irma" is supposedly a black comedy -- but despite a few scanty chuckles along the way, it appears that something has been lost in this translation.

Decked out like the Madwoman of Chaillot, flamboyant Irma (Laura James) converses with self-effacing Emma (Dorothy Constantine) while struggling with a maddeningly elusive shawl -- a costume element that should be reconsidered. Terrified of a (clumsily metaphoric) tormentor known as the Sandman, the women plot an escape.

Schnauber's exhaustingly repetitive one-act is obviously intended as an absurdist send-up with weighty philosophical overtones. And indeed, Irma and Emma's blurred recollections of Hitler's Reich are genuinely provocative, while James and Constantine's portrayals are authoritative if uninspired. But the piece's tautological themes and Fantasia's static staging stretch our attention span to the outermost limit.

Almost as an afterthought, the night ends with an excerpt from Schnauber's "Richard & Felix," a solo show in which a dying Richard Wagner converses with his dead rival, Felix Mendelssohn. Staged and performed by Fantasia, still on book, the scene is largely an apology for Wagner's alleged anti-Semitism, but a swelling Wagnerian score, along with Fantasia's stentorian turn, lends this cerebral enterprise a regrettably melodramatic quality. (Don DeForest Paul takes over the role Thursday.)

"Irma & Emma" and "Richard & Felix," MET's Great Scott Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 25. $20. (323) 957-1152. www.theMETtheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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