April 2002:

The Girl In The Flammable Skirt

The Blue Room

REVIEWS by Willard Manus

Women driven by secret passions are the subject of THE GIRL IN THE
FLAMMABLE SKIRT, adapted by Frederique Michel from the short story
collection by Aimee Bender. In each of the four cases that comprise the
90-minute play, women run smack up against the indifference of men and/or the world itself, leaving them to smoulder with frustration, except for the wife in "Fugue," who ends up sitting in a field quite happily chatting up a bush. Odd, goofy, solipsistic stuff from Bender and Michel, who also directs, with much skill if only because of the anti-dramatic nature of the text. Since the men are indifferent or wounded clods who can't muster up much emotion, the conflict is mostly internal, resulting in static scenes that require an authorial voice for urgency and spice.

Michel, whose dedication to avant-garde theatre is unwavering and admirable, choreographs her 8-person cast in flowing fashion, occasionally breaking up the action by freezing the actors in dramatic tableauxs. Charles A. Duncombe, Jr.'s lighting and rear projection work (videos and stills) also greatly enhance the production, but the same can't be said for Michel Gingembre's tatty costumes.

At the City Garage, 1340 1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica through April 21. Call (310) 319-9939. The excellent (and ocasionally naked) cast includes Maureen Byrnes, Bo Roberts, Victoria Coulson, Paul M. Rubenstein, Maira Brewton, Kathryn Sheer, Laurence Coven and Ilana Gustafson.

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There is something timeless and universal about Arthur Schnitzler's 1900 play La Ronde, which investigated the sexual relations and social connections between ten couples. At first banned by Austrian and German
censors for its frankness, the play was too good to remain suppressed and worked its way into the international repertoire. Then in 1950 Max Ophuls turned it into a film which emphasized the romance and deliciousness of its serial liasons.

THE BLUE ROOM, David Hare's adaptation of La Ronde, which had its
premiere in London three years ago, is closer to Schnitzler than it is to Ophuls. There isn't much that is romantic or delicious about the love explored in this version of the play. Cold and cynical better describes THE BLUE ROOM'S characters, all of whom are played by two actors, Arabella Field and Lenny Von Dohlen. Field, like Nicole Kidman in the London premiere, briefly bares it all (as does Von Dohlen) but the nudity comes off as more clinical than provocative.

Schnitzler meant his play as a warning against licentiousness and syphilis, but it's not clear what Hare means by his. AIDs is mentioned by the cab driver who picks up a young prostitute in the play's first scene, but the disease doesn't haunt BLUE ROOM the way syphilis did LA RONDE. There isn't much subtext at all in the scenes that follow. Hare seems content to satirize love in our time, which perhaps explains the play's shallowness, its failure to connect in a truly gripping way.

While there's nothing wrong with comedy for comedy's sake, THE BLUE
ROOM wants to be more important than just simple entertainment. Hare
isn't solely to blame for the play's apparent superficiality, though. Field and Von Dohlen are good actors, but perhaps great ones are what's needed, performers capable of a much wider range. Also, director David Schweizer isn't at his best here. Known for his highly stylized avant-garde work, he is unable to dig into the visceral, messy side of love.

At the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, through
April 21. Call (626) 356-7529.