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Candida and Her Friends
If you want to brush up on your Latin, playwright Mario Fratti annotates a lexicon of phrases in Candida and Her Friends. It's a satirical comedy about a professor at a New York City Catholic women's college who discovers that he has aroused more than a passion for etymology in his impressionable students.
Being a shy and moral man, the Professor (Brian Runbeck) is in for a shock when he meets one of his students (the title character played by Caroline Strong) nine years after she was in his class. It doesn't take long after he accepts a dinner invitation to Candida's apartment for him to realize with horror that she has taken his motto of Carpe Diem far further than he intended, and into a direction that sends him into a state of self-analytical shock. You see, Candida's idea of seizing the day is to have a sexually wide open marriage that includes a masochistic, cross-dressing acolyte named Rudolph (Neil Levine) who cooks for her lovers. To no one's surprise, except the Professor's, the desert of Candida's dinner is intended to be a romp in her bed.
The Professor resists but hardly forgets the seduction. When shortly thereafter Nancy (Alex McCord), another former student and a classmate of Candida's, shows up in his office he learns that she too (and for that matter, all the girls) loved him. Fortunately for the bewildered man, Nancy has used his teachings to launch her own career as a teacher of Latin and her " marriage" is much more to his liking . (That quote is correct but I won't explain lest it spoil Fratti's story). It takes Kenia (Toks Olagundoye, in the play's most nuanced performance), a current student with failing grades, to bring the comedy to a happy ending.
While the surreal meeting with Candida and Rudolph is fun, the latter's reapparance in the second act seems to serve little purpose beyond adding campy comic relief. The satire overall tends towards talkiness. Despite some fine performances (especially from Ms. Olagundoye), Michael Hillyer's unobtrusive direction and Mark Symzack's effectively efficient set, the end result is rather like a not quite fluffy enough soufflé. But then there's that Latin refresher course in an often entertaining lesson. At $10 a ticket, there's no way Berlitz can match that.
Candida and Her Friends runs only through June 24th, a shorter run than we usually review. However, Mario Fratti is a fellow critic, as well as a playwright -- and any critic brave enough to cross the bar from judging to being judged deserves his day in court.