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|A CurtainUp Review
By Kathryn Osenlund
A letter from her mother in Vienna tells her that her prominent lawyer father has once again achieved near ruin due to gambling and a touch of family trust embezzlement. The mother asks Else to approach an art dealer and family friend, Herr von Dorsday (Julian Lopez-Morillas), r who is a guest at the same hotel, to get him to bail out the family and avoid jail for her father. The mother (Mary Baird), who is seen seated behind a scrim in "Vienna," reads parts of her letter.
Else suspects that her parents understand full well the strings that a lecherous older man would attach to such a request. Although jarring initially, the request doesn't appear overly upsetting to the flirty young woman who longs for handsome men and loves to be seen as a bit shocking.
Else's imaginings spill out in non-stop, very funny prattle. She's in turn retiring, aggressive, coquettish. She fantasizes and regrets things she said. She describes scenarios; she poses. She minces then prances across the stage making pronouncements. She humorously criticises von Dorsday 's word choices when he attempts to seduce her.
Else's "medication" easily accounts for her manic stream of consciousness delivery, and masks possible underlying neuroses. The audience can be forgiven if it doesn't quite understand that this girl is not going to deal well with the parents' request and von Dorsday's condition for lending funds. Else comes across as more terminally silly than crazy or tragic, and ominous overtones that are in fact there in the music and the staging can be missed or overlooked.
This is not quite a one-woman show. Other cast members definitely help round it out. Lopez-Morillas's treatment of von Dorsday is just right. There is an instance where the mother and the maid are woven together in an actor-challenging scene of great intricacy as the maid dresses Else and the mother recites from her letter. The addition of the attractive cousin, Paul (Michael Tisdale) and his married lover, Cissy (Lauren Lovett) makes things more interesting. Director Stephen Wadsworth is successful in establishing alternate realities, where sometimes people are not where they are, but he is less successful with an inexplicable series of ponderous, stagey silences.
The set by Thomas Lynch evidently is the same one used for previous productions, adapted to the new stage. It is a visual melange, with a backdrop consisting of the facade of a hotel; an area in front of that which serves as both indoors and outside; a large intervening scrim of the Alps; and a foreground serving as a hotel lobby, private room, outdoor grass area, and hotel halls all mixed together as if on a game board. The amazing thing about the set is that it works! The meshing of spaces is not confusing. It's completely clear where the characters are at any given moment. Joan Arhelger's lighting design contributed to the clarity. The costumes by Anna Ruth Oliver are beautiful and appropriate.
The show has come from the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and La Jolla Playhouse and the Sundance Theatre Laboratory, and most recently Long Wharf, which is also associated with this production. Perhaps due to Ms. Faridany's intense involvement in creating this theatre piece from the original Schnitzler, and her inhabiting of Else in several productions, her character does not appear to have a single spontaneous moment. The performance is gasping for air. Every word and every gesture, once inspired, now seems set. I am reminded of a story Michael York tells of Zefferelli's approach to his film, Romeo and Juliet. He rehearsed the Tybalt-Romeo swordplay with York and Leonard Whiting exhaustively, until they had it down pat. Then on shooting day, to the alarm of the actors, he staged the sword fight on an incline to keep it fresh and dangerous. Wadsworth might have employed that sort of strategy to good effect.
It is questionable whether even the gamine Faridany, who is energetic and truly entertaining, should be playing the part of a nineteen-year old. As attractive as she is, she does not pass as nineteen --shades of Mary Pickford playing the ingenue for years.
Audience reaction was mixed on opening night. Perhaps this is because comedy and tragedy are difficult to mix, or because the main character's problems --run together and of somewhat confusing origin-- seem arranged to set up the ending. Nevertheless, Fraulein Else is an unusual, lively and intriguing theatre piece.
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