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Modern Dance For Beginners

By Laura Hitchcock

For someone so actively engaged in class warfare, you're a real snob. ---Owen
British playwright Sarah Phelps uses sex as the choreography for this savage witty tour de force. Its first two scenes are heavily influenced by Britain's class system. In Scene One, Frances, a bridesmaid at her cousin Owen's wedding, accuses Owen, the nearly mute conventional groom, of avoiding her and escaping their working class background by marrying into the gentry. In Scene Two, Julia, Owen's wife, tries to rape handyman Kieran because Owen has no interest in her. Here again, Keiran plays the class card, accusing Julia of playing Lady Chatterly.

Phelps lightens up on this theme in Scene Three when Frances spurns her lover Russell who wants more than just sex from their affair. Owen is the love of her life but in Scene Four we see that marriage hasn't solved his problems. He has had an anonymous sexual encounter with a young girl, Eleri, and, anxious to be out the door, delivers a monologue about his arid marriage and Eleri's striking resemblance to his lost love, presumably Frances. Eleri says absolutely nothing until the end of the scene at which point she declares "I felt a lump. " Owen offers to stay with her until a friend can come but she gently takes his hand and puts it down the front of his pants.

In Scene Five we learn from Lorraine, an oncologist, that she's treating a young man with a hopeless case of testicular cancer. Lorraine tells Skinner who accosts her in a bar that her name is Venetia. We learn they're game-playing and Skinner is the menacing boss of Russell and Frances. He says he had to fire a female executive that day and, when we hear she spat at him, we assume it's Frances. There's a poignant sixth scene that serves as a coda.

In this second production from the new and excellent V.S. Theatre Company, two actors play all the parts. Robyn Cohen displays her versatility particularly in the mute gentleness of Eleri after the anger and pain of Frances, the desperation of Julia and the frustrated game-playing of Lorraine. Phelps doesn't write men quite as well as women but Johnny Clark's conventional Owen is a completely different character from macho Keiran, eager Russell and overbearing Skinner.

Ross Kramer's direction emanates dance and creates fascinating choreography between the scenes as the lights dim and we watch the characters change into other costumes and rearrange the sparse tables that compose the set. Scenic designer John G. Williams uses stunning frosted glass sliding doors as a rear wall which moves and makes a transparent curtain for the actors. Renee Shimada's costumes are apt and exquisite.

Phelps dissects her people with a delicate scalpel and the way in which the six scenes tell the story of one doomed couple by displaying them in their most naked relationships cuts very close to the bone. Each scene could stand alone; the references to other characters are so subtle sometimes their names aren't even used. It's a stunning construction

Playwright: Sarah Phelps
Director: Ross Kramer
Cast: Johnny Clark (Owen, Kieran, Russell and Skinner); Robyn Cohen (Frances, Julia, Eleri and Lorraine)
Set Design: John G. Williams
Lighting Design: Erin M. Hearne
Costume Design: Renee Shimada
Sound Design: Cricket S. Myers
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Running Dates: November 13-December 12, 2004
Where: Victory Theatre Center, 3324 W. Victory Blvd, Burbank. Phone: (323) 850-6045
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on November 13.
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