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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Pera Palas

The classics-oriented Antaeus Theatre has made an unusual choice in Sinan Unel's Pera Palas, first produced in New York in 1998. It's consistent, however, with the classical themes the group espouses and also unites it with the new artist-driven Theatre@Boston Court in Pasadena. Their Co-Artistic Director Michael Michetti worked on the play with Antaeus in their Mayfest 2003 workshop festival, resulting in the happy collaboration on Boston Court's sleek modern space under Michetti's direction.

The three areas are treated with Tom Buderwitz's colorful scenic design of Turkish rugs, vivid murals, silken cushions and unobtrusive furniture that spans three periods from 1918 to 1994. Ivy Y. Chou's bright graceful costumes are exquisite. The play, whose title is drawn from the Pera Palas luxury hotel in Istanbul, where much of it takes place, begins with English writer Evelyn Crawley who's , starry-eyed about beautiful Turkey and befriends 15-year-old Melek, the daughter of Pasha Ali Riza Efendi. Melek, who has all the ambition of a butterfly, gaily anticipates the wedding her father has arranged for her, despite Evelyn's attempts to turn her into an independent woman.

In 1952 Kathy Miller, a young American teacher, is swept away by darkly passionate Orhan, son of Bedia, a servant in Pasha Ali's harem whose marriage was arranged when the Sultan's regime fell and the family could no longer afford to keep her. Orhan is equally idealistic about his career opportunities under the new Republic of Turkey and its friendly ally, the United States. His illusions are dashed by his sister-in-law's husband Joe, a vulgar redneck whose prejudice deprives Orhan of a job.

In 1994 Murat, son of Kathy and Orhan, returns to Istanbul with his gay lover Brian. Although his parents welcome them, Murat prods his father into revealing his real feelings about homosexuality, in a metaphor of Turkey's current conflict between progressive elements and Islamic fundamentalism.

What saves the play from being a didactic tableau of Turkish history is Unel's gift for vivid characterization and the intensity with which history unfolds through the tortured and passionate eyes of his ten characters. All three stories are told simultaneously but, under Michetti's finely drawn direction, each one is perfectly clear. The climax is a little muddled but that's because in Unel's focus on winding up the three stories so much is happening at once.

The Antaeus doublecasts. In the performance viewed, Gigi Bermingham brought force and poise to Evelyn and a world-weary film noir ambiance to Orhan's sister Sema with her modern job and her married lover. Tessa Thompson is enchanting as Melek and Daniel Blinkoff equally delightful as Brian, Oshan's lover. Blinkoff showed his range in an almost unrecognizable second role of the shy repressed Cavid, Melek's brother. Harry Groener projects towering disillusion as the older Orhan, partnered with his real-life wife Dawn Didawick in a delicious performance as Kathy Older, as well as the Pasha's third wife Ayse. Angela Goethals has a standing-on-tiptoe quality as Kathy Miller and also as Bedia, the young odalisque. Seamus Dever, the only actor who has just one role, projects the graven beauty of Murat with an aura of the pain that ultimately erupts. Ramon de Ocampo is a passionate Orhan, Mikael Salazar ranges from dignified power figures to Joe Brown, the caricature of an Okie, and Deborah Puette lends a graceful beauty to the Pasha's first wife Neyime and a gawky grace to Anne Miller.

In addition to the three simultaneous plays, Unel has also written the play to be cast with no regard for age or sex. If the intent is to underline the constant presence of time by layering the equal presence of age and sex, it's unnecessary and distracting. In a play that's already stunningly theatrical, this is a distancing affectation. But that's a small quibble in a play so worth doing and well done.

For a review of the New York production click here.

Pera Palas
Playwright: Sinan Unel
Director: Michael Michetti
Cast: Gigi Bermingham/Jeanie Hackett (Evelyn Crawley, Sema); Rebecca Mozo/Tessa Thompson (Melek, Kiraz); John Prosky/Mikael Salazar (Ali Reza, Sir Robert, Joe Brown, Ipek); Daniel Blinkoff/Bill Brochtrup (Brian/Cavid); Deborah Puette/Libby West (Neyime, Anne Miller, Osman); Angela Goethals/Tamara Krinsky (Bedia, Kathy Miller); Dawn Didawick/Melinda Peterson (Ayse, Cavid Older, Kathy Older); Apollo Dukakis/Harry Groener (Adalet, Bedia Older, Orhan Older); Ramon De Ocampo/Ogie Zulueta (Orhan, Porter); Daniel Bess/Seamus Dever (Murat).
Set Design: Tom Buderwitz
Lighting Design: Adam H. Greene
Costume Design: Ivy Y. Chou
Sound Design: Leon Rothenberg
Running Time: Two hours 40 minutes with two intermissions
Running Dates: July 14-August 28, 2005
Where: The Theatre@Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor St., Pasadena, Ph: (626) 683-6883
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on August 6. Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on

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