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Gemini

Reviewed by Victor Gluck

Presented by and at the Second Stage Theatre, 307 W. 43rd St., NYC, June 16-27.

At 23 years old, Albert Innaurato's "Gemini" is doing fine. The surprise of the evening is director Mark Brokaw. His talent has been in evidence from "This Is Our Youth," "How I Learned to Drive," and "As Bees in Honey Drown." But who would have guessed that he could take a politically incorrect farce from another era and make it one of the funniest and freshest comedies in town?

"Gemini," which was outrageous back in 1978 (remember "I'll just pick"), is still an emotional roller coaster ride through South Philadelphia's Italian section. Here is enough emotion for three opera libretti and Francis Geminiani's 21st birthday party, which also becomes his coming-out party, is still touching. This is also a surprise, since over the last two decades the play could have become extremely dated.

The wonderful ensemble cast also has Riccardo Hernandez's extraordinarily realistic backyard setting, which is dazzlingly lit by Mark McCullough and housed in the beautiful new theatre designed by Ren Koolhaus for Second Stage. The superlatives are justly deserved.

Highest on the list of larger-than-life characters is Linda Hart's Bunny Weinberger-blowsy, alcoholic, vulgar, and generous to a fault. As her genius-but-socially-inept son, Michael Kendrick makes us believe he needs special education. Next is Joseph Siravo as the birthday boy's father caught between the pretensions of his girlfriend and son and his natural instincts to let loose. Julie Boyd is delightful as Lucille Pompi, obsessed with being ladylike.

Ironically, Brian Mysliwy as the birthday boy is offstage the most, but still manages to make his presence felt. In the catalytic roles of Francis' college friends, Thomas Sadoski and Sarah Rafferty may not be the model types described in the script, but they are more effective for being believable as love interests both male and female.

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SparkleFest 2000

Reviewed by Jane Hogan

Presented by Dixon Place in association with The New Wondertwins,at Dixon Place, 258 Bowery, NYC, June 4-19 (Fridays and Saturdays).

The characters: Smackdown and Donk, two sparkling space grrrls on a mission. The objective: to save the human race-and to do their "sparkly best" to entertain and "kick your collective ass." The means: who knows, but it involves a sparkly tour ride on their sparkly spaceship as the two sing, dance, act, and fight their way through the pop-culture galaxy.

Backed by a cool space-age band, clad in cool cyber gear, The New Wondertwins present SparkleFest 2000, a performance piece simply popping with references to TV and music: Steve Austin, Carol Channing, Christmas cartoons (remember the Heat Miser?), Rugrats, Patsy Cline, Gilligan, and so on.

As Smackdown and Donk, writer-performers Rebecca Finnegan and Susan Blackwell energetically and convincingly adopt a bad-ass, take-no-prisoners attitude on an intergalactic journey that presents various earth-saving and shipboard crises (like the transmorphic alien that sneaks aboard).

Suitably quirky, the piece nonetheless suffers, as pieces such as these often do, from a slight gets-old-quick quality, though the two performers are absolutely tireless and have crackerjack timing. Their Broadway musical on the life and times of Retarded Girl isn't as politically incorrect as they might have hoped, and it drags on a bit, though it nicely satirizes the big-musical formula. The spaceship segments and the space lingo really do work, however. (In addition to the transmorphic intruder, they get to say things like "there's a disruption on the hologramophone").

Director Gary Schwartz makes sense of the mania, keeping the out-of-control, fast-moving episodes clear and on track. As the sparkly back-up band of Quasar, Freon, and Ray Gunn, musicians Steve White, Jeff Bowen, and Chris Dyas/Steve Hamilton (a different Ray Gunn depending on the night you see it) sound and look great.

All that glitters may not exactly be gold, but sometimes a sparkly bauble is just fine.

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By the Beautiful Sea

Reviewed by Robert Windeler

Presented by Musicals Tonight! at the Lambs Theatre, 130 W. 44th St., NYC, June 16-27.

Shirley Booth was on a roll when this show opened in 1954, in the previous four years having won both the Tony and the Oscar for the seriously dramatic "Come Back, Little Sheba," plus proving her command of Broadway musical comedy with "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." The success of that uneven show set at the turn of the century induced virtually the same creative team-Arthur Schwartz and Herbert and Dorothy Fields-to put on this second, and lesser, musical about fin-de-si'cle Brooklyn. It was Booth, in the role of a Coney Island rooming-house owner who also tours in vaudeville, who lifted the whole enterprise above the banal. This staged reading from the irrepressible Musicals Tonight!, a sort of poor man's "Encores!" lets us in on exactly how that could happen.

KT Sullivan charmingly sashays through the Booth role as if she didn't know that Schwartz's songs, Dorothy's lyrics, and both Fieldses' book were far from their best. Sullivan creates a character from a mere Gibson Girl line drawing, and the illusion of a plot from a series of drawing-room encounters among boarding-house denizens and their various vaudeville turns. She infuses pallid songs (the "By the Beautiful Sea" number, you know, isn't from this show) with a shimmer that leads the cast and audience into thinking we're spending a day (and night) at a long-ago beach.

Director Thomas Mills, musical director Michael Lavine and a committed cast, on sheer energy and little budget (almost no set but chairs and borrowed period costumes) have ably abetted this transformation of the tarnished jewel box of the Lamb's Theatre-which must be somehow be saved from its threatened extinction! In this intimate setting Perry Laylon Ojeda, the show's juvenile lead, projects a major charisma that was lost in the Gershwin when he was "On the Town."

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La Terrasse

Reviewed by Karl Levett

Presented by Manhattan Theatre Club, at MTC's Stage II at City Center, 131 W. 55th St., NYC, June 8-18.

This contradictory comedy is written by French playwright and screenwriter Jean-Claude Carri're ("The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," etc.), with the American version by Mark O'Donnell. About a restless existential world ("There are nomads and prisoners-no other options!"), it is very much a theatrical hybrid. It begins as a traditional farce, then reveals absurdist aspirations before mellowing into a play with philosophical leanings. The games the playwright is playing eventually become more interesting than those the characters are enacting onstage.

Ostensibly, the play concerns the breakup of Etienne (Jeremy Davidson) and Madeleine (Sarah Knowlton), whose fifth-floor Paris apartment-with terrace-suddenly comes on the real-estate market, resulting in a cast of rambunctious characters showing up and taking over, not only the residence, but the lives of the young couple. Outside the apartment there are signs that chaos is at hand: An apocalyptic wind blows, the streets are either empty or jammed (depending on the character making the observation) and "the children are making weapons."

The anarchic farcical events are followed by an elegiac (and very French) ending in which the ultimate decision is: to commit suicide or to have dinner? The ingredients of this unfamiliar Gallic cocktail tend to neutralize each other. The absurd elements make an uneasy mix with the farce, leaving an aftertaste of a curious, if thought-provoking, melancholy.

The play's odd Gallic rhythms are not easily transformed to American speech or manners. Mike Ockrent directs with energy and precision, his best work being in the farcical moments. He is aided by the innovative details of Santo Loquasto's set and William Ivey Long's costumes. The cast includes experienced character actors who make the most of this unusual material. They are led by David Schramm, who is able to move his Mr. Astruc from irritating to poignant in a short time. Stylish work also comes from Annie Golden and Bruce Norris.

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Martita Goshen's Earthworks: Songs From the Ceide Fields

Reviewed by Lisa Jo Sagolla

Self-produced and administered by Danspace Project, at St. Mark's Church, 2nd Avenue & Tenth Street, NYC, May 27-30.

With her new work "Songs From the Ceide Fields," choreographer Martita Goshen is on a laudable mission to heighten our awareness of humanity's connections with the natural history of our planet. Inspired by a visit to Ireland's ancient archeological structures, Goshen has made a mystical movement piece in which she and her six eloquent dancers seem to gather the energies stored within the natural elements of the environment and use these forces to propel their dancing.

Before moving the dancers touch the walls, as if to feel their vibrations, or lie on the floor, ears to the ground and palms outstretched, attempting to hear, harness, and embody the earth's spiritual energy. Some gather impulses from the surrounding atmosphere and then dance with joyous abandon. Others work hard to move through resistant space-pushing or scooping air that's grown heavy with memories of human history.

A symbolic gesture to the tummy introduces the "Potato Famine" sequence in which starvation, death, and renewal are enacted. The emphasis is on community as one writhing man's pain is absorbed by his comforting mate. The society's return to health-symbolized by the revitalization of a dying figure-is actively celebrated with spinning and skipping spurred by newfound exhilaration in being alive.

Though one sometimes wants Goshen's choreography to be more inventive, surprising, or tightly structured, her harmonious sense of pictorial composition is sublime. The way she arranges bodies and activity in space, and the ease and pleasure with which her dancers interpret her natural movement vocabulary, make one feel that all is well. Her dance proclaims that it's all right to feel good and confounds the notion that in order to be happy one must ignore the harsh realities of the world. Instead, Goshen finds peace in embracing nature's realities and the historical truths contained therein.

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