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THE ROVER

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A teenage girls' slumber party is one of the least likely places to find Restoration drama, but director Josh Costello's adaptation of Aphra Behn's The Rover finds its voice again in Orange County. Behn, noted as one of England's first female dramatists, was a witty albeit bawdy storyteller like many of her contemporaries. Her tale concerns a pair of sisters, one bound for a nunnery and one betrothed to a wealthy but elderly nobleman. The twists and turns are fairly typical, involving the usual mistaken identities, masquerades, and double entendres. Costello's work excels in his use of the young girls, whose budding interest in courtship and sex takes centerstage.

Hellena (Vanessa Martinez), the younger sister to Florinda (Alex Bueno), has been listening while her sister and friends (Barbara Suiter, Emily Clark) whisper about boys and the mysteries of romance. She taunts them into acting out the story of Behn's seafaring rover and his lusty connivances after the women he encounters. As they progress through the story, their awakening desires and sexual posturing bring new insights into their own burgeoning feelings.

One of the silliest but most effective conceits is to have the girls use stuffed animals and Barbie dolls to represent collateral characters. They rouse the audience to laughter more than once as Ken and Barbie act out an amusing striptease or a big fluffy dog gesticulates with nuanced motions. This largely collegiate-aged quartet manages to be both worldly and unsophisticated, and it comes off very well.

Masako Tobaru's lighting is effective, as her combination of subdued and key lights change moods. Costello might be faulted for overtly excessive posturing, but, in the context of teenagers, it comes off as an endearing enthusiasm. Jeremy Golden's large double-decker bunk bed is a successful bit of set design, allowing varied pairings of the cast. Kudos, too, for Christopher Villa's fight direction, as the characters wield umbrellas, canes, and toy swords in well-choreographed skirmishes. Adaptations can be successful or clunkers, as many directors have found, but this one is inventive and pleasurable, showcasing Behn's sharp wit and Costello's inspired imagination.

"The Rover," presented by the Chance Theater Repertory Company at the Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim. Sat. 4 pm, Sun. 6 pm. Jan. 22-Feb. 20. (714) 777-3033.

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