Playwright Brian Friel has consistently displayed an incisive touch for dialogue and fully formed characters, both of which seemed glaringly absent from the current production of his 1994 work, Molly Sweeney (Jan. 6-Feb. 15), at Coral Gables' New Theatre. Whether it's the fault of the usually very competent trio of actors, the direction, or the playwright is certainly an arguable point, but without question what has been presented on stage is entirely lacking the human complexity and dramatic sophistication that has distinguished the playwright's past efforts.

A roller coaster of ideas and tones, the touring show of Mark Hampton and Mary Louise Wilson's Full Gallop is sideswiped by the out-of-sync performance of Elizabeth Ashley in the one-woman show about innovative fashion editor Diana Vreeland. A performer capable of great range and subtlety, but prone to excess, Ashley attempts to overcome her lack of physical resemblance to Vreeland, but is way over the top and would be well advised to rein in her performance several steps. At the performance I attended at Fort Lauderdale's Parker Playhouse, well over half the audience had exited by the interval.

The Actor's Playhouse in Coral Gables recently completed a production of West Side Story, one of the most successful runs in the theatre's 10-year history. Playing to capacity houses nearly every performance (800 seats), the effort, thanks to a top flight cast, fluid direction by Artistic Director David Arisco, and the choreography of Barbara LeGette, has been the theatre's crowning achievement.

The Coconut Grove Playhouse is on a roll. The company did near sold-out business with its season opener The Sunshine Boys (currently on Broadway), got critical raves and solid crowds with Having Our Say, Goodbye Friduchita in the intimate Encore Room has been held over twice (through Feb. 7), and their production of Berlin to Broadway is nothing short of spectacular. Despite an uncompromisingly bleak first act featuring the cerebral lyrics of Bertolt Brecht, the show played to near-capacity audiences (Dec. 10-Jan. 25). Let's hope the Playhouse's present production, the darkly humorous musical No Way to Treat a Lady (Feb. 3-March 1), continues this incredible run of success.


London's Unicorn Arts Theatre is currently playing host to New York State Theatre Institute's production of The Snow Queen. To complete the planned cultural exchange, the Unicorn will bring one of its shows to NYSTI next fall. Discussed 20 years ago, at an international children's theatre conference in Albany that was run by Institute Founder-Director Patricia D. Snyder, the idea has been on the back burner for years. It was recently revived when British playwright-lyricist Adrian Mitchell adapted Hans Christian Andersen's classic Snow Queen for Snyder's family theatre company and secured the cooperation of the London company.

Result: a four-week run (Jan. 23-Feb. 15) in London's West End, featuring music by Seattle composer Richard Peaslee, and directed and choreographed by Broadway veteran Patricia Birch. Twice revised for the state-sponsored educational institutes's home theatre in Troy before embarking for England, the show sold out the 300-seat Unicorn its first two weekends.

Drawing both school groups (about 60) and individual patrons, the company of 15 actors doubles and triples in various roles. They tell of a boy and girl who encounter an icy-haired creature from the frozen North--the evil Snow Queen (guest actress Lynnie Godfrey)--who uses magic to lure unsuspecting victims from their loved ones. The boy falls under her spell and deserts his friend, who unselfishly braves a series of misadventures before finding and rescuing him.

London's West End Extra and the Daily Mail printed positive reviews, with both papers singling out Godfrey's "exceptional" and "fantastically diabolical" performance.

Mitchell's work also was favorably received by the literary community. On opening night Oberon Press released its soft-cover edition of the text, available in the U.S. through Theatre Communications Group. A limited-edition Family Classic Audio Book and two-cassette recording of the show, with introduction and narration of actor Jonathan Pryce, is now available in this country from NYSTI. In addition, a volume of the show's vocal selections was issued by Warner Publications and Warner/Chappell Music, both partial underwriters for the production.