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Beautiful Thing

Reviewed by Victor Gluck

Presented by Roy Gabay and Ron Kastner, in The Famous Door Theatre Company (Chicago) production at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St., NYC. Opened Feb. 14 for an open run.

Although British playwright Jonathan Harvey's "Beauti-ful Thing" has already arrived on these shores in an acclaimed film, its original stage version is now reaching New York in a production by Chicago's Famous Door Theatre Company.

Constricted by its realistic setting designed by Robert G. Smith‹the front door stoops of three council flats in a working-class neighborhood of South East London‹the first act with its many blackouts is slow, and the British accents and slang are off-putting. However, by the second act the sensational ensemble acting directed by Gary Griffin and the subtle storytelling of this coming-out story becomes a beautiful thing.

Jamie, Leah, and Ste are teenagers from dysfunctional one-parent families who live next door to each other in May 1993. Leah has been kicked out of school and hasn't found a job. Jamie refuses to attend gym class and fights with his barmaid mother, and Ste, an athlete, must deal with daily beatings from his alcoholic father and abusive brother. When friendship between the boys turns to love, Ste has the bigger problem of dealing with the repercussions of having his family find out.

In the central role of Jamie, red-haired Matt Stinton, a brilliant mimic, is wonderfully able to shift mood on the rollercoaster of his life. Daniel Eric Gold is heart-breaking as the inarticulate, confused Ste. No less remarkable is Susan Bennett's Leah, who worships the Mamas and the Papas and sits around drinking and dabbling in drugs.

Kirsten Sahs, who won Chicago's Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Actress with this subtle performance, plays Jamie's mother‹a woman in her 30s hiding her needs and unhappiness under a rough exterior. No less moving is Kurt Brocker, as the sensitive 27-year-old painter who loves her more than she loves him.

Rigg on RADA

Dame Diana Rigg was nominated earlier this year for an Olivier Award for her performances in "Britannicus" and "Phedre," at London's Almeida theatre. She attended RADA in the 1950s.

"There were those on scholarships, like me, who could not have afforded to go otherwise, and there were some whom you felt had made a choice between Constance Spry [noted flower arranger, 1886-1960] and RADA, and regarded the place rather as a finishing school.

"We had voice, verse, fencing, and movement lessons. I couldn't wait to get out and act. My instincts were right because you learn most when you are surrounded by people who are better than you.

"We just had to accept what we were told and, in a sense, acting is not really like that. You have to distil for yourself, use what is valuable for you and discover it for yourself.

"For sheer fun we went to coffee bars. Somebody would be playing a guitar, and we'd sit on cushions on the floor, and not a joint in sight. It was pre-drugs. [Tutor Wini-fred Oughton] said I didn't have a vestige of talent and the best thing I could do was find another job. My parents were very upset, but I just thought she was an old bag."

‹D. McG.

RADA on Acting

Before you pay your fee to audition for a British drama school, you could do a lot worse than buy a new book‹"Teach Yourself Acting," by Ellis Jones, vice-principal of RADA. It's the only book aimed at both Brits and Americans who want to study in the U.K.

Jones is a former actor and has worked not only in theatre, but also on screen and radio. He answers most of the questions you may be asking yourself, for example, "What can I expect from training?" and "How important is the choice of audition material?" He even shows you how to lay out your first C.V. (resume). There's a glossary of technical terms and 13 pages of contact addresses.

"Teach Yourself Acting" is now on sale in the U.S., or write to NTC/Contemporary Publishing Company, 4255 W. Touhy Ave., Lincolnwood, Chicago, IL 60646-1975.

‹D. McG.

Caesar and Cleopatra

Reviewed by Irene Backalenick

Presented by the Jean Cocteau Repertory, at the Bouwerie Lane Theatre, NYC, Jan. 15-March 6.

Once again, that incomparable husband-wife team of the Jean Cocteau Repertory, Craig Smith and Elise Stone, have carried it off. They have turned George Bernard Shaw's "Caesar and Cleopatra" into a delightful romp, as it was meant to be, without ever sacrificing its more-serious meanings. The astute observations on the nature of man are all there, seasoned and salted by humor. Words tumble out, particularly in a lengthy prologue by the Egyptian God Ra (delivered painlessly by Harris Berlinsky). But then Shaw gets down to business, opening with the wonderful Sphinx scene. Stone is revealed as a kittenish Cleopatra, in hiding from the Roman invaders whom she believes will eat her. She meets and confides in an unknown stranger (Smith as Caesar), who comforts her. In no time, the young girl and middle-aged man are the best of friends. It begins a relationship in which he will become advisor, mentor, friend, lover.

Director Robert Hupp (the Cocteau's artistic director) sets this play in Shaw's own time, which emphasizes its wry Shavian outlook. Robert Klingelhoefer's set also reflects that era, more Victorian than Pharaonic. Margaret McKowen's costumes, too, are intriguingly turn-of-the-century. Smith strides on stage, looking dapper in an African explorer's attire, and later garbed as a dashing 19th-century soldier.

This Caesar is not the heroic figure of Shakespeare's tragedy, but rather a Shavian man, one to whom we can relate even today. This is a complex Caesar, neither good nor evil, but with traits which serve both himself and the Roman Empire. Craig Smith gives the character full measure, endowing him with wisdom, wit, and dignity‹but with shrewdness and selfishness as well. Intellectually, he towers above his subordinates and offers a sharp contrast to the childish Cleopatra who will mature under his instruction.

Though Stone is no 14-year-old in real life, she can portray any age believably. And this time around she is a luscious teenager, trembling on the brink of womanhood. Others in the cast who give solid portrayals are Harris Berlinsky (who plays Cleo's foolish tutor, when he is not Ra), and Christopher Black as the stodgy Britannicus.

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