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Les Masquerades & Out of This World

Les Masquerades
Kenn Adams' script, billed as "an original French farce" (meaning that it's set in 17th-century France, not that it's written in French), is cleverly constructed and built around a neat comic idea: When the characters exchange clothes to masquerade as someone else, the actors don't actually undress -- they simply change roles. The plot involves two sets of lovers, one a mismatch in class and status. It's set in motion when the lowly valet, Jean-Paul (Peter Brightman), decides to invent a fictitious Marquis (Wayne Sobon) to woo the master's daughter (Katie Hemmeter); myriad complications ensue. As a writer, Adams has the architecture of farce down (his actual dialogue, though, is pretty banal, and his attempts at personalizing the roles through "poetic" passages fail utterly), but as a director, he's clueless. Actors speechify loudly, when they're silent they don't react to other characters, and they enter and exit without clear objective. The publicity materials claim the actors have been rehearsing since January, but it doesn't show: They've chosen basic postures and accents so no matter which roles they're playing it's clear which characters we're seeing, but there's no shading or detail clothing these skeletons. One good comic idea -- when the actors go behind a screen to "change clothes," one or two items of clothing are briefly thrown over the top of the screen and removed before the actors come out exactly as they were -- is abandoned early on for no good reason. Donovan Thompson's costumes are gorgeous, all velvet and lace and brocade, but the actors often appear ill at ease in them. This first production by the group micki's WORLD achieves some of the clockwork of farce, but little of the liveliness.

Through Aug. 6 at New Langton Arts, 1246 Folsom (between Eighth and Ninth streets), S.F. Admission is $18; call 621-7797.

Out of This World
Cole Porter's follow-up to Kiss Me Kate was a flop in 1950. Its book has since been rewritten six times, including a partial revision by the late Howard Ashman (Little Shop of Horrors). Director Greg MacKellan of 42nd Street Moon has reworked the book yet again, adding a character -- gossip columnist Isadora St. John (Lisa Peers) -- who works surprisingly well. The typically foolish story involves the god Jupiter's (John-Elliott Kirk) sudden lust for an American film star, Helen Vance (Stephanie Rhoads). He enlists his children -- among them Mercury (Steve Rhyne) and Venus (Illana Zauderer) -- to help him dodge his jealous wife, Juno (Darlene Popovic). The first act lags in this production, but the energy rises in the second half, fueled by archness, winking double entendres, and bitchy asides about Hollywood stars. The music isn't among Porter's best -- several songs repeat verse after verse with only the rare chorus or bridge, and "Climb Up the Mountain" sounds like "Go Tell Aunt Rhody." But the lyrics occasionally offer Porter's blend of wit and silliness. What makes the evening worthwhile is a quartet of terrific performances, chief among them Rhyne in the lead role of Mercury, once again making the artificial world of a Broadway musical seem completely natural. He dashes across the stage, arranging Jupiter's assignations and wooing a hotel proprietress (the very sweet Caroline Altman) for himself. His big number, "They Couldn't Compare to You," recounting his many sexual exploits, is a delight. ("After snitching Eve from Adam, I attended Call Me Madam, and shortly began to nestle Ethel Merman.") As Venus, Zauderer slinks and slouches, smiling as flirtatiously as any screen siren -- this Venus likes her fun. Popovic's Juno is world-weary and wised-up, both laughing at and angered by her goatish husband. And Peers' columnist revels in dishy dirt and the occasional off-kilter sexual escapade. When Juno and Isadora swig drinks at the hotel bar, two broads singing about their better days ("When I was thrilling,/ I said 'No,' but I was willing./ I sleep easier now"), the show is wonderfully foolish.

Through July 30 at the Eureka Theater, 215 Jackson (at Battery), S.F. Admission is $19-25; call 788-1125.

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