Doomed-heroine alert!


By Alexandre Dumas, fils, newly adapted and translated by Al Cashdollar
Directed by Dunsten J. Cormack
Phasis II
The Common Basis Theatre
750 Eighth Ave. (212/501-2501)
Equity showcase (closes November 2)
Review by David Mackler

There were two different kinds of stage presence being displayed by the leads of Phasis II's production of Dumas's Camille.

First, there was the polished talent of Diana Craig's Marguerite, the dame aux camellias. Craig was terrific as the lady who lives by her charm and wit, not to mention her attractiveness to men. She displayed a combination of pixie and maturity that was essential to creating an audience's sympathy for the story's doomed heroine. She showed herself to be an actress of high accomplishment who is utterly true to her character, and she held the play together with an effortless determination. This is stage presence, and talent, of the highest caliber.

The second kind is when an actor comes on stage and all eyes are drawn to him. This is what happened when Berto Colon's Armand made his entrance. It's a completely different kind of presence, and Camille was lucky to have him. Colon didn't have the polish of Craig, and some of the dialog sounds stilted as he delivered it. But even though he sometimes seemed uncomfortable, he was able, without overt effort, to hold attention. This is a quality that can't be learned, but it can be refined.

Director Dunsten J. Cormack didn't work hard enough to make these two styles mesh, and Al Cashdollar's adaptation has to get a lot of information and events into the allotted time. But while there's plenty of exposition to be got through (particularly in the first act), the story was delivered smoothly, and many in the cast took the opportunities given them to deliver sharp characterizations. Of special note were Dinarte Freitas and Mary Sue Ballou, both sparkling as members of Camille's circle, and who also helped give the demimonde its panache. Alice Klugretz was Camille's maid/housekeeper/support system par excellence; if R.N. Rao had dropped hints during his buffoonish first-act appearance that he was capable of his second-act cruelty it would have registered more strongly.

Although the plot elements are familiar from film and Verdi, Cashdollar has chosen to go back to Dumas (fils) for the emotional culmination of the story. And so, in spite of audience expectations, poor Camille dies alone and Armand must do his emotional scene with her lifeless body. Fair enough, since that's how Dumas has it, and yet ... and yet.... Yes, there is something to be said for going against the familiar, but dammit if it's good enough for Cathy and Heathcliff, for Garbo and Robert Taylor, and for Verdi (no slouch he), it almost seems willful to deprive the audience of a little emotional satisfaction. (Liza Dolittle didn't come back to Henry Higgins in Shaw's original play, but she does in the film -- written by Shaw! -- and the subsequent musical.) And it would have given Craig and Colon their final moment of glory.

Production elements were uncredited, but the costumes stood out especially, particularly Camille's black velvet gown, which Craig used as part of her character, showing exactly why men are attracted to her. And only a true leading man could have carried off the shiny coat Armand wore after Camille has dismissed him. That's as rare a kind of talent in its way as Craig's.

Also with Maureen O'Malley, Diego Mateos, Tom Schlessiger, Rosely Gardner, and John Sheehan.

  Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 David Mackler