By George Sand
Directed by Yelena Demikovsky
Looking Glass Theatre (315-1737)
422 W. 57th St. (closes June 30)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

Theatregoers interested in a gender-bending romance but, like the Tony nominating committee, with something against Victor/Victoria could head to the Looking Glass Theatre for Gabriel-Gabrielle. They'll be settling, though, for considerably less panache and talent.

This world premiere by the 19th-century French author George Sand--who did some gender-bending in her own life--furthers Looking Glass's mission to increase female writers' representation in the dramatic repertoire. With a poor translation and sluggish pace, however, this show cannot claim to be one of the ``lost gems'' that Looking Glass seeks to add to the canon.

At the outset of the play, Prince Bramante's grandson learns he is actually a granddaughter. Known as Gabriel, the young woman has been raised as a man in order to inherit the crown. With her male appearance intact, Gabriel sets off to meet her cousin, Astolphe, who is the rightful heir. The two become buddies, but Gabriel must reconsider the charade when she falls in love with her cousin. The erstwhile playboy Astolphe, meanwhile, is puzzled by his fondness for another man.

Director Yelena Demikovsky failed to evoke any drama from either the homoerotic suggestiveness or Gabriel's transformation into a woman. Too much was told instead of shown. Furthermore, the crucial decisions about Gabriel's secret and future were muddled in an overlong second act. The highlight of the act was a swordfight staged by Dan O'Driscoll, a talented fight director who did a similarly fine job for Judith Shakespeare Company's recent production of Macbeth.

Set in Italy during the Renaissance, Gabriel-Gabrielle was virtually devoid of period flavor except for a few lovely gowns worn by the ladies. The language and acting were too contemporary, and the musical score featured such anachronisms as Bolero and Rigoletto. Two lovers serenaded each other with ``O Solo Mio''... which was written around 1900!

One attempt to inject Renaissance culture in the play was using commedia dell'arte mimes as a sort of Greek chorus. Yet it was never clear what they were supposed to be saying with their movements, and the choreography looked more like skulking than dancing. The masked characters sharply diminished the climactic moments of each act, since the stage lights did not go down until they had taken their places on stage. Most of their clumsy appearances occurred during scene changes already marred by the intrusive music and noisy reconfiguring of the blocks that constituted the set. The only other pieces of scenery were small black-and-white cardboard backdrops of a castle.

The lead actors, including Justine Lambert as Gabriel and Paul James Bowen as Astolphe, were passable, but much of the supporting cast was weak. Diminutive David Levin was miscast as Astolphe's swaggering rival, while Eric K. Daniels--with silly expressions and gestures that resembled Jim Carey's--was inappropriate in the final scene. The best performance came from Maja Wampuszyc, who was charming as the courtesan in love with Astolphe. (Also featuring Suzan Perry, Manolo Martinez, Bob Bollweg and Genevieve Montgomery. Sets/Costumes, Ivana Kucan; Lighting, Stephen Petrilli.)

Box Score:
Writing 1
Directing 0
Acting 1
Set 0
Costumes 1
Lighting/Sound 0
Copyright 1996 Adrienne Onofri

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