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A CurtainUp LA Review
Inflagrante Gothicto

By Laura Hitchcock

Those who saw Jillian Armenante's dynamic performance as Melany, the fierce lesbian orphan in the stage version of The Cider House Rules, (CurtainUp's review of Part One in New York) won't be surprised by her crisp sly direction of In Flagrante Gothicto, an outrageous but emphathetic spawn of Bronte and Du Maurier material which Armenante co-wrote with Alice Dodd.

In this synthesis of Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Rebecca, Dodd plays Cathy-Jane-Daphne with iridescent flair. The mélange points up the similarities in the Brontes' work, when the orphan Hampstead (based on Heathcliff) meets his soul mate in the orphan * (this * is how she is designated in the program), perhaps based on Jane and the nameless heroine of Rebecca (Christened Daphne by Alfred Hitchcock in his film version).

There are other deft directorial moments that make subliminal points. The tone is set in the beginning when Aunt Agnes (Cindy Basco) knocks Hampstead (William Salyers) over with a frail backhand, a visual metaphor for her financial power.

The play's skill lies more in structure than in dialogue. Its three story lines are woven together superbly, beginning in Wuthering Heights, progressing to Jane Eyre, interspersed with Rebecca and winding up back in Wuthering Heights.

The lively pace rushes past the production's occasional clichés, such as the heroine's tubercular classmate (who can forget Elizabeth Taylor in the old movie version of Jane Eyre?) coughing all over the heroine's breadcrust. Other concepts are thrown in just for fun, such as the casting of large Tom Beyer in a tutu as the heroine's petite ward, and Hampstead's mad wife as Ishtabey (Emma Jane Mezher) a hula dancer.

The authors don't miss the dark side of Gothic. There's a particularly chilling sadistic portrayal of the Headmaster by Jim Anzide. Headmasters are always sadistic, but this one portrays Satanic insanity without moving a muscle.

After a truly Grande Guignol finale in which Mr. Rochester's duel with Mrs. Danvers lets the Madwoman in the Attic set the stage afire with sparklers, Hampstead and * (now Cathy) find each other back in Wuthering Heights and what has been a farcical entertainment expires in a blaze of what Victorian novels do most gloriously: passionate devotion, all the more powerful for its repression and compression. The seven supporting actors play multiple parts ranging from competent to compelling. Gary Smoot's scenic design amazingly encompasses staircases for scampering, windows for shooting stars, the indispensable balcony and red velvet swathed bed on a tiny state under a lofty Gothic ceiling. Visuals also include a tiny cardboard cutout of Moorcliff House dancing across the stage that could have come from Jane Eyre's imagination.

by Alice Dodd & Jillian Armenante Directed by Jillian Armenante
Cast: Jim Anzide, Cindy Basco, Anastasia Basil, Tom Beyer, Alice Dodd, Emma Jane Mezher, Shannon O'Hurley, William Salyers, John Sylvain.
Set Design: Gary Smoot
Lighting Design: Dan Weingarten
Costume Design: M. E. Dunn
Sound Design: Jillian Armenante
Running time: 2 hours including intermission
From 8/25/2000-9/30/ 2000

Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock September 9, 2000.

©Copyright 2000, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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