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A CurtainUp LA Review
The Lady's Not For Burning
by Laura Hitchcock

What in the world do world affairs have to do with anything?

Christopher Fry's stunning 1948 verse drama has received two productions in Los Angeles this year, the first at Charles Marowitz's Malibu Stage Company last summer (See My Review). Now the Road Theatre Company, noted for its talent and taste, has tackled the play proclaimed as the most successful example of epigrammatic lyric beauty since Shakespeare. It's certainly a standard to aim for and an exercise for artists.

Fry also succeeds in blending verbal and physical comedy with the dark disillusion of veteran Thomas Mendip, returned from some medieval war to find himself in the middle of a witch hunt for Jennet Jourdemayne, whose beauty and tart scientific bent disturb the small-minded small town which would inherit her property were she condemned and burned at the stake. The play comments on a hypocritical post-war society that has no use for veterans, marries for money, overlooks crimes when expedient and sacrifices an unconventional girl for its own benefit.

Director Matt Kirkwood has transposed the play from the Middle Ages to the post World War II era in which it was written. This works well as, for the most part, does a mimed prelude incorporating the fight between brothers Humphrey and Nicholas Devize and a touch too much Chaplinesque chair-shifting by the Mayor's clerk Richard. Kirkwood brings pace, humor and passion to the production.

The cast attempt to handle Fry's blank verse by throwing it away. As with Shakespeare, it's extremely difficult to make a blank verse play fly without losing its poetic values, especially with the limited experience in this form which most actors get today, and this cast essays it with varying degrees of success. One major mistake is changing the pronunciation of the heroine's name from Jennet to Jeanette. Jeanette doesn't scan.

K. C. Marsh as Thomas creates a sardonic character and has a deft sense of the values in his lines. Though less verbally adept, Kelly Godfrey has the beauty, elegance and tartness the part requires. Sylvia Little's matronly Margaret has a wonderful simpering testy bewilderment straight out of the old Helen Hopkinson club woman cartoons. Barry Thompson as Mayor Tyson and Charles Sedgwick Hall as The Chaplain are most at ease with Fry's form and both are dynamic and delightful. Steve Reisberg also does well with the voluble passionate Nicholas who enjoys competing with his brother Humphrey more than either of the girls they fight over. Convent-bred Alizon who blossoms into a passion flower is one of the most difficult roles in the play; Laurie Kragness looks the part and gets the humor but, as is so often the case with this role, misses the nuances. Brad Benedict adequately handles the easier role of Richard, as does Kelly Lynn Warren in a sex change Fry didn't plan but which works fine as Justice Tappercoom. Andrew Walker's mellow voice and mellower portrayal of old Skipps, the Rag and Bone Man, end the play with a bang. All have the benefit of another of Desma Murphy's superb sets and fun 1930s costumes from Victoria Miranda.

Playwright: Christopher Fry
Director: Matt Kirkwood
Cast: Brad Benedict (Richard), Dennis Gersten (Humphrey), Kelly Godfrey (Jennet), Charles Sedgwick Hall (Chaplain), Laurie Kragness (Alizon), Sylvia Little (Margaret), K. C. Marsh (Thomas), Steve Reisberg (Nicholas), Barry Thompson (Hebble Tyson), Andrew Walker (Skipps), Kelly Lynn Warren (Tappercoom)
Set Design: Desma Murphy
Costume Design: Victoria Miranda
Hair & Make-Up Design: Nancee Waterhouse
Sound Design: Wav Magic
Lighting Design: Nick McCord
Supervising Producers: Cynthia Ava & Eleanor Zeddies
Running Time: Three hours; one intermission
The Road Theatre Company, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, ph: (818) 761-8838
Feb. 8-April 13, 2002
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on Feb. 8.
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