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Review: 'The Rehearsal' at A Noise Within

April 23, 2009 | 11:15 am

ANW 08 Rehearsal2 As the heat wave rolls in, how about a little polyamory in Glendale? A Noise Within’s delicious production of Jean Anouilh’s “The Rehearsal” serves up a French chateau, plenty of sex and a dash of heartbreak. And the costumes are fabulous.

Like Jean Renoir’s classic “Le Règle du Jeu,” Anouilh’s bittersweet comedy charts the shock to a system when a jaded aristocrat stumbles into true love. In 1950s France, the droll Count Tiger (Robertson Dean) and his countess (Susan Angelo) are throwing their annual ball at the Château de Ferbroques. Festivities include a performance of Marivaux’s “The Double Inconstancy,” in which they’ve cast their friends and lovers: Tiger’s dissipated boyhood friend, Hero (Geoff Elliott), his dramatic mistress, Hortensia (Jill Hill), and the countess’ boy toy, Villebosse (Steve Coombs). Marivaux’s virginal heroine is played by the goddaughter of the family solicitor, a penniless girl named Lucile (Lenne Klingaman) whose lack of affectation proves irresistible to the world-weary count.

The countess may share sex tips with her husband’s mistress, but this plain-Jane interloper is far more dangerous: Lucile dares to bring genuine feeling into their weekend games, threatening everyone’s pretense of indifference. War — the kind fought with a dazzling smile and a cocktail — is declared.

Good-looking, wealthy people run around in couture, sorting out love lives like travel schedules. Anouilh is a sly master of comic irony:  Who else would write a scene in which a wife’s lover is morally outraged by her husband’s philandering?

What sells such gossamer stuff is style, and the production values give this “Rehearsal” plenty of lift. Michael C. Smith’s neoclassical drawing room features floor-to-ceiling windows draped in cream-colored silk, while Ken Booth’s lighting design and Scott Ford Barber’s playlist (opera, French pop) imbue the show with an easy chic. The actors move elegantly in Soojin Lee’s costumes, mash-ups of 18th- and 20th-century fashion. Angelo wears sharp cat-eye glasses with her Watteau-hued gown and fitted bodice; Hill does justice to some complicated corsetry, and even Coombs’ Harlequin shoes catch the eye.

Director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and cast do a better job with Anouilh’s badinage than with the play’s (admittedly) tricky emotional turns. A critical decision in a late scene between Hero and Lucile isn’t particularly convincing, making the tragic denouement less credible. Elliott also overdoes Hero’s debauchery; we’re repeatedly told this is a man who could talk any woman into bed, but he seems to have more mange than elan. Even his seductions seem self-regarding, which drains them of eroticism.

The evening rides on the quick, tart charm of Dean and Angelo as an haute couple who share an upper-class code if not a bed. Somehow their frankness about the rigid rules of their indulgent lives is sexier than Tiger’s breathless passion for Lucile. When you have it all, smart talk is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

“The Rehearsal,” A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Ave., Glendale. See www.ANoiseWithin.org for performance dates and times. Ends May 24. $40-$44. (818) 240-0910 ext 1. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

Photo: From left, Robertson Dean, Geoff Elliott and Lenne Klingaman in "The Rehearsal." Credit: Craig Schwartz

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