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‘Dybbuk’ Due at Back Alley Theatre

Before the Blob, the Fog, the Thing or Phantasm, there was “The Dybbuk.”

"(In Jewish lore), a dybbuk is a displaced migrant soul that attaches itself to the body of a living person and inhabits it,” said Bette Ferber, who is staging Russian playwright S. Ansky’s work, opening Saturday at the Back Alley Theatre in Van Nuys. “It’s a title everyone knows, but when you mention it, nobody seems to have seen it or read it. I’d never seen it or read it. . . .”

It’s not from lack of exposure. Originally produced by the Moscow Art Theatre in 1920, “The Dybbuk” bowed at New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse in 1925, moved to Broadway in 1926, was revived there in the ‘40s and ‘50s and has been the subject of operas, ballets, musicals, a 1939 Polish film (in Yiddish) and a 1960 Sidney Lumet-directed TV-movie. It was also staged at the Taper in 1975.

The story centers on a young man and woman whose fathers had made a pact betrothing their children to each other. When events thwart that match, the young man turns to the Kabbalah (the mystical teachings of the Torah) and invades the body of his preordained love.

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“It’s dark, but enriching,” said Ferber, who feels a kinship with her grandparents’ Russian-Polish roots in the play. “It’s also very romantic. That’s something you don’t see much today.”

Bernhardt vs. Duse

Sarah Bernhardt meets Eleanora Duse in Lillian Garrett’s “The Ladies of the Camellias,” premiering Thursday, under her direction, at the West End Playhouse.

“In Europe, Bernhardt was considered the greater star,” said Garrett, who was reared in Europe and South America. “But Anglo-Saxons have always preferred Duse.” Her curiosity piqued, Garrett embarked on three years of research, assembling this what-if encounter (supported by Duse and Bernhardt’s own words), which finds the theatrical grandes dames thrown together in 1897 Paris.

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“It’s my first play,” said the actress (who opens next month on Broadway in “A Burning Beach”). “I knew I wanted to do something in a comic fashion--because everything solemn (about Duse and Bernhardt) has already been said. I also wanted to do something useful.

“I look at people like Mother Teresa and think, ‘What are we doing in theater?’ ‘Why should we give money to the arts? What good is theater today?’ So there are some little polemics to think about.”

But not too seriously. “The French used to call this sort of thing a divertissement ,” she said. “I hope people have a good giggle.”

Giving ‘Perfect Party’

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David Doyle (Bosley of “Charlie’s Angels”) makes his local stage debut in A. R. Gurney Jr.'s “The Perfect Party,” opening Wednesday at the Richard Basehart Playhouse in Woodland Hills.

“It’s an absurd, farcical, funny play about a slice of society,” said the actor. “My character is obsessed with the idea of giving the perfect party--something I tried to do for a while, till I realized it raises your blood pressure and makes other people uncomfortable. But I think (the character’s) compulsion to see that everything comes out perfectly relates to what’s going on in the world, that cookie-cutter mentality (of one country saying to another): ‘Our way is the only way.’ ”

Mitzi McCall, Charlie Brill, Jane A. Johnston and Patricia Barry co-star. Philip Minor directs.

Critical Cross Fire

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Four suburban women become punk rockers in A. M. Collins and Chad Henry’s rowdy little musical comedy “Angry Housewives” at the Odyssey. David Galligan directs.

Said Don Shirley in The Times: “Laughter, not logic, is the priority here, and once we get past the opening number and into the saga of the ‘Angry Housewives’ themselves, this show creates laughter as if it had the patent.”

From the Daily News’ Daryl H. Miller: “The appeal lies not only in its offbeat humor, but in its depiction of the liberation felt by a group of women who finally do something for themselves, rather than constantly setting aside their needs to satisfy those of families or lovers.”

The Herald Examiner’s Richard Stayton booed: “ ‘Housewives’ is to rage what Mike Tyson is to passion. Andrea Dworkin, author of ‘Intercourse,’ would have an unprintable name for this brand of bruised feminism. We could say it was in bad taste, but it has no taste. “

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Drama-Logue’s F. Kathleen Foley agreed. “ ‘Housewives’ may not be bad enough to rate a mercy killing (or mercy closing, if you will) but it’s definitely in the sickly stepchild category. It’s not bad enough to be good. And it’s not good enough to be good.”


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