Sexual Politics in the 15th Century

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Part of the interest in Fernando de Rojas' "La Celestina," at the Bilingual Foundation's Little Theatre, is historical. When it was written, a century before Shakespeare's time, there was no secular theater in Spain. It was meant to be read. Margarita Stocker's translation and the adaptation by Margarita Galban and Stocker have whittled it from nine hours to its present, handsome, worthy and workable shape.

Also of interest is the play's modernity, its depiction of sexual politics with women holding the reins, and social concerns that continue to this day. Rojas was Jewish, but couldn't in his time mention the fact that the young swain he writes about, Calixto, was also Jewish--hence the reluctance of his adored Melibea to admit her love for him.

Rojas' ace in the hole is the character of Celestina, a "bawd," or procuress, who engineers Calixto's brief encounter with Melibea, along with assignations for almost every other male in the tale. She's a sort of liberated woman through her knowledge of the great flaws in her clients' machismo .

Director Maria Rivera for a period broadness that never oversteps itself and works delightfully. Jonathan Del Arco and Veronika Stocker are as attractive a pair of young lovers as one can find, and expertly play into the subtlety and humor of their roles.

Celestina is played as raucously by Margarita Stocker as the Renaissance Galician musical theme that punctuates the action. Also notable in a good company are James Encinas' randy manservant and Susanna Tanco's giggling, marginally idiotic lady's maid.

"La Celestina," Little Theatre, Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, 421 N. Avenue 19. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. (Alternate weeks in English and Spanish) Ends Dec. 6. $10-$15; (213) 225-4044. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Obsession Themes Two One-Acts at Backspace

As unalike as day and night are "Judge the Distance" and "Food," two one-acts at Theatre/Theater's Backspace.

Bernard White's "Distance" concerns a young man obsessed with the J.F.K. assassination, even to re-creating the scene in his living room. That obsession overshadows a police investigation into his father's disappearance. The play goes beyond and behind its surface mystery to psychological labyrinths that lead the viewer to the light only at the most effective moments.

Dan Bonnell's intricate, painterly direction serves the text without a flaw, and his cast is super. Author White as the agoraphobic young man, Lynn Milgrim as his slavish mother, Charles Richards as his naive uncle, Dennis Rohm as the image of his father, and Howard Schechter and Barry Lynch as detectives are as real as your hand in front of your face.

White also serves as director of Anne Davis' "Food," about another kind of obsession, with Bill Phillips and Julia Campbell as waiter and cook in a veggie cafe, embroiling customers Carrie Dobro and Bill Dunlevy in their search for the perfect food.

They all capture the whimsy, but Phillips stands out with numerous comic moments which rise above the thin writing. Both cafe and play need more protein.

"Judge the Distance" and "Food," Theatre/Theater Backspace, 1713 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends. Oct. 25. $10; (213) 469-2490. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

Frightening Picture of Gang Subculture

It's not that his family didn't try to keep Angel from running with the gangs. He was bad news from the beginning. David Lee Lindsey's "Avenging Angel," at the Burbage Theatre, doesn't explain Angel, but it does show him crumbling when his family breaks its ties with his twisted outlook.

Under Elizabeth Bell-Haynes' clear-cut direction, Eugene Williams gives a strong performance as Angel, even to providing him with a tiny bit of empathy. Outside of a couple of extraneous scenes (Angel's murder and rape of an elderly woman could have been neatly covered in dialogue), Lindsey's Angel is a frightening composite of too many young men.

Patricia Forte as his mother, Crystal Justine as his sister and Alan Brown as a cousin who leads the family to a better life, are at the top of a good cast. But Marcus Aurelius stands out as both a fellow gang member and as Angel's younger brother, forced to emulate Angel's image and now, in prison, pays the price with his body for Angel's transgressions.

"Avenging Angel," Burbage Theatre, 2330 Sawtelle Blvd., West Los Angeles. Thursdays, 8:30 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Ends Nov. 14. $12-$15; (310) 478-0897. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

An Untamed 'Shrew' at Globe Playhouse

Even discounting the usual unevenness of such a large cast, director Clarke Gordon hasn't totally tamed this "Taming of the Shrew" at the Globe Playhouse. It is a respectable production, but moves much too leisurely to have the snap it deserves.

There are a couple of moments that work beautifully. Scenes alone between Petruchio (Alex Daniels) and Kate (Elizabeth Holmes) begin to crackle, but the supporting cast doesn't follow suit.

Along with Daniels' energetic Petruchio and Holmes' rather icy Kate, there are some worthy performances. Gary Morgan's Grumio is very funny as he deadpans his lines on top of frenetic movement, looking every bit like a blob of Silly Putty as he splats against practically everything on the set.

Beth Chamberlin's gentle Bianca, Robert D'Avanzo's nervous Hortensio and Laird Scott's self-assured Lucentio are notable, along with John Blyth Barrymore's slightly oily Tranio. But there is some overplaying going on in the supporting cast, particularly by Ogie Zulueta, who plays Biondello as though he were one of the leads.

"Taming of the Shrew," Globe Playhouse, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood. Mondays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Oct. 28. $10-$25; (213) 654-5623. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

Dismal Send-Ups of Quixote and Fable

The actors in Tinka Menkes' "Scenes From La Mancha" and "Puss in Love" (including author-director Menkes) may be making a stab at being avant garde, but their monotone line readings do nothing to enhance Menkes' dismal sendups of Quixote and fable.

Her "gender-bending" casting is old hat (Bernhardt played Hamlet, etc.), her styles derivative. "La Mancha" could be called "Waiting for Cervantes" (he never arrives), and "Puss" is Cocteau mal fait.

That this production at Los Angeles Photography Center received a top-line city Arts Recovery Program grant is astonishing. The only recovery called for is from the total boredom which caused many audience members to depart from the premises during the show.

"Scenes From La Mancha" and "Puss in Love," Los Angeles Photography Center, 412 S. Park View St. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Ends Oct. 25. $10; (213) 383-7342. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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