Olney offers rare staging of 'Camille'

August 26, 1998|By Mike Giuliano | Mike Giuliano,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Just when you think the consumptive Marguerite Gautier has coughed for the last time, the public demands she suffer and die yet again. That has been the fate of a romantic literary character whose appeal lingers.

Alexandre Dumas fils, who based Marguerite on a Parisian courtesan with whom he had an affair in the 1840s, first told her story in his novel "La Dame Aux Camelias." Its success prompted him to write an equally popular stage adaptation. This, in turn, was the basis for Verdi's opera "La Traviata." In our century, there have been more than 20 movies of the story, including the Greta Garbo vehicle "Camille."

Marguerite's story is so familiar we can all cough along, but the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts' production of "Camille" offers a rare opportunity to see a staging of Dumas' play. Although the play's opening scene has enough exposition to fill a few chapters, the compelling story asserts itself as soon as the beautifully gowned Marguerite enters a salon and flirts with le tout Paris.

She's lovely, she's dangerous, and the moment she loses her breath during a dance, we know this romantic melodrama is inexorably leading Marguerite to her demise. Just as fatalistic is the play's sense that this experienced woman's love for an innocent and handsome man, Armand Duval, will transform her from a selfish to a selfless creature who must renounce Armand for the sake of a promise she makes to his father. Her suffering is so exquisite, we sigh, we cry, we applaud.

This mounting of "Camille" is blessed with a Marguerite who fills her gowns most convincingly. Jan Maxwell possesses both the pleasing figure and the firm personality to play a character who has been around the ballroom more than once. Maxwell is especially good in later scenes, when Marguerite's gasping is enough to make your own breathing unsteady.

The audience member who groused "Garbo she is not" after the show was too harsh, because Maxwell does a fine job, though she puts too much emphasis on being severe and not enough on being coquettish.

As Marguerite's somewhat younger lover, Armand Duval, Tyson Lien gives a sensitive performance that shows why the worldly courtesan would consider him a refreshing alternative.

The large supporting cast of socialites and servants includes a couple of stand-out performances: Halo Wines as Prudence, a middle-aged milliner who has a good-natured response to the human comedy provided by salon society; and Richard Bauer as Armand's strict father, who functions as the voice of propriety in this otherwise hedonistic drawing-room domain.

Director Richard Romagnoli, set designer Mark Evancho and costume designer Robin Stapley employ an effectively spare strategy in which minimal props, an imposing backdrop of curtains and striking but not overly fussy costumes suggest a lush salon without overwhelming us with detail. We're all the better able to savor the sadness of Marguerite's suffering.

'Camille'

Where: Olney Theatre Center for the Arts, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7: 30 p.m. Sundays, with selected matinees; through Sept. 20

Tickets: $25-$32; discounts for groups, senior citizens, full-time students, obstructed view seats and tickets bought one hour before show

Call: 301-924-3400

Pub Date: 8/26/98

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