Onstage battles of the sexes

Scenes: `Two by Ten,' a presentation of play excerpts selected by director Alan Peterkofsky, explores many facets of the man-woman relationship.


May 03, 2001|By William Hyder | William Hyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Relations between the sexes have changed considerably over the centuries. The developments of the past few decades have even been called a sexual revolution.

Perhaps, though, things haven't altered quite as radically as we'd like to think. At Kittamaqundi Theatre, audiences watch scenes from 10 plays written between 411 B.C. and the 1970s, each showing interaction between a man and a woman. The 21st-century Americans related to just about all of them.

The excerpts, aptly selected by director Alan Peterkofsky and titled "Two by Ten," range from tragic to comic and explore many facets of the man-woman relationship.

The evening began with a scene from Aristophanes' sex comedy "Lysistrata," briskly and amusingly played by Steve Bruun and Elizabeth Ogrin.

Shakespeare's "Richard III" brought a drastic change of mood. The situation depicted - Richard seducing Lady Anne after having killed her father, her husband and his father - was the only one a modern audience might find difficult to accept. This posed a challenge that the actors, Jenny Leopold and Steve Beall, had trouble overcoming.

Another seduction scene - a funny one from Moliere's "Tartuffe" - was ably played by Bruce Leipold and Karen Kellner. More comedy followed as Bruun and Ogrin returned in an excerpt from Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest." Their effective comic acting drew the biggest laughs of the evening.

The first half concluded with a serious passage from George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," a play better known to modern audiences in the musical version, "My Fair Lady." Professor Henry Higgins has taken Eliza Doolittle from the London slums and taught her to speak like a lady. Now they must decide what their relationship is going to be. Karen Kellner was an effective Eliza, and Chuck Palenik presented a less arrogant, more thoughtful version of Higgins than we are used to seeing.

The second half began with dialogue from "Life With Father," by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, in which Father quarrels with Mother about her carelessness in keeping track of money. Having seen the original Broadway production with Lindsay and Dorothy Stickney, I feel sure the scene would offend today's audiences if acted as they performed it. Father was the complete Victorian tyrant (there were still plenty of them around when the play opened in 1939). Mother, though spunky and fearless, never dreamed of questioning his role as master of the family.

Under Peterkowski's direction, Palenik gave Father a patient, conciliatory manner, and Dede Newport made Mother a bit manipulative. The result had the flavor of a television sitcom, but it worked perfectly for a 2001 audience.

In James Goldman's "The Lion in Winter," Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, are shown sparring for personal and political advantage. The interest lies in the fact that, being royals, their personal and political lives are one and the same. Leipold captured Henry's scheming mind. Barbara Franklin was equally intelligent and calculating as Eleanor, and added the warmth that Henry (to his political advantage) lacked.

A scene from William Inge's "Picnic," set in small-town America and effectively played by Newport and Bob Hollis, contrasted with an excerpt from Noel Coward's sophisticated English comedy "Private Lives," featuring Leopold and Beall.

The evening ended with a scene from the most recent work, Ernest Thompson's "On Golden Pond," played by Franklin and Hollis.

"Two by Ten" is an intelligent and entertaining evening of theater.

Kittamaqundi Theatre presents "Two by Ten" at 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday at Oliver's Carriage House, Vantage Point Road and Leaf Treader Way, Columbia. Information and reservations: 410-997-3981 or 410-997-0937.

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