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[whitespace] 'Playboy of the Western World' Dramatic Village: 'Playboy of the Western World,' now at the Cabrillo College Theater and starring Kristen Vaughan and Andy Manle, takes a look at life in a turn-of-the-century Irish village.

Word Up

Theater company Word for Word has dramatic fun with hilarious satire

By Rob Pratt

PART OF THE MAGIC of a good work of literature is that it lets a reader fill in details, relying on common cultural understanding to set the scene and outline how the action takes place. Part of the genius of the Word for Word theater company is that it fills in those details. With a production of Edith Wharton's short story "Xingu" now running at the Actors' Theatre as part of the Z Festival of New Performance, the company uses the stage to heighten tension between characters and add punch to a text loaded with zingers.

A wicked satire of half a dozen society mavens who make up "the lunch club," a women's discussion group dedicated to literature and learning, "Xingu" looks at the club's date with author Osric Dane (Wendy Radford), whose inscrutable novel The Wings of Death strikes the members as a monumental work even if they haven't taken the time to read it. Like adders slithering around a pit to find an angle to strike, the six women eye each other with disdain, reserving a special distrust for Mrs. Roby (Susan Harloe), who reads books not to study them and glean ineffable mysteries but merely for amusement.

Though the pacing from time to time dragged and some of the actors seemed stiff, the show kept a nearly full house Nov. 5 belly laughing through most of the 70-minute show. Harloe's spare movements and knowing face during early scenes neatly hinted at the ultimate denouement. And relegating descriptive lines in Wharton's narration mostly to the capable Lynne Soffer and JoAnne Winter as grande dames Mrs. Plinth and Mrs. Leveret cleverly underscored both the pair's domination of the lunch club and their bitter rivalry.

Xingu runs Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3 and 7pm at the Actors' Theatre, 1001 Center St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are "pay what you can" Thursday, $12-$15 all other shows. (877.77Z.SHOW)

The Eternal Village

ADD THE SLEEPER hit movie Waking Ned Devine to playwright John Millington Synge's The Playboy of the Western World, running at the Cabrillo College Theater through Nov. 21, and audiences get an idea that Irish village life for the past century hasn't changed much, retaining both goofiness and raw charm. Synge's play offers a wonderfully written portrait of a turn-of-the-century village, and though it's nearly 100 years old, it plays brisk and lively and without a dated feel. But the actors' use of Irish accents--some more successfully than others--diminishes the punch of the language, in places making it almost unintelligible.

Directed by Wilma Marcus Chandler, the play is sharply staged on a beautiful set designed by Mark Hopkins. Sometimes entrances from the house are excessive, only distracting from action on- stage, and though Ruthie Elliot as Pegeen Mike and Kristen Vaughan as Widow Quin light up all the scenes they're in, the cast's performance generally comes off as over modulated.

The Playboy of the Western World runs Friday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm through Nov. 21 at Cabrillo College Theater, 6500 Soquel Dr., Aptos. Tickets are $8-$10. (479.6331)

Riots and Interludes

UC-SANTA CRUZ theater professor and director Kathy Foley has a flair for color and flashy interlude. For the production of Anna Deavere Smith's Twilight: Los Angeles running at UCSC's Second Stage through Sunday, she pulls out all the stops for a radical revisioning of the original one-woman show.

Acted by a strong ensemble cast, the play tells stories of the 1992 Los Angeles riot. Richard Thieriot as a police commissioner and a SWAT sergeant, Lorin King as a radical scholar and an El Salvadorean activist, and Meghan O. Beitiks as Congresswoman Maxine Waters and a coroner's lieutenant stand out in telling monologues. But it is the frame of Foley's crafty staging--bringing the cast onstage through the house in a babel of voices, using tableaux as a backdrop for eyewitness accounts of the riots and returning from intermission with taiko drumming to introduce the riot experience of a Korean family--that elevates Smith's gripping tale of a city into a compelling theatrical event.

Twilight: Los Angeles runs Friday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm at Second Stage, Theater Arts Center, UCSC. Tickets are $5-$9. (459.2159)

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From the November 10-17, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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