Heir Transplant

Oddest of all, the effort and strain in Brokaw's production end by pushing the play back in time, distancing it further from the audience, to whom a more direct and naturalistic reading would look like a slightly stylized version of events that are going on around us every day. There was no gap that needed bridging between Molière's substance and our time; the anxiety behind the Park's loud, bright style effectively creates one. Skittering around under Mark McCullough's harsh lights, to John Gromada's speeded-up harpsichord score (it sounds like isolation-booth music for 17th- century TV quiz shows), the cast seem to be figures from a very distant world, battling the rhymed couplets for the sake of an elaborate stage intrigue that has only vague points of contact with the here and now. Europeans, used to somber Tartuffes filled with everyday behavior (like the Strasbourg version filmed with Gerard Depardieu), must marvel at our taking such trouble to make the most immediate work in the classical canon so remote.

ââ Kat and the Kings rarely screeches or rants, but the degree of effort is just as perceptible. It hardly seems fair to review a work in which the performers are so anxious to please, and put out so much effort and energy: The slightest reservation you offer makes you feel like an ingrate, while the best you can say in their praise would seem a puny reward for such hard labor. if everyone involved would just lay back for a minute and let us discover its minor pleasures for ourselves, we would probably overrate it as Cape Town and London seem to have. Certainly the performers are gifted: When Jody J. Abrahams, as the young hero, cartwheels across the stage, or when Alistair Izobell sends his lush countertenor out into the house, showbiz seems like a lovely and magical place. That it isn't becomes clear as the show's virtues, overused and unvaried, quickly wear thin.

Charles Kimbrough (Top) and Dylan Baker In Tartuffe: Piety in the Sky
photo: Michal Daniel
Charles Kimbrough (Top) and Dylan Baker In Tartuffe: Piety in the Sky

Details

'Tartuffe'
By Molière, translated by Richard Wilbur
Delacorte Theatre,
Central Park 539-8750

'Kat and the Kings'
By David Kramer and Taliep Petersen
Cort Theatre,
48th Street and Seventh Avenue 239-6200

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Set among the mixed-race people South Africa's apartheid government called "coloreds" or "Cape coloreds," the story deals with a '50s close-harmony group that tries to doo-wop its way across racial barriers. Neither dramatized nor turned into a constant background presence, the racial tension drifts lazily across the evening, like secondhand smoke. The characterizations are as desultory, and the resolution as arbitrary, as the sequence of numbers. The evening never decides whether it's a concert or a book show; caught in the middle, the performers seem increasingly manic; author-director David Kramer doesn't help by piling on gadgets till the finale suggests song-and-dance night in the MGM prop shop. And all through, the synthetic nostalgia songs keep evoking the real ones they can't quite replace. (Avenue X, an Off-Broadway show that also viewed '50s racial barriers through the prism of doo-wop, had the same problem.) Unlike most musical imports from London, Kat and the Kings isn't torture; the pity is that its genuine pleasantness fades, all too quickly, before it can become something else.

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