January 30, 2004





G&S update goes heavy on whimsy


Think it's just a matter of time before gay marriage is as legally commonplace as no-fault divorce? Think again: In "Duel," Christopher Taylor and David O's adaptation of Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Grand Duke," it's the year 2501 in the fictional land of Pfennig-Halpfennig, and same-sex couples are still struggling for equal recognition under the law.


These include a sweet, slow-witted actor, Ludwig (Kevin Artigue), and his ardent fiance Oscar (Michael A. Shepperd), and the love/hate duo of theatrical impresario Madame Dummkopf (Elizabeth Tobias) and her severe leading lady, Julia (Emma Barton).


The hopelessly convoluted plot has Dummkopf's theater company ascending to the nation's leadership with the aid of a foppish lawyer (Mark Doerr), whereupon Ludwig finds himself at the front of a four-marriage pile-up. There's an ostensible satire of official hypocrisy, or abuse of power, or something or other, in here somewhere, but the whimsy is laid on a bit too thick, and, under director Randee Trabitz, with too broad a brush, for anything to stick. Designer Paul Spadone's mostly tacky, seemingly arbitrary costume and set choices don't invite us take anything here very seriously, even on the show's own somewhat-futuristic terms.


Still, there's a fair amount of ticklish fun to be had, particularly in perfectly timed comic turns by Barton as the troupe's butch drama queen, by Michael Bonnabel as a Gallic smoothie, and above all by Christopher Neiman as a sweaty, venal duke.


The cast is also vocally adept with David O's slick pop-musicalization of the score. But O's chugging, synth-rock syncopations, dashed with witty soul and hip-hop inflections, make only a loose fit over Gilbert's overstuffed lyrics and Sullivan's square harmonies. The result sounds like nerdy, overachieving progressive rock--in other words, like early Andrew Lloyd Webber.


Ameenah Kaplan's choreography may best exemplify the ups and downs of this strenuous romp: Her steps are infectiously goofy--and stompingly rafter-shaking. Light on its feet this "Duel" is not.

--Rob Kendt


"Duel," presented by Oasis Theater Company in association with the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center's Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Program at the Hollywood Court Theater, 6817 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Ends Feb. 15. $20. (323) 878-2290. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.