March 26, 2004





Ageless confection is still sweet


The appeal of the unattainable, as old as forbidden fruit, is grist in the gears of Agustin Moreto's exquisite 17th-century comic timepiece, called "Spite for Spite" in Dakin Matthews' crisp, conversational new verse translation.


If director Anne McNaughton's production feels a bit perfunctory, with resplendent costumes by Dean Cameron but only a few trees and a painted drop for a set on the NewPlace Theatre Center's tiny stage, it's not for lack of verbal dexterity or performative relish.


Lance Guest and Julia Fletcher head the cast as Carlos and Diana, two will-be lovers whose desire is sharpened by a studied, competitive disdain, egged on by Carlos' chucklingly deceptive servant Moth (Paul Willson, alternating with Matthews in the role).


All three leads give their lines bite and bounce: Guest with a lunging, leonine charm, Fletcher with a fan-snapping hauteur that thaws into a warm glow, and Willson with a conspiratorial, self-amused deadpan that evokes W.C. Fields. Without breaking a sweat, Willson earns his laughs with such sassy scene-closers as, "Roll up the rugs, it's gonna start hoppin' in here/Higher than hailstones off a horse's rear!"


Machinations move along relatively fleetly, accompanied by Carl Smith's pristine guitar accompaniment. A glaze of tedium does begin to congeal on a series of plodding dances and courtship rituals whose quaint formality is at odds with the rest of the production's almost vaudevillian vigor. And the second act's inevitable capitulations and clinches feel a bit long in coming.


Still, for a screwball confection as light as it is tasty, "Spite for Spite" hits the spot.

--Rob Kendt


"Spite for Spite," Andak Stage Company a NewPlace Theatre Center, 4900 N. Vineland Ave., N. Hollywood. Wednesdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays-Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Apr. 4. $16. (818) 506-8462. Running time: 2 hours.