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The Cavern

at Quincy House this weekend


THE creature is stronger than his creator, or so Jean Anouilh would have us believe in The Cavern. The characters insist on their own independent existence, and the unwary playwright suddenly finds himself part of the play, seduced by the vitality of his own inventions.

So far so good. But even if the author is taken with the work of his hands, the audience isn't, not at least in the Quincy House production of The Cavern. The show chugs along at a level of basic competence, but you wait in vain for the spark that would make Anouilh's premise work.

Part of the problem is the translation, a terrible wooden thing by Lucienne Hill that would make any character in a play seem like, well, a character in a play. Part of the problem is the traditional tiny house at the traditional Thursday night opening. No cast can as one actor astutely adlibbed, "turn 25 or 50 individuals into one single attentive being." The figure Anouilh had written was "seven or eight hundred."

Claudio Buchwald plays the Author at Quincy House, a self-pitying sort who is trying to piece together a melodrama of murder, poverty, and lust from a collection of uncooperative protagonists. At the outset Anouilh has the courtesy to apologize, though the Author, to Pirandello. After that, Buchwald is left to intervene periodically as the play drifts out of his control. He does so with reasonable skill, although his expression of unrelieved anguish and his habit of passing off fidgeting as unease begin to wear after a while.

THE rest of the cast--the characters with which the Author is working--share one general flaw that director Christopher Arnold could have eliminated with a firmer hand. Their readings are all uncertain, with no one quite sure just which words they should be emphasizing, which laughs they should be expecting and which pauses they should be holding. John Brady, as the police superintendent, is particularly afflicted.

Frazer Lively, as Marie Jeanne, the doyenne of the kitchen, gives the appearance of power even if she never quite realizes it in practice. Amy Sue Allen, the pregnant maid, projects her pain well--so well, in fact, that her expressiveness sometimes drowns out comprehensibility.

The two strongest parts, though not the largest, belong to Frederick Banks as Marcel, the procuring and philandering valet, and Phillipa Lord, the Countess. Banks is appropriately nasty and Miss Lord appropriately aristocratic, each without lapses.

Many of the actors are simply adequate. All of them achieve reasonably well-defined characterizations; none of them goes any farther than that. The same is true of the Count, Brian McGunigle, and his family--Ken Hurwitz, Barbara Menaker, Sharone Sandifer, and Steven Sylvester--and of the other inhabitants of the servants' quarters--Alberta Handelman, Robert Rosenheck, Tom Geoghegan, John Hiatt, and Nathan Taylor Jr.

Frederick Ewers' set achieves a nice delineation of the kitchen "cavern" below and the town house above, though the upper story is a bit cramped and leads to some rather static scenes. --LEE H. SIMOWITZ

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