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The Fantasticks

Tuesdays through Sundays at the Georgian Room, Park Square Motor Hotel

By David R. Ignatius

THE FANTASTICKS is a conglomerate. It ties together the separated lovers and feuding parents of Romeo and Juliet, the wall from A Mid-summer Night's Dream, the desire for power of Doctor Faustus. It is musical comedy, didactic medieval morality play, and, in case the audience finds itself laughing at the idea of putting all these elements together, a tongue-in-cheek satire of its own characters and mood. It has something for everyone, and that's probably why it is, as the press blurb announces, "The longest-running American stage production of all time." It has had over 1,400 different productions over nine years.

In the Theater 7 production now running at the Park Square Motor Hotel, The Fantasticks is presented with zest and with an understanding of what this kind of half-serious Little Mary Sunshine romance is about. Boy and girl are beset by their conniving fathers, who arrange for a cowboy, a tired Shakespearian actor, and an Indian to stage a "quality rape" of girl so that boy may save her and their marriage may be lasting. This results in immense confusion, but the evils of the world and the power of Love are established on the way to a happy ending. The Fantasticks keeps all this modern by making it sweet (so that it is campy), and by giving it a dreamlike quality so that the audience can think back to some "better time," even if they never knew it. "Try to remember ..."

This cast does a fairly solid job. Jean Richards is perfect as the whimsical girl, Louisa, falling in love. So is David C. Burrows, her father, bumbling through his own petty confusion. My favorite in the show was Johnny Armen as the Indian, Mortimer. Dressed in long underwear, tennis shoes, and an Indian wig, he played the evil forces of the world that ensnarl the boy and girl--an Egyptian, a Venetian, a Roman, and a Pirate (as well as the Rapist's Assistant). While he whips the boy in one of the tableau scenes, he keeps looking out at the audience, smiling, winking, and waving as he flails. This is the mixture of satire and romance that moves the play.

THE PROBLEM with this production of The Fantasticks is the lead. Lang des Jardins, who plays both the narrator and El Gallo, the cowboy-rapist who tries to steal away Louisa's heart, is bad. He has a wonderful John Raitt "MOOOAHHHH" voice, but he moves in an obscene, unctuous way across the stage.

The Fantasticks survives des Jardins' errors through the energy of the rest of the cast. They all have excellent voices, and the group musical numbers, particularly "The Rape Ballet" and "Plant a Radish," are good. The cast seems to relish them, and tries to bring the audience in.

All in all, the company has a gentle way with this most gently play, making the most of their intimate surroundings. The stage is a small raised platform in the Hotel Ballroom, and is surrounded by tables and chairs. Drinks are served. It would all be chummy if only there were enough people to fill the tables. But the performances have been badly attended, unfortunate when this is a good production of a classic. The night I was there the audience filled only half of the available seats. When I talked to the cast afterwards, they spoke wistfully of how nice it would be to have more people with them.

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