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Matador

At Agassiz

By Whit Stillman

The Bull Gets the Matador Once in a Lifetime, tonight and March 22-25 at Agassiz Theatre

FOR OVER a decade, young followers of William Alfred have looked back to Arthur Kopit's Sputnik rise to fame when he turned squeaky old Agassiz into a Cape Canaveral for Broadway. His Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You In The Closet And I'm Feeling So Sad was a succes de everything that paved a high way to the big time in the dreams of Harvard playwrights. While the latest Agassiz Grant-In-Aid local-talent extravaganza might show some succes, it decidedly lacks the everything.

The Bull Gets The Matador Once In A Lifetime takes place not in the streets of Pamplona but in the sun-baked living-rooms of Manhattan Island, and the subject matter--well, that's show biz. Specifically, it's all about Casey, a 25-year-old comedienne out to win an audience at the expense of family, lovers and good sense. Gina Heiserman has this strenuous part, which demands not only the lead in every scene but excruciating comedy routines delivered straight to the audience, reminiscent of Lauren Bacall's opening in Applause. She is the continually frustrated joker, reminiscent of Gary Lewis's hit Everybody Loves A Clown. Finally she's stuck with a dramatic role frankly reminiscent of The Edge of Night. Riddle it all with Barbara Streisand and you have The Bull Gets The Matador Once In A Lifetime. For a first production of an original play by a young author and a dewy cast it covers awfully familiar terrain.

Though the subject might better belong to the late show or daytime TV, author Liz Coe has written a play that is clever, fast-moving and never tedious. Director Emily Mann has done some nice things too. Her opening is particularly striking, with Casey a backstage silhouette pacing anxiously before she has to come out on stage and do her routine. Mann has skillfully used John Caruso's recorded music to raise the pitch of melodramatic tension during the blackouts. And on the most part the cast was fine.

THE BULL is a local product and it deserves its share of local laurels. But what repeatedly keeps it from major stature is its continual triteness. This is a play that starts with an idea and ideas are so often the end of drama. As Casey "becomes more successful, more self-confident a dichotomy arises between possession of the audience and her own personal life," Coe has said and that's the way it is, all set up in Act One, Scene Two to go nowhere discernible. Sure, she loses her baggage--Bentley Arlington concedes his courtship, Dad gives up the ghost and her nice guy manager takes off in search of new talent, but Casey is dramatically stillborn from her first scenes. There's a lot of staring out of an imaginary window with significant facial expressions but Casey does best with her clever humor and is rarely credible as a serious character. Mann has tried to conceal this with fancy, and attention-absorbing, footwork. But with fourteen scenes, her steps rapidly grow familiar. The formula is for a surprise or hanging suspense finale in every episode. This would be fine if it ever relented, but finally predictability pushes The Bull over the edge of serious comedy to a surprisingly brazen brand of melodrama. "Teddy you can't do this to me," Casey tells her manager when he threatens to walk out. "Watch me," he says and then strides away. "I'm not going to protect you from life," another tells her, "the way your jokes protect you from feeling." "Casey please don't cry," one says. "I'm tired to laughing," she replies.

The Bull Gets The Matador Once in A Lifetime has the awkwardness and trite lines of any first date, but it's also worth going through. I'm not going to protect you from life.

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