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Despite fine performances, Fantasticks lacks personality

THE FANTASTICKS

Presented by the Musical Theater Guild.

February 9, 10, 11.

In the Sala de Puerto Rico.

By JULIAN WEST

IN HIS DIRECTOR'S NOTE, Gerald Skelton makes some insightful comments: "The Fantasticks is a play about storytelling. There is this tale needing to be told and a bunch of people acting it out for us ... Is it just a story? Or is it something a little more personal?"

Unfortunately, little of this insight -- little of this personality -- comes across in his direction. The Fantasticks is a play about plays, and its players should exist in a limbo between characters in and actors out of character. Like the Player in Hamlet or the characters in Our Town, they should be able to speak with equal facility to the audience or to the other characters.

In this production, the actors have generally failed to find this voice. The one exception is the excellent Arthur Fuscaldo. An accomplished singer and strong actor, he is an ideal performer for musical comedy or light opera. As the narrator, he provided the much needed glue which held the production together.

As the young lover, Janet Ann Licini '92 had a pleasant personality and a strong voice, although she tended to whine a little in the high notes. Her opposite number, Michael Friedhoff '90, fared less well, tending to talk his way through most of his numbers.

The costumes and makeup, designed by Jeanne Sullivan G, were effective, particularly in the case of Tom Woodman '90 and Joey Bernstein G, who really looked the part of the feuding fathers.

F. Burris Jackes '90 did an outstanding job as lighting designer, overcoming the technical difficulties of mounting a performance in the Sala.

But The Fantasticks should have more than technical strength and a few strong voices singing attractive songs. A play this full of references to Shakespeare -- there are allusions to Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Henry V, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra -- must have something to say about the theatrical experience. The two most likely characters to say it, Henry (Stephen Peters '91) and Mortimer (Tarik Alksab '92), were unfortunately unapologetic hams. There is enough humor in the situations of The Fantasticks without trying to lay it on with a trowel.

Despite all the Shakespeare, The Fantasticks makes no pretensions to being an intellectual show; part of its charm lies in its simplicity. Paradoxically, it takes genuine skill to capture this simplicity without making the lines seem banal or even random and unmotivated. Rather than charming with simplicity, MTG's production comes off as a little simple-minded.