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Skylark makes a beguiling mix of film and theater

SKYLARK

Created and performed by Annie Griffin and Franck Loiret.

Directed by Annie Griffin.

Kresge Little Theater, Sept. 26, 8 pm.

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By VIPUL BHUSHAN

SKYLARK IS AN INTRIGUING and innovative playlet whose purpose is not to relate a plot, but rather to explore the personalities of its two main (and only) characters.

Act One opens on the Paris office of Monsieur Paul Becker (Franck Loiret), a young, energetic bank manager. He starts his morning by interviewing Elizabeth (Annie Griffin) for a job as his secretary. Elizabeth is a middle-aged woman intent on projecting an efficient and businesslike image. M. Becker also aspires to project such an image and brusquely awards her the job on the spot. The remainder of this act is largely composed of scenes from days at the office interspersed with black-and-white film clips projected onto a gauze screen suspended in the middle of the set. This innovative use of film clips is used as an effective tool to provide us with glimpses of the characters' dreams and fantasies.

The characters develop through their interaction. Madame Elizabeth (not Mademoiselle, she insists) emerges as a woman who, despite outward appearances and representations, is quite lonely inside and longs for companionship. She fabricates the existence of an architect husband and two young children. She is torn, however, between her desire for a family and her more erotic, though less proper, fantasies. Elizabeth, we learn, generally ends up spending her evenings watching television, at home and very much alone. M. Becker, on the other hand, is much less reserved, though no less crisp and proper. He attempts to balance a promising career with his engagement to a jealous fianc'ee. His character is not explored as much as it could have been, and we are never led to the roots of his feelings.

The films clips are well-woven into the play. First, we are shown a tender home movie of a wife and her young children playing at home and then going out for a stroll -- the traditional family Elizabeth longs for. This clip also represents the socio-economic status M. Becker is working so hard to attain, one complete with suburban barbeques and walks in the park.

The next film clip features a nymphet -- a young-looking girl with facial makeup dressed head-to-toe as an armless white rabbit. This symbolic character is at once both sensual and innocent -- sensuous in movement, but very innocent in mentality as she wanders in search of her father. She illustrates the contradictory emotions tearing at Elizabeth: an almost desperate search for family, but a gnawing erotic desire.

The days at the office are permeated with a sexual charge which is constantly present just below the surface. The characters' attraction for each other comes close to breaking the surface many times, only to be suppressed by one or the other. The sexual friction creates at least a couple of romantic occurrences which threaten to bring them together, though M. Becker pulls away at the last moment. Elizabeth finally forces the issue and confronts her boss with her love and her assertion that the feelings are mutual. M. Becker, quite taken aback, returns her advance with a cold bewilderment. The first act ends as the embarrassed secretary quickly packs up and walks out, leaving her stunned boss sitting at his desk, composure shaken and declaring to the silent walls "I never said that . . . I never said that."

The second act opens in a very different setting, with the actors taking on additional roles. The scene is a sleazy bistro late at night. This bistro is the haunt of a gigolo, the antithesis of the order-embracing banker. He is visited by what might well be Elizabeth's alter ego, clad in tight clothes and savvy of the ways of the night. Their indulgences are hedonistic and full of wild abandon. Their interactions are physically close, but emotionally very barren. She pays him for his time and leaves, making a loose agreement to meet him again later. He returns to luring more prey to earn his living.

This is the night that Elizabeth, dressed conservatively as always, has chosen to cautiously explore the night. She peeks in the window of the bistro and quickly pulls away. The master of make-believe has seen her, however, and manages to seduce her inside. She relates her tales of home and family, and he quickly adapts. They discuss the children and their domestic concerns. He then extracts his payment to buy groceries and departs. It is here, in a setting where nothing is as it seems and all emotions are artificial, that for a few fleeting moments, Elizabeth realizes her dreams of home and family. The act closes awkwardly with a final film clip, a strange mixing of a child's birthday party and a nightclub show.

This two-act play is preceded by a monologue by Elizabeth. She reminisces about a lost companion, introducing her character as one in search of what was, or what might have been. The relationships presented in this play are superficial, leaving everyone involved searching and unfulfilled.

Skylark is a very good piece of theater, although the second act was too abrupt, ending almost as soon as I had become absorbed in it. The acting was very good and was the real strength of the play. Loiret and Griffin carried the play through its almost two-hour running time admirably. It's a pity this performance has left the Boston area, but if it, or anything else these actors do, comes here, it should be well worth seeing. I wholeheartedly recommend Skylark for a refreshingly intriguing evening of theater.