Jean Cocteau's marvelous play has a conventional construction but contains emotions and undercurrents and reverberations that are anything but. The Marin Theater Company and director Amy Glazer use Jeremy Samm's 1994 translation and heighten the farcical, comic aspects of the play, diminishing the diffuse, lingering eroticism of the 1948 film version (directed by Cocteau). But Deborah Offner, as the Oedipal nightmare maman
Yvonne, gives a performance of towering ferocity and humor. She's astounding, waving her arms in her kimono-style robe like a kabuki demon, howling like an avenging fury, or giggling intimately like a devoted lover. Her poor son, Michael (David Agranov), never has a chance against this birdlike wraith, semi-invalid yet powerful. Situated in her "gypsy caravan" boudoir -- set designer Peter Crompton outfits her private room with lush fabrics, skewed perspectives, and crazy art nouveau flourishes -- she possesses the stage completely. In the final act, Offner displays a need so naked it becomes madness. Agranov, too, is tremendous in a difficult role, eager and puppyish, burying his face under his mother's robe for comfort, wrestling affectionately with her when she pouts. He looks great in his costumes (by Fumiko Bielefeldt) -- you can see why Yvonne dotes on her shining, blond pet. The terrific Frances Lee McCain is Aunt Léo, who believes that her self-denial and love of order make her the conductor of the family's destiny -- but she's disastrously mistaken. As Michael's father George, Warren David Keith is more admirable than successful; at times he's too effacing, mumbling his lines. Jenny Lord has some funny moments as Madeleine, Michael's new love -- clambering up a pile of books and over a stair rail to touch Michael after he's shunned her -- but she's often flat and uninvolved. Thus, the second-act sequence between George and Madeleine doesn't quite work. (Neither does the Act 2 set, which seems massive and unfinished.) But McCain, Agranov, and especially Offner triumph. This production both entertains and haunts.