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Wednesday, Apr 15 1998
Grudge Match
The Widow's Blind Date. By Israel Horovitz. Directed by Paul D'Addario. Starring James Palermo, Finn Curtin, and Peggy Lopipero. At the Actors Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), through April 18. Call 296-9179.

Israel Horovitz's canon of plays is speckled with hits and misses. He seems to write them too quickly to notice when his characters just aren't behaving like people. The Widow's Blind Date is set in his favorite location -- some little satellite town near Boston -- and it peels back layers of money and class like most of his serious works. Archie and George are colorful townies who compete for an ex-high school classmate named Margy. She believes she's moved far enough away from Wakefield, Mass., to put on airs. The whole show plays out in a baling-press room where George and Archie idly stack newspapers for recycling -- a job Archie's been doing for most of his 37 years, and one that George is lucky to have. But Margy is a rich widow who still looks hot in a little black dress, and when she shows up for a dinner date with Archie, George flirts with her. She flirts back, and even seems to enjoy toying with the two men's jealousies.

To give away the reason she acts so vengeful would ruin the play, but an inadequate hint is that George calls her "the town pump" near the end. When he gets tired of her upscale manner, her mind games, her grammatical advice (which really is obnoxious), and her foggy way of pretending that she doesn't remember him from school, George launches into a tantrum that drags out the whole sick and horrible secret. This tantrum -- which shows George turning into a monster -- is viciously convincing and strong, the climax of a good performance by Finn Curtin; but patches of the rest of the play can strain an audience's faith. James Palermo does a solid job as Archie, but it's not clear why Archie would get as mad as he does about the nickname "Goat" or why he would spend so much of the second act weeping on the floor -- until you realize that his behavior is nakedly convenient for the playwright. Peggy Lopipero is an alluring, uncertain Margy, but sometimes the uncertainty is in her acting rather than the role. Her monologues quaver; they feel willed and constricted where they should be cathartic, since they're motivated by a 20-year sexual grudge.

But it's a dark and fascinating play, and the first act is very funny. Curtin and Palermo look every inch like New England townies -- the sore on Curtin's lip (which I think is fake) and his finger splint are somehow perfect touches -- and their hot-and-cold friendship gives the play suspense. The Widow's Blind Date is really one of Horovitz's better ideas; he just cheats on his way to achieving it.

-- Michael Scott Moore

Liking Loveliness
Blue Delta Dance Company. Choreography by Duncan MacFarland. At Theater Artaud, 450 Florida (at 17th Street), March 25-29. Call 621-7797.

When a friend asked me about the recent U.S. premiere of the Blue Delta Dance Company, a London-based troupe directed by former San Franciscan Duncan MacFarland, I said, "It was lovely!" She was nonplused. Ironic, tough, defiant, wry, messy, self-referential, offhand, eclectic, quirky, even luscious: fine adjectives for San Francisco fringe-art lovers. But lovely?

Avant-garde artists' spats of undeniable loveliness tend to be framed by self-conscious irony. But even irony's not usually necessary with San Francisco modern dance: It doesn't have much of a penchant for the lovely. Abounding in casual warmth, loose-jointedness, multimedia, street-wise or absurdist narrative, thrown movement, physical risk, chaos, and amped-up garage sound, local dance is hot and bothered more often than it's breezily beautiful.

Which makes Blue Delta distinctly out of place here. MacFarland's gloss on the company's name -- "a pure source, from a single point, that radiates out to a broad spectrum" -- captures the choreography's spare, abstract purity. Tonally, it's like Swedish furniture touched with the cool blue of a northern breeze. Less characters than agents of motion, his technically strong dancers resist any distractions from the purity of their movement. They don't look at each other much, and they rarely touch. Medieval and early Renaissance music sets the work in cavernous space, ordered against outside darkness. Like the music's suggestion of a cathedral, with heaven and hell hovering at its opposite ends, enormous philosophical themes arch faintly over the dances: mortality in one piece, time in another.

The dances come threateningly close to being remote and chilly, but MacFarland's hybrid of contrasting impulses saves them instead for unironic loveliness -- still possible, it turns out, without succumbing to cheese. Arms swoop like arcs of light as the dancers slide into the air, and slippery turns morph into sudden leaps. With striking precision and deliberateness, the dancers move in tandem or rounds that stretch far into Theater Artaud's considerable depth; they look very small. When they slow down, their movement becomes small too; iconic and enigmatic gestures mark faces and chests. One dancer flicks water off her hands. Another touches his face with slow certainty. Are their arms -- shaking like fine tree limbs -- rattled with death? It doesn't matter that no answers are forthcoming, because the questions that the movement asks are gorgeously absolute.

-- Apollinaire Scherr

The Final Cut
Mary Stuart. By Friedrich Schiller. Directed by Carey Perloff. Starring Susan Gibney, Caroline Lagerfelt, Scott Wentworth, and Marco Barricelli. Presented by the American Conservatory Theater at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), through April 26. Call 749-2228.

As a rule, the best place in the city to watch bickering queens is the Mother Lode on a weekend night. But the Tenderloin drag bar has just moved to a cloistered location on Post Street, and unless you're serious about keeping up with transvestite culture you may have to settle for Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart at the Geary Theater. It features a royal catfight played out along Europe's deepest political fault lines in the 16th century. Mary Stuart was the legitimate, Catholic daughter of England's Henry VIII -- until Henry snubbed the pope and declared England Protestant in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Queen Elizabeth was his daughter by Anne; when she ascended the throne Mary was queen of Scotland, and each woman considered the other a "bastard." The Catholic loyalists on Mary's side included most of Europe's leadership. When the play opens Mary is in jail for treason, and the story consists of an international plot to free her interlaced with Elizabeth's anguish over whether to cut off her head.


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