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Camellias a Farce Only Theater Snobs Could Love 

Wednesday, May 14 2008
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The name of Sarah Bernhardt might not mean much to most theatergoers — at least, not beyond a vague awareness that she was once considered the world's greatest actress. The name Eleonora Duse probably means even less; think of her as Bernhardt's Italian foil. Lillian Groag's 1997 comedy The Ladies of the Camellias considers what might have transpired during the first meeting of these two theatrical legends in 1897 Paris, when they each performed the title role in dueling productions of La Dame aux camélias. Groag spins her premise into a wildly speculative farce, culminating in the entrance of a bomb-wielding Russian anarchist (Vlad Sayenko) who represents, somewhat heavy-handedly, the dawn of the age of Chekhov and Stanislavski. Joyce Henderson directs and stars as Duse in this Off Broadway West production; she's the only member of the ensemble who gives a completely convincing performance. Unfortunately, most of the other actors ensure that the play's zaniness operates at a frustratingly low velocity, especially during the sodden first act. Still, Camellias might be worth a look if you're the sort of theater nerd who actually laughs at sly jokes about The Seagull.

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Chris Jensen

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