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Stage Capsule 

Wednesday, Oct 13 1999
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John Fisher's new historical farce is about a band of socialist-minded Jewish students in Poland who think that escaping to Russia during World War II is a good idea. Caught between Nazis and Soviets in the Polish borderlands, armed with a couple of guns, they scrape together a resistance movement that nettles the Nazi war machine and amounts -- as one Berkeley-student character says, in a parallel plot -- to the birth of Israel in the Polish woods. Partisans is stronger than either of Fisher's last two plays, Titus and Combat!, mainly because of a series of gripping chase scenes involving flashlights, gunshots, and fugitives hiding in trees. Unfortunately, most of the drama is visual. The acting is almost universally second-rate, I think because the enormous cast has been directed by Fisher to do over-the-top farce with a political edge in a way that comes naturally to no one but John Fisher. And the writer-director's annoying habit of commenting on his own plays with tendentious asides has been elevated in Partisans to a whole subplot involving Berkeley grad students. Scholasticism colors everything Fisher does, and this point is dramatized nicely at the very end, when a student panel on a pedestal overlooks, and dominates, the wounded partisans on the stage.

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