Curious George

If all these characters sound insane, you're on the right track. Because they're British, add a double dose of eccentricity to their behavior. Alice enjoys looking sexy in a baby-doll nightie and talks gibberish to her doll collection. Mrs. Mercy stands for morality, decency, and decorum but openly seduces Alice the moment they're left alone. And Madame Xenia weeps hysterically at the broadcast of Sister George's funeral, even though she lives in the same apartment building as the real actress.

As with other excellent scripts of this type, fine writing turns silliness into saltiness, absurdity into acute comments about the ruthlessness of show business, the hypocrisy of organizations such as the BBC and the Catholic Church, and the general gullibility of the human race to belief in the faaades of life rather than the truth. ("Did you ever meet the real J.R. Ewing?" a college student once asked me.) From start to finish, Marcus makes the saga of Sister George a quick and clever amusement park ride, filled with zany surprises and frequent sight gags.

But the playwright hardly deserves all the credit for this stellar production. As mentioned, Ilse Earl should be applauded for supporting the offbeat rather than the tried, true, and dull. Director Ellen Davis, who teaches at New World School of the Arts, guides the action and actors with an expert hand, setting the perfect tone for the piece, never inhibited by the lack of stage space, enhancing rather than being overwhelmed by the oddity of the material. As Sister George, Marjorie O'Neill-Butler equals Beryl Reid in skill; one cannot imagine anyone playing the part better. Grounded in reality at all times A not an easy task with this tale A O'Neill-Butler embodies the alcoholic, Sapphic, ex-military officer and ex-captain of a girl's hockey team (I'm sure you get the picture). Aymee Garcia correctly camps up Madame Xenia to the point of embodying a woman playing a transvestite playing a woman, and Janet Raskin makes a marvelously sinister and sick Mrs. Mercy. Cristina Karman sometimes loses the proper handle on Alice, choosing sexy too frequently over juvenile but crafty. Still, she plays the role with honest gusto and sure does adorn those baby dolls.

For a jolly, jolting good time, tune in on the "girlish banter," as Sister George calls it, at the small and excellent Miami Actor's Studio.

Stage Notes
Blaine Dunham -- who founded the Lunatic Theater Company last year with Ricardo Lopez Parata and Shawn O'Brien and presented a fine rendition of John Patrick Shanley's Danny and the Deep Blue Sea at Washington Square A tells me the Lunatic's next outing will be Lanford Wilson's powerhouse piece Burn This, sometime in September. Again the company will opt for site-specific theater, meaning that the production takes place in a venue suited to the action of the play. So far the Warsaw Ballroom looks to be the primary choice for Wilson's work, since the piece is set in a loft-warehouse-style apartment.

Coconut Grove's next season promises some gems, such as David Mamet's new hit about sexual harassment, Oleanna, as well as Breaking Legs, another New York smash that mixes the worlds of theater and the Mafia (not a novel idea in the real world). For Neil Simon buffs, the Grove presents his newest, Jake's Women, and fans of Luis Santiero (he wrote 30 episodes of Que Pasa, U.S.A.?) can look forward to The Rooster and the Egg, which once again pokes tasteful fun at Miami-Cuban life. Aside from a musical tribute to Harold Arlen (Sweet & Hot) and a comedic look at divorce (Double Act), the lineup also will feature a new and possibly alarming example of art imitating popular films: a sequel to the musical Nunsense called -- get ready -- Nunsense II. What's next? Cats II: The Siamese

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