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  •  REVIEW: RIGHT YOU ARE

    Right You Are

    Luigi whiz

    Pirandello's obtuse "Right You Are" proves problematic for the National Actors Theatre, which overcompensates with a melodramatic performance.

    By DIANE SNYDER
    Offoffoff.com

    Neither the jabs nor the wits seem especially sharp in the verbal sparring match at the center of the National Actors Theatre production of Pirandello's "Right You Are." And there's no referee — in the form of a director's unifying eye — to turn this 1917 polemical play about the relative nature of truth into a vigorous, pertinent piece of theater.

      
    RIGHT YOU ARE
    Company: National Actors Theatre.
    Written by: Luigi Pirandello.
    Directed by: Fabrizio Melano.
    Cast: Yolande Bavan, Brennan Brown, Fred Burrell, Mireille Enos, Herb Foster, Penny Fuller, Peter Ganim, Jurian Hughes, Florencia Lozano, Peter Maloney, Natalie Norwick, Tony Randall, Henry Strozier, Maria Tucci.
    Sound design by: Richard Fitzgerald.
    Set design by: James Noone.
    Costumes by: Noel Taylor.
    Translated by: Eric Bentley.
    Lighting design by: Kirk Bookman.

    Related links: Official site
     SCHEDULE
    Michael Schimmel Center For The Arts
    Pace University, Spruce Street between Park Row and Gold Street
    Previews start: Nov. 25, 2003
    Dec. 7-21, 2003

    In one corner, a woman claims that her daughter is married to an emotionally unbalanced government official who believes she is someone else. For that reason, Signora Frola says, her daughter never visits, and they only speak from afar. In the other corner, said husband, Signor Ponza, maintains that it's his mother-in-law who's delusional, unable to accept that her daughter is dead and that the woman he's now married to is someone else.

    NAT founder Tony Randall, whose company has endured a precarious and erratic production history, plays the voice of reason and integrity, Lamberto Laudisi. While townspeople, including his sister, Amalia Agazzi (Penny Fuller), work up a lather gossiping and speculating about some strange new locals, he takes pains to point out that truth isn't always absolute but is often in the eye of the beholder.

    The residents of this small provincial capital — the setting is 1930s fascist Italy — have noticed that Signora Frola (Maria Tucci) receives daily visits from her son-in-law, Signor Ponza (Brennan Brown). But the only contact between mother and child occurs when the younger woman appears on her balcony and Frola calls up to her. Separately and — with some scheming — together, Frola and Ponza arrive at the Agazzi household to tell their contradictory reasons for this strange arrangement, but by the play's end the townspeople are no closer to unearthing the "truth" — whatever that may be.

    Right You Are  
    It's easy to see how this translation by Eric Bentley connects to contemporary society, from the war in Iraq to less pressing domestic matters like the Kobe Bryant, Scott Peterson and even Michael Jackson cases. But with characters that are subservient to issues, the play needs strong personalities to enliven — and carefully execute — roles that don't look like much on the page.

    Randall tries, and at 83, his sitcom likeability remains an asset. Likewise, Tucci, Brown and Fuller connect to their characters. But much of the supporting cast seem hesitant and compensate by overreaching to the point of melodrama. Director Fabrizio Melano works primarily in opera, and it shows in over-the-top direction that is too extreme for this play.

    So is the stage. For NAT's last production, "The Persians," the proscenium was converted into a thrust stage, creating a more intimate connection between actors and audience. Meanwhile, the performers spend an awful lot of time moving around chairs that seem to have nothing to do with the rest of James Noone's elegant set.

    Aside from his masterpiece, "Six Characters in Search of an Author," Pirandello's plays aren't on many theater companies' to-be-revived lists, and for good reason. They often work better as philosophical musings than actual plays, and "Right You Are," which was originally a short story, seems to belong on the page.

    DECEMBER 24, 2003
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK



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