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Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Berkeley Repertory Theatre Presents World Premiere Of Fraulein Else

Also see Richard's review of The Legacy Codes

The Berkeley Repertory Theatre is presenting the world premiere of Fraulein Else, which has been adapted by Francesca Faridany from a 1924 novella by Viennese writer Arthur Schnitzler. Faridany (pictured right) also plays the title role in this 90 minute no intermission melodrama. This is co-production with the La Jolla Playhouse where it will be play this summer.

Francesca Faridany began working on her adaptation in 2000, and it was further developed during a workshop at the Berkeley Rep in December 2001. During the summer of 2002 the play was chosen for inclusion in the prestigious Sundance Theatre Laboratory.

Fraulein Else is a young 19-year-old middle class woman of pleasant beauty and bittersweet wit whose has been raised at the turn of the century by a bourgeoisie Viennese father and mother. She has always been mollycoddled by her family and is still innocent in the ways of the real world. She fantasizes a great romance in which she will be taken to a villa by the sea.

Else is vacationing with an aunt at an exclusive expensive spa in the Dolomite Alps in northern Italy. Life is wonderful and she has young friends like Cousin Paul, on whom she has a secret crush, and Cissy, a young married who is secretly having an affair with Paul. The worst worry for the naïve Else is what to wear each evening at dinner. However, things change for this young innocent when she receives an urgent letter from her mother which tells that Else's father is about suffer financial embarrassment. The father needs 50,000 Kronens and he needs the money in the next several days or he will face ruin. The family has borrowed money from relatives in the past but they no longer can depend on their kindness.

The mother has discovered that Herr Von Dorsday (Julian Lopez-Morillas) is staying at the same hotel as Else. The father has borrowed money from this wealthy man before, and now the mother asks Elsa if she would approach Von Dorsday for a loan. Elsa knows the power of her sexuality and asks the lecherous old man for the money. However, there is one condition and I think we all know what that circumstance will be. Else now feels desecrated by Von Dorsday and betrayed by her parents. Her response is an act of gallant defenselessness that could only happen in a Victorian novel or an Ibsen play. The last scenes are a wonderful combination of fantasy and reality and this makes the drama a marvelous piece of theatre.

Francesca Faridany is a solo tour de force. She is constantly talking to the audience, telling us her innermost thoughts and her fantasies, which are sometimes interrupted by brief conversations with other members of the cast. The play is mostly a monologue for Ms. Faridany. I would describe her as something of a "chatterbox," and most of the monologue is rather monotone. However, this actress is brilliant in her mannerisms and she especially shines toward the end of the melodrama.

The rest of the cast gives a stylized performance that reminds me of the old fashioned British drawing room dramas of the early 20th Century. Julian Lopez-Morillas vibrantly portrays the predatory Van Dorsday. New York actors Michael Tisdale and Lauren Lovett play Paul and Sissy. Tisdale, first seen with a tennis racket in his hand, seems almost like he is in a Noel Coward play. I was expecting him to say the old line, "Tennis anyone?" He has a striking theater trained voice and is very good as the egotistic cousin of Else. Lovett is also very good in her limited role. Mary Baird plays the difficult role of the mother who turns from affectionate maternal care to cunning individual when she writes the letter to her daughter. Rounding out the small cast is Omid Abtahi who plays the porter as an attentive individual.

Thomas Lynch's set is first-rate with a scrim showing snow covered mountains cutting across the stage in front of the realistic louvered windows of the hotel exterior wall. Stephen Wadsworth does a marvelous job putting this story on stage and he is able to create a superb mysterious setting for the play.

Fraulein Else runs through March 28th at the Berkeley Rep Thrust Stage. 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley. For tickets call 510-647-2949 or 888-4BRTTix. The next production on the Thrust Stage will be Sarah Jones's solo performance of Surface Transit which opens on April 18th. The Berkeley Rep Roda Theatre's next production is Anne Nelson's The Guys which opens on May 16.

Photo: Kevin Berne

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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