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Theatre Review by James Wilson - August 8, 2018

Ellinor DiLorenzo
Photo by Kait Ebinger

Time is of the essence in Beloved, Lisa Lengseth's one-person show currently playing at the Lion Theatre in Theatre Row. Katarina, the narrator and center of a love triangle in this dark tale of illicit passion, starts the play on a philosophical note. She says emphatically, "You don't have unlimited time" as she rummages through books and personal belongings. What she is looking for seems to be forever elusive, and the character, effectively played by Ellinor DiLorenzo, is in constant motion. The play, however, would benefit from slowing down somewhat as the breakneck pace inhibits the opportunity to truly get to know the characters.

Presented by the Scandinavian Theater Company (SATC), Beloved is receiving its US premiere in a translation by Charlotte Barslund and with direction by Kathy Curtiss. The play was first performed in Sweden in 2004 and adapted into the 2009 award-winning Swedish film Pure and stars Alicia Vikander (known to American audiences for The Danish Girl and Tomb Raider).

The potboiler plot is in fact well-suited for the screen. Katarina begins her story with a description of her humble life with Mattias, a lout of a boyfriend who works a forklift during the day and vegetates in front of the television at night. Recognizing the fleetingness of life, Katarina wants more than her working-class, food-preparation existence offers. After attending an opera, she upends her life and lands a job as a receptionist in a concert hall.

Almost immediately she meets Adam, a 30 year-old maestro genius, and Katarina aspires to be part of the cultural elite. At first she is speechless when she has to offer a response about the music she hears, and she rebuffs Adam's initial sexual advances. The audience knows, however, it will be just a matter of time before the young woman submits to the conductor's allure.

In the literary dramatic tradition of Eliza Doolittle from G.B. Shaw's Pygmalion, Billie Dawn from Garson Kanin's Born Yesterday , and Rita from Willy Russell's Educating Rita, Katarina believes the key to personal satisfaction and happiness can be found hobnobbing with the highbrows. Yet even as she spouts rarefied quotations of Max Frisch, Roland Barthes, and Michel Foucault, Katarina's language is as coarse and crude as ever. She seeks spiritual purity, but profanity and graphic sexual descriptions reinforce the interconnectedness of life's beauty, ugliness, morality, and depravity.

There are clues along the way, including the continuous fumbling through the stage clutter, that indicate Katarina's class and romantic ambitions may ultimately prove futile. There is a plot twist late in the play as Katarina fully succumbs to the charms of the arrogant conductor. Unfortunately, the development is both too sudden and wildly unbelievable, and the play never completely recovers. Additionally, because Mattias and Adam, the unseen supporting characters, are painted with such broad strokes, there is not enough to arouse empathy in Katarina's chaotic circumstances.

DiLorenzo gives a finely calibrated performance as the intellectually and sexually starved receptionist. Her Katarina is not remotely sympathetic (nor should she be), but there are more than enough glimmers of vulnerability to make the character a compelling mass of contradictions. DiLorenzo is alternately seductive — she spends a good deal of stage time tying up and letting down her long blond hair and stepping in and out of short revealing dresses — and erudite.

Designers Lisa Renee Jordan (sets and costumes) and Evan Kerr (lighting) effectively create a theatrical environment that is never quite what it seems. By the end of the evening we know where we are and how we got there — which may be more than can be said for the existentially adrift main character.

Through August 18
The Lion Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge

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