Lost in the translation

A Rose By Any Other Name smells stale in English

The two actresses are abandoned to sink or synchronize swim, and one of them, unfortunately, attempts an elaborate, distracting water ballet all by herself. Phyllis Cicero has bedecked the no-bullshit Marlene in rubber-faced sista-girl shtick that gallops out of control, reducing the play to a series of muggings in a funhouse mirror. This script needs all the help it can get, so I don't quarrel with Cicero's attempts to infuse some attitude into the proceedings; I just wish she'd hang back a bit and muse over the difference between caricature and comedy, between playing something broadly and coloring outside the playwright's lines.

To start with, she might take a leaf from Christina Vela's book. I barely recognized this actress from her bespectacled, conservative-haired first scene (played, it seemed to me, with too much strained haughtiness) and the wild-maned, weepy, but deliciously vindictive Gabriella. Once she relaxes into the hijinks, Vela knows how to savor her character's freshly minted mean spirit so that we, too, get a taste of how flavorful her retribution fantasies are. In one solo scene, as Vela commiserates with a bottle of rum, she begins to weep over the thought of her handsome husband's potential popularity in prison. In one graceful arc, the tears turn to full-throated laughter; Vela has won us over with sensual malice.

I'm a sucker for talented actresses who can rescue weak scripts, and I was seized by the desire to see the director, Cora Cardona, perform opposite Vela. Cardona is a smashing actress in her own right who's been off the Dallas stage for too long. Maybe she could've provided the second transfusion that this anemic Rose desperately needs.

A Rose By Any Other Name runs through March 29. Call 741-1135.

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