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Camille/La Traviata

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CAMILLE/LA TRAVIATA, Hypocrites, at the Storefront Theater. Director-designer Sean Graney opines in a program note that contemporary audiences perceive Camille--Alexandre Dumas' 1852 play about a consumptive Parisian courtesan nearly saved by the pure love of the young Armand--as melodrama, a form that does not have "an honest relationship to us." Still, artists hoping to bring Camille to life onstage today must find an honest relationship to the material and construct a world where extremes of passion spill as naturally as they do in myths and fairy tales.

In Graney's previous productions--Rhinoceros, Blood Wedding, Machinal--he's shown a knack for creating such worlds, cobbling together garish elements to form beguiling, volatile blends. But in this adaptation, which mingles Dumas' play with the libretto to Verdi's La traviata (the operatic retelling of Camille's saga), he's created a conceptual jumble. The towering organic shapes that form the upstage wall, juxtaposed with the ten-foot bone that supports a platform, gives 19th-century Paris an inexplicable Flintstones flair. The setting doesn't seem suited to the strict manners of the time, which limited characters' choices and gave the story tension.

Against this high-concept background the cast's straightforward, obvious acting falls particularly flat. Amanda Putman and John Byrnes as Camille and Armand prefer loud declaration to psychological nuance, robbing the supposed lovers of vulnerability--precisely the element that can make melodrama heartrending.

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