- The Washington Times - Friday, September 23, 2005

In playwright Neil Bartlett’s mercantile adaptation of “La Dame aux Camelias” by Alexandre Dumas fils, Marguerite Gautier might as well replace the signature camellias in her hair with French francs.

Everything in this gristly play has a price tag — from Marguerite (Angela Reed), the Parisian courtesan, to all her friends and possessions and even the man she loves, the dewy Armand (Aubrey Deeker).

In keeping with the adaptation’s air of commerce, “Camille” begins in Marguerite’s apartment (which, in designer James Kronzer’s vision recalls the vaulted, commercial space of a bank or a railway station) after her death, as the vultures descend upon an auction of her personal effects and gossip avidly.

No traces of Romantic flourishes exist in Round House’s cheeky production, directed with a slick sense of greed by new Round House Artistic Director Blake Robison — no wisp of Greta Garbo’s doomed vulnerability from the 1936 movie “Camille,” no grandiose sense of tragedy found in Verdi’s opera “La Traviata.”

So much is made of Marguerite’s laundry list of lovers that the play even lacks the improbable innocence of another adaptation of the tale, the movie “Pretty Woman,” in which Julia Roberts is whisked away by the princely Richard Gere on her very first day as a strumpet.

What are we left with? That women are floozies in lace, not even worth the sou you fling at them for sexual favors. That men are cads — or even worse, bores — who assess women by how much they cost and how willingly they can be bought. That when we die, we’ll be known for the scandal we created rather than for whom we loved, and how well.

Good news, but pardon me while I fling myself off the Calvert Street Bridge.

Mr. Bartlett returned to the original 1848 novel for his base version of the true story of Dumas’ love affair with a country girl turned high-class prostitute — Marie Duplessis — who died of tuberculosis six months after the end of their assignation. Although fraught with the flowery language of the 19th century, the novel and its portrait of Parisian society in the mid-1800s is brutally honest and pierced with grief.

Dumas portrayed a money-mad, licentious world where champagne and drugs were in plentiful supply and women were sexual, mercenary creatures long before Paris Hilton was a gleam in her mother’s eye.

Mr. Bartlett strips away even more of the tale’s romantic conventions, giving us a hearty, cursing Marguerite who drinks, dopes and parties hard. Miss Reed’s delicate beauty contrasts brashly with the character’s out-loud personality, which is more Dolly Levi than French courtesan. You are almost surprised when she starts coughing, having to remind yourself that Marguerite is deathly ill.

An even bigger shocker is when she falls in love with Armand, played with almost unendurable sensitivity by Mr. Deeker as a young man almost too fragile to live in this world. Not that Armand is not a lovely morsel; it is just that you doubt Marguerite can turn off the calculator in her head long enough to indulge in passionate feelings.

The scenes depicting their affair are performed with a rawness that makes the audience feel like shamed voyeurs — the lovemaking animalistic and no-frills, the kisses loud and showy. Not once do you feel these two persons are in love; instead, they are obsessed and clawing.

“Camille” is on much firmer ground when dealing with depravity among the upper classes. Miss Reed is merciless and vivid as the party girl who believes “morals” are edible things gathered in the forest, and Sarah Marshall attacks with bawdy relish the role of Prudence, Marguerite’s impudent sidekick. Matthew Dermer impresses as the genially dissolute young dandy Gaston, and Mitchell Hebert gives off an ether-scented aura as the lecherous Dr. Koreff.

This unfettered, brutal version of “Camille” recalls Peter Brooks’ equally gutted take on the opera “Carmen” that played at Olney last summer. These heroines are stripped down until all that is left is meanness and avarice.

Mr. Brooks and Mr. Bartlett’s hateful portraits of sexual women are the unkindest cuts of all.

**1/2

WHAT: “Camille,” adapted by Neil Bartlett

WHERE: Round House Theatre Bethesda, 4545 East-West Highway

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through Oct. 9.

TICKETS:$25 to $50

PHONE: 240/644-1100


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide