Stars May Twinkle but Play Leaves No Tingle

"Day and Night" will be playing at the American Conservatory Theatre until Oct 20. For ticket information call (415) 749-2ACT.

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I have always maintained that one can tell good art by the tingle. The tingle? Yes. That little current of electricity that starts at the base of your spine and ends up at your neck, making the hairs there stand on end for a solid second. This does not mean that things that fail to produce the tingle are not good. They just don't produce the tingle.

Tom Stoppard is perfectly capable of making that tingle happen. It just doesn't happen with "Night and Day," a play that is witty, charming, and spunky, but pales in comparison to some of Stoppard's other works. While "Shakespeare in Love," "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," and "Arcadia" (among others) rate at a tingling 9.5 on the Stoppard-o-meter, "Night and Day" comes in at a we're-still-glad-we-went-to-see-it-7.0.

"Night and Day," written in 1978, tells the story of three journalists trying to get the political scoop in a fictional African country (Kambawe) on the brink of civil war. Tempers and ethics clash as they all meet at the house of Geoffrey Carson (Anthony Fusco), a British businessman with the only telex machine for miles. Australian egomaniac Dick Wagner (Marco Barricelli), veteran

photographer George Guthrie (Paul Whitworth) and idealistic rookie Jacob Milne (T. Edward Webster) stomp around the Carson household, holding heated discussions on the role of the free press, with great lines like, "People do awful things to each other. But it's worse in places where everybody is kept in the dark. Information is light. Information, in itself, about anything, is light." (George).

Barricelli does an excellent job as the cocky Dick Wagner, swaggering around, chewing noisily on gum, and smoking like crazy. His annoyance at being scooped by Milne, a journalistic ingénue, is absolutely hilarious and his irritation grows with each passing moment.

Webster plays Milne quite well, portraying the insecurity of this young naïve reporter with his over-the-top enthusiasm, voice cracks, and trembling hands. Whitworth and Fusco also give solid performances, within the limits of their characters.

And just when the freshness of the tension between Milne and Wagner begins to go limp, Steven Anthony Jones gives the production a boost in his role as the somewhat psychotic President Mageeba. Jones goes from jovial to maniacal laughter to violent outbursts with a metal-tipped cane in a matter of seconds. He speckles the script with many Stoppardisms like his assertion that by "Relatively free press' I mean a press which is edited by one of my relatives."

By far, however, the star of the production is Rene Augesen, who plays lukewarm Geoffrey's philandering wife Ruth. Augesen is saucy, witty, and full of an awkward sexual energy that yanks the play along. To Wagner's come-on line that "most women call me Dick," she retorts "I'm not terribly fond of dick," while nonchalantly twisting a piece of her long blond hair around her finger.

Ruth, traumatized by the assaults of British tabloids upon her after her last divorce, speaks her mind about journalism. "It's all bloody ego," she declares. Despite the ego, Ruth seems to have no problem starting up lusty trysts with both Dick and Jacob-although she laments that she suffers from "PCR-post-coital remorse."

Under the direction of Carey Perloff (a Stoppard veteran) dialogue flows smoothly and movements seem natural. Annie Smart creates a set and scenery that bring Africa as close as it ever will get to San Francisco. Judith Anne Dolan manages to give the costumes a hint of the seventies, but not in a way that offends. They have all done the best they could within the limits of Stoppard's play.

Indeed, one gets the feeling that American Conservatory Theater's decision to open their season with this play had more to do with the state of the country than the actual play. With issues of free speech, journalistic integrity, and democracy squatting at the heart of "Night and Day", director Carey Perloff chose to "launch this season at A.C.T. with-"Night and Day", in part because, in the wake of recent international events, we as a country are suddenly more aware of the role journalists are playing in our lives."

All right, fair enough. And Perloff does an incredible job directing. But the modern day relevance of Stoppard's play does not change the fact that it ain't producing that tingle.


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