by Brendan Kiley

In Flagrante Gothicto
Empty Space Theatre

Through July 20.

It's always a treat to watch a production outshine its material. Not to say Alice Dodd and Jillian Armenante's script for In Flagrante Gothicto is bad--it's merely adequate. But what director Allison Narver and company make of the middling text is an act of theatrical alchemy.

Simultaneous satire and tribute, In Flagrante is a Frankenstein's comedy of Gothic romance novels, performed with a clinical eye for accuracy and timing. While the story is an amusing mishmash of romantic clichés, watching the shtick-rich cast charge through the plot is most of the fun. Balancing ironic ribaldry with Victorian chastity, the well-directed production turned what might have been a tedious evening of BrontË-dork in-jokes into a great evening for everyone. A swooning, virtuous governess-heroine, her tortured master, a rabid preacher, a French bastardess, a sadistic housekeeper, a pack of lusty South Sea Islanders, and a priest who gets knocked unconscious with his own Bible--brilliant!

Actors Annette Toutonghi (heroine), Jim Gall (hero), and Jayne Muirhead (evil housekeeper) deserve particular praise for impres- sively polished character work. Their precise physicality and hilarious, sin- cerely overwrought delivery leap off the stage, leaving nearly nothing to be desired. Every arched eyebrow and stormy glance hit the bull's-eye, and Gall and Muirhead execute one of the best, funniest fight scenes I have ever seen.

Gothic romance absolutely depends on ambiance--the massive mansion, the misty moor--as a foundation for its tales of love and spookiness. Light designer Patti West and composer Chris Jeffries did a standup job of turning a little black box into a sensually sinister environment where love, laughter, and tragedy can waltz cheek to cheek.

Clocking in at over two hours, the flabby script needs some trimming. But with such fine acting, direction, and overall design, In Flagrante Gothicto is overdone in splendid proportions.

Support The Stranger