'Candide' turns Voltaire into child's play


'Candide' When: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m.; matinees Sundays at 3 p.m. Through March 10.

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

Tickets: $10-$16.

Call: 752-8558.

*** Touchstone Theatre's "Candide" is a corny, campy, comical cross between child's play, Monty Python and, of course, Voltaire.

You might call it a satire of a satire of a satire. That's because the production -- currently at the Theatre Project -- not only satirizes Voltaire's satire of German philosopher Leibniz, it can also be seen as a takeoff on the 1956 Leonard Bernstein musical, which had a glitzy Broadway revival in 1974.

Created by the Bethlehem, Pa.-based company under the direction of Jim Calder, this "Candide" strips the populous, picaresque tale down to a four-person show with props and scenery as silly as the Broadway version was sophisticated.

A few examples: The castle where Candide grew up is represented by a tiny sand castle that crumbles when besieged by the Bulgars. The earthquake that greets Candide's arrival in Lisbon is depicted by a small, toppling pile of bricks. And the ocean Candide and his cronies repeatedly cross is a wading pool.

Oh yes, and our hero, Candide, is portrayed by a woman, Susan Chase, wearing a pasted-on mustache. Actually, Ms. Chase is the least satisfactory of the four performers; she seems amateurish instead of merely childish. But casting a woman in this role can be explained as a further example of the absurdity of the Leibniz thesis that everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.

As to Touchstone's childish production values, they seem quite fitting considering that Voltaire's novel is a pseudo-children's story about the calamities that befall the hopelessly optimistic Candide, as well as his beloved Cunegund, their tutor, Dr. Pangloss, and the trusty servant known as the Old Woman.

All of the performers play multiple roles, except Ms. Chase. Bill George is charmingly pedantic as Pangloss and delightfully eccentric as the Old Woman. Sara Zielinska is a bright, spunky Cunegund, but she also makes a ghoulish Monty Python-esque torturer. And Eric Beatty is an adept quick-change artist in various roles.

The text, adapted by William Pope L. with contributions by Ms. Zielinska, includes references as recent as the day's headlines. If you can't imagine how the Persian Gulf war and its aftermath fit into the best of all possible worlds, drop into the Theatre Project for enlightenment -- and a few laughs.

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