Neighborhood Values

The Ensemble puts Two Trains Running on the right track

Whiteface makeup and jerky movement have become goofy IBP trademarks, and Calene and Dean, who plays Valmont, hobble along like X-rated versions of Shields and Yarnell. There are other devices out there -- set design, for one -- and these adventurous ne'er-do-wells would be well-advised to experiment with them.

Though the actors' restrained delight in their treacherous role-playing works wonderfully for the first 15 minutes, the tension dulls quickly because the stakes never change between Dean and Calene. The same can be said of the jarring soundtrack, which provides an eerie sense of displacement at first, but later turns into a tired device. Dean is graceful in his black silk stilettos, but for me, the charm of his performance ends there.

There are some well thought out moments, especially in terms of mating positions -- however perilous they are for Calene. Clad in a corset and slip with the briefest of undergarments, the actress is often quite vulnerable to the audience's gaze. Dean remains covered where it counts, except for a quick baring of his buttocks. This is one conceit that works well in terms of the story: It is Merteuil, after all, who is disingenuous about her possessive feelings for Valmont, and thus it is she who exposes herself to his manipulations. Ultimately, Quartet has all the trappings of an IBP production and none of their didn't-see-it-coming punch. Let us hope that the trappings will soon broaden their scope.

Two Trains Running plays through June 1 at the Midtown Art Center, 3414 La Branch (at Holman), 520-0055; Quartet plays though May 10 at Commerce Street Art Warehouse, 2315 Commerce Street, 935-2008.

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