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Capsule Reviews

Our critics weigh in on local theater

The Ladies of the Camellias Some theater groupies are into backstage historical lore and gossip, and for them, Lillian Garrett-Groag's bouffant "divertissement" about the clash of theater's ultimate divas (France's Sarah Bernhardt and Italy's Eleonora Duse) will be as tasty as a shot of chilled Stoli accompanied by a heaping tablespoon of Beluga. For other theatergoers, The Ladies of the Camellias may call to mind rubbing alcohol and fish eggs. It's an acquired taste, if a classic one -- egomaniacal actors and the twin subtexts of art vs. entertainment and celebrity vs. talent have been debated since way before Aristotle. They just don't make actors anymore like these two divas from a century ago: Bernhardt (Barbara Lasater in ultra-grande-dame mode) travels with a pet cheetah and an alligator and sleeps in a coffin; Duse (a sleek and stylish Melissa Winter) keeps a portrait of snake-headed Medusa above her bed. In the days before directors were the power behind the footlights, these ladies -- who were not only actors but also managers and producers -- replaced authors' lines, changed character motivation and wore costumes from the House of Worth even when playing a down-on-her-luck courtesan. Groag's comedy is based on the fact that in 1897, international stars Bernhardt and Duse actually acted in different versions of the same play -- Dumas's classic The Lady of the Camellias -- in the same Parisian theater during the same week. Their rivalry must have been heaven. This production would be heavenly too if the cheesy accents were dropped so the script's subtleties could shine more brightly, and if a trifle more oomph were inserted into the production's staging to keep this fine soufflé from nearly falling. The cast is game, however, and this once-in-a-lifetime interlude in theater history is lovingly, comically brought to life. Through October 1. Country Playhouse, 12802 Queensbury, 713-467-4497.

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