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A CurtainUp Review
By Jenny Sandman

Ondine at Walkerspace is the perfect example of a good play gone bad. All the elements are there--an award-winning classic by Girandoux (it's the play that made Audrey Hepburn famous in 1954), an ingenious set, elaborate costumes, live music, beautiful and evocative projections, and an experienced cast. So why is it tedious?

The production elements are stunning, among the best I've seen this year. The movable set pieces and platformed stage make clever use of Walkerspace's long, narrow stage. The original score, consisting mostly of electric violin, is charmingly discordant (almost too much so at times). The projections are winsome. The problem is that the many disparate pieces just don't gel. The production excellence overshadows the mediocre actors, who one can only hope were having a bad night when I saw them. The pacing was off--an unforgivable misstep in an almost-three-hour play. They seemed uncomfortable and underrehearsed with each other and their surroundings, tripping over set pieces and fidgeting with costumes. They breezed through funny moments, killing the laugh lines, and fumbled transitions. This is very disappointing since this is a play which, despite its dated language, could still be moving if done right.

In case you're unfamiliar with the story, Ondine is a water sprite who falls in love with Hans, a handsome knight. She forsakes her watery home to marry him and live in his landlocked world. It's a medieval version of The Little Mermaid, without the singing crabs. The nymph becomes human for love. She is young and naïve, and seems to think love means never having to stop kissing. We know it will all come to grief as soon as she lays eyes on him.

In Girandoux's reworking of an old French legend about love and loss and faithfulness, Hans takes Ondine to court. This proves to be a disastrous mistake. She doesn't understand the concept of genteel courtesy or little white lies, and consequently unintentionally offends almost everyone. Fiercely jealous of Hans' former fiancée, Berthawho is a mainstay at the court, Ondine follows Hans everywhere, mooning at him in her love, so that it's only a matter of time before he feels suffocated . To reiterate, Ondine could be a great story, but in this production it feels bogged down and overly long. Part of the blame must be placed on Rhonda Musak's performance. Instead of magical and charming, she comes off as obnoxious and willful. Her gaiety is shrilland affected. Tim Spanjer is a very believable Hans, but he can't overcome the lack of real connection with Musak's Ondine. None of the actors seem comfortable in their roles -- or their robes (there were a fair number of wardrobe mishaps, though unfortunately not of the juicy Janet Jackson nature).

Maybe one day Giradoux's play will get the revival it deserves. Until then, a good Ondine--like Ondine herself--will remain tantalizingly just out of reach.

Written by Jean Girandoux
Translated by Roger Gellert
Directed by Jill Samuels
With Anne Bates, William Berg, Brina Bishop, Liza Bryn, Michael Crane, Gregory Dubin, Tiffany Hodges, Adrian Jevicki, Meghan Jones, Ryan Justesen, Rhonda S. Musak, Richard Pait, David J. Pixley, Davis S. Slone, and Tim Spanjer
Lighting Design by Alison Brummer
Costume Design by Kay Lee
Set Design by Mimi Lien
Videographer/Graphic Design by Greg Emetaz Original Music by Rima Fand and Katie Down Running time: Two hours and forty-five minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission
Deep Water Productions, Walkerspace, 46 Walker Street; 212-868-4444
September 9th through October 2nd; Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm, Sunday at 2 pm. All tickets $15.
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on September 16th performance
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