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A "manly' effort

Adele Leas turns in a scintillating solo performance in Man to Man by the German playwright Manfred Karge. Leas, smoking a pipe and wearing baggy pants with suspenders, a khaki shirt, a checkered cardigan sweater and a workman's cap, plays a woman who succeeded in impersonating her dead husband for years. She did so in order to keep his job as a crane operator in the Weimar Republic of the early 1930s, an economically depressed time that led to the rise of Hitler.

Man to Man, being presented for the first time in the United States by Stageworks at the Loft Theater, is a showcase for Leas. With her mobile, intelligent face and a strong, expressive voice that fills the theater with surprising intimacy, she never fails to connect throughout the 1{-hour work.

Leas' sheer presence and energy are impressive. She obviously has a passionate personal identification with the character, and that alone _ combined with her formidable dramatic technique _ makes this a performance well worth experiencing.

Man to Man also introduces an interesting playwright. Karge, who was born in 1938 in Brandenburg, has said the play is designed to function as "a "life of Germany,' in monologue form, reflecting the last few decades of German history." Like any German intellectual of his generation, he is indebted to Bertolt Brecht, and Man to Man certainly fulfills Brecht's dictate that drama's purpose is to teach people how to survive.

As played by Leas, the woman who takes on the persona of her late husband, Max Gericke, is a survivor par excellence. She survives the Depression, the Nazis, the Russians and the ravages of post-war Germany. Karge places her in a setting of cozy domesticity, supported by a pension, complaining about "another night of rubbish on the telly" and reflecting back on her life as a man.

But Man to Man fails another of Brecht's maxims, that truth is concrete. The play is full of big themes _ sex and politics and work, what it means to be German _ but there's precious little action, just a woman with close-cropped hair and dressed in man's garb delivering 26 separate but linked monologues.

Despite the talent of Leas, Man to Man falls short because it is too abstract. As a result, it lacks what might be called narrative imperative. Like a lot of one-actor shows, it doesn't have enough variety and range in tone or coloration to keep the story from losing momentum and bogging down.

Man to Man's production, very much a collaboration between Leas and the director, Neil P. DeGroot, is solid and evocative at the same time. The set, with a cluttered array of objects and oddments _ an old rocking chair, faded Persian-style rugs, a cuckoo clock, family portraits _ is richly atmospheric. The lighting, sometimes so murky as to leave Leas barely visible, other times a harsh red, matches the shifting moods of the monologues.

The production's only wrong notes, literally, come in the singing of Sally Lambert, who opens the play with several songs, including Kurt Weill's September Song and Love for Sale by Cole Porter. In theory, Lambert's languorous cabaret performance is a clever way to get the proceedings under way, but in practice her nasal vibrato is tough to take. Perhaps her imperfectly pitched crooning is intended as parody, but mainly it is irritating, like fingernails scraped across a blackboard. Andre du Broc's piano playing, on the other hand, is charming.


Man to Man

Manfred Karge's play, in a Stageworks production, is at the Loft Theater tonight and Saturday night at 8, Sunday at 5 p.m. Tickets are $6-$12. Call 251-8984 in Tampa.

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