IN THE MISGUIDED new adaptation by Source Theater, Alexandre Dumas' melodramatic warhorse "Camille" becomes one of those rare instances in which you're positively begging the doomed heroine to die and get it over with.
Director Bart Whiteman returned from a European jaunt with staging concepts borrowed from some Yugoslavian pals. The result: a "Camille" with the look and sound of a bad European art movie.
If you're unfamiliar with Dumas' characters beforehand, you certainly won't know them when you leave. Perhaps in order to leave room for his actors to pose in Meaningful Silence, Whiteman has gone at the script with a cleaver, retaining only a few bald lines. The period has been changed from the 19th century to WWII German-occupied France, but not much remains of the story of the consumptive courtesan Marguerite Gautier and her lover Armand Duval.
From the frenetic opening scenes with a portentous montage of meant-to-be-cinematic blackouts and eerie, arty music that sounds like taped cabaret music played backwards, Whiteman provides plenty to look at, filling three stages -- including, at far left and far right, two active beds usually occupied by couples in their underwear, performing preposterous pantomimes of lovemaking. But the sideshow stuff is pointless and merely distracting.
As the star-crossed lovers Marguerite and Armand, Kathryn Kelley and William Freimuth are smaller than life. Kelley has a frail and glamorous look and an alarmingly realistic tubercular cough. But her Camille is so wispy and petulant as to be invisible amid the rest of the 17-member cast.
Whiteman has apparently encouraged the cast to embroider the few surviving lines of the script with ad libs, and they oblige, playing the denizens of the Parisian demimonde with amusing gusto But this time-wasting nonsense is of interest only to the actors themselves: "Camille" feels like an interminable acting class exercise. CAMILLE -- At Source Theater's Warehouse Rep through April 13.