Cold Okie Sex!

Cal State Fullerton is hawking this production of Oklahoma! as a deconstructed mounting of the trusty old Rodgers and Hammerstein standard. It's a tantalizing concept, for beneath all the crinkly gingham and knotted kerchiefs smolders the sort of sexual anxiety and longing that a truly deconstructive approach might really illuminate.

That possibility will have to wait for some other production. Here, director James R. Taulli's apparent attempt at a critical textual analysis either gets lost somewhere between page and stage, or he has confused deconstruction with physical minimalism. What does make it to Matthew Scarpino's effectively spare set is a hormonally challenged succession of unrealized opportunities without even a glimpse of a deconstructive spin.

At Oklahoma!'s smoldering core is the lusty triangle forged by strapping young rancher Curly (Michael Baker); the feisty and virtuous apple of his eye, Laurey (Regan Tedder); and her sinister hired hand Jud (James Knudson). Where Curly is a warm puppy dog, Jud is a stall-kicking stallion, and it's this clash of desires that fuels Laurey's sexual angst.

Of this lovestruck threesome, Baker fares the best. His Curly is an engaging, open-faced fellow whose relaxed, easy charm is often at odds with Tedder's tense, frozen-smile Laurey. The kindest thing that can be said about Knudson's Jud is that he is painfully miscast, able to muster only peevish indignation where seething sexual menace is called for.

Knudson's neutered Jud merely reflects the killer flaw in Taulli's staging: this lust triangle not only lacks a combustible sexual chemistry, but it also exists entirely in some alternate Oklahoma! universe where sex and sexuality simply do not exist. And there is nothing deconstructive about that. That just simply isn't OK.

Oklahoma! at Cal State Fullerton's Little Theatre, Nutwood Ave. & State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 278-3371. Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. $11-$15.

 
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