AISLE SAY San Francisco

MARIUS

by Marcel Pagnol
Translated by Zack Rogow
Presented by Aurora Theatre Company
Directed by Tom Ross
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison St., Berkeley, CA / (510) 843-4822

Reviewed by Judy Richter

For some men, the call of the sea is irresistible. Try as they may, they can't shake the dream of sailing to distant ports. Such a man is 24-year-old Marius (Daniel Hart Donoghue), who is torn between his fascination with the sea and his love for Fanny (Jessa Brie Berkner), a young woman he's known all his life. His efforts to forget the sea and marry Fanny form the central conflict in "Marius" by French playwright Marcel Pagnol.

Written in 1929, "Marius" is the first play in Pagnol's "Fanny" trilogy. The others are "Fanny" and "Cą©sar." Aurora Theatre Company is presenting the play in Zack Rogow's world premiere translation, the first new English translation in more than 70 years. "Marius" takes place in 1929 along the waterfront in Marseilles, where Marius works in a small bar owned by his father, Cą©sar (Robert Ernst). Fanny works for her mother, Honorine (Lynne Soffer), a seafood seller.

Although the relationship between Fanny and Marius is the main focus, many of the play's pleasures come from the bar's regular patrons, especially Panisse (George Maguire), a sailmaker. A widower, Panisse wants to marry Fanny even though he's much older than she. However, he's gracious when he realizes that Fanny prefers Marius. Panisse and Cą©sar have great fun as they scheme and plan with each other and with Honorine. Some misunderstandings add to the amusement.

Tom Ross skillfully directs the well chosen (with one exception) cast. Ernst, Maguire and Soffer all create believable older characters, while Berkner finds the right note of young womanhood in Fanny. The supporting cast -- Jordan Lund, Nicholas Pelczar and Nick Tagas -- also is solid. The exception in casting is Donoghue as Marius. He seems stiff, uncomfortable in conveying Marius' mixed, changing emotions.

Otherwise, it's a delightful play with a set by Greg Dunham, lighting by Jim Cave, sound by Chris Houston and costumes by Fumiko Bielefeldt. Incidentally, the names of three of the characters -- Panisse, Fanny and Cą©sar -- have a familiar ring in Berkeley, for they inspired the names of three popular restaurants, including the renowned Chez Panisse.

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