Tongues and tales

Under the Bed and Artemisia go for baroque
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The unconscious, the underworld, the undead — what is it that under-the-mattress anxiety points to, exactly? And what might it have to do with a pack of powdered French fops in Louis Seize costumes? Given the blissful nonchalance with which Dark Porch Theater's Under the Bed tackles that thing called plot, it's probably best not to mull it over too much. Suffice it to say that all of the above and a live band serve as lower bunkmates to Leonard Pinklestein (Chris Carlone), a World War II soldier crashed out on a fluffy brass bed, the limbo life raft for a lost soul that slipped its earthly mooring on the beaches of Normandy.

It's a testament to the grace in some brands of lunacy that this swift, enjoyably madcap dance musical — a self-styled fairy tale set in purgatory, created and directed by Margery Fairchild and copresented with SafeHouse at a new Howard Street venue known pretty aptly as the Garage — can seem so endlessly expansive on an otherwise cramped (if nicely atmospheric) stage. Under the Bed not only draws a dozen or more bodies from beneath its title furniture; it also sets them exuberantly in motion.

But back to that willful plot: run aground on a patch of purgatory under the management of a sort of manic night nurse named Harriette D. (a comically adept Fairchild), Leonard finds himself the pawn in a battle royal between his gleaming but slightly sinister hostess and the Greek goddess and maiden huntress Artemis (a vigorous Alexis Blade Perry). The latter storms Hades, or whatever, with the intention of reuniting Leonard and his lost love, the cheerful would-be revolutionary Rosemary Short (Hilde Susan Jaegtnes), who arrives soon after him as another Lethe-headed amnesiac, though with raised fist ever at the ready.

Harriette, who for assistance is wont to call on a member of the band, the somewhat reluctant Mr. M. (a laid-back Patrick Simms), also conjures the French courtiers previously mentioned. When not mincing, they act as willing executioners and wield the same device that left such prominent scar lines on their own effete necks.

A fairy tale naturally allows for all manner of incongruities, and Under the Bed's just sweeten the pot. No doubt the unusually collaborative nature of the production has something to do with them, as do a winsome score (composed of more than a dozen droll and dreamy songs), eclectic choreography (by Fairchild and Perry), and some nicely offbeat dialogue. Add to that the production's generally sharp and always game performances, beginning with a fine, versatile turn by Carlone as the slumbering soldier, and the unlikely spell cast by Under the Bed is complete.

ANYTHING BUT STILL LIFE

Art in Artemisia is a dynamic, multifaceted force, skillfully and thoughtfully realized in just about every aspect of the Dell'Arte Company's thought-provoking dramatic study exploring the life and work of the 17th-century Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi (Barbara Geary). In director Giulio Cesare Perrone's well-acted and visually striking production, which closed its run at the Magic Theatre last weekend, the rape of the artist by Agostino Tassi and the sensational trial that followed in 1612 — as well as the biblical story of Judith, whose beheading of Holofernes served as a heroic subject for Gentileschi at a time when female painters were rare and deemed unable to handle such material — become the ever-present, intervening background to a physically choreographed dialogue set in 1635 between Artemisia and her model Giulia (Keight Gleason).

If the script (cowritten by Perrone and Geary) veers at points into an awkward mesh of heightened speech and contemporary frankness, the production design carries the theme of art's transformative power in several directions.

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