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'REBECCA' IS A WINNING ROMP

I dreamt I went to Manderley again, where Daphne DuMaurier's Maximillian de Winter once lived with the beautiful Rebecca. The estate was just as I had remembered it -- the servant in a leopard-skin loincloth, Giles in a thong, Bea wearing Christmas ornaments that dangle from huge cones attached to her breasts, and the new Mrs. DeWinter, tall, lovely, cleanshaven.

The Buffalo United Artists production of "Rebecca," this year's October camp show, is a no-holds-barred adaptation of DuMaurier's tangled tale of love and death. How is the new Mrs. DeWinter to cope with Manderley's indelible memories of Rebecca, tragically drowned in a boating accident? Where can she turn to escape Rebecca's clothes, her picture, her legendary beauty?

Not to this show's Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, a hulking presence who talks like Count Dracula, walks like Frankenstein's monster and guffaws like Herman Munster. Nor to Mr. DeWinter, who lusts after his friend Frank and bursts into facial tics whenever he screams.

The great fun of director Chris Kelley's "Rebecca" is that it drops the new Mrs. DeWinter into a Manderley that's a hotbed of homo-hetero-omnisexual mayhem where she's the only character unaware of her sexuality. Except, of course, for the fact Mrs. DeWinter is Jimmy Jankowski, never lovelier than as the tormented lady of Manderley.

The double-entendres run amok, too. When we hear at the inquest that on Rebecca's boat "the seacocks" were open, Mrs. DeWinter screams, "I object!" And as for Giles' case of "prickly heat," well, let's just say that Bea gets ideas. By the time Maxim tells his wife, "I went over the side into the dinghy," the audience can only hope he's talking about a boat.

When the camp stays close to DuMaurier's story, the effect is brilliant. In the graveyard, when Maxim and his new wife finally open up to one another, the controlled acting, speech inflections and gestures create a delicious parody. Don Youngstorm's Maxim is a perfect take on the debonair and self-contained hero, walking a fine line that toys with the romanticism of DuMaurier's novel without killing it.

He and Jankowski make an adorably wacky pair, the heart of an ebullient cast that features Katie White in an assortment of deliciously over-the-top guises and an energetic Eric Rawski, Jamie DeMore, Caitlin Coleman, David Haefner and Guy Tomassi.

Occasionally, the campiness loses touch with "Rebecca" and becomes self-consciously funny. In his despair, Maxim sighs, "Rebecca's won." She loses in the end, of course. But for audiences at Buffalo United Artists, this "Rebecca" is a winner.

RATING: 3 STARS

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