TWO WORDS by Denise Blinn and Gabrielle Kemeny, based on stories by Isabel Allende, directed by Blinn, with Kemeny, Michelle Polak, Vladimir Torres, Simon Casanova, Beatriz Pizano, Xuan Fraser, Sunday Muse and Sanjay Talwar. Presented by Cahoots Theatre Projects and Theatre Two Words at the Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgman). Runs to November 10, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $20-$25, Sunday pwyc, stu/srs discount. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNN
The language and story of two Words, Denise Blinn and Gabrielle Kemeny's adaptation of a pair of tales by Isabel Allende, are strong enough. But this Latin American version of Sheherazade fails to seduce as it might.It begins with the power-hungry Colonel (Vladimir Torres) and Belisa (Kemeny) in bed. She's telling him a story about the efforts of Judge Hidalgo (Simon Casanova) to capture the confident bandit Nicolas Vidal (Xuan Fraser), who may lose his life because of a woman. We move back and forth between stories and time frames, soon realizing that the two narratives are part of a larger whole.
There's some fine acting, notably by Michelle Polak as several figures including Vidal's beaten-down, powerless mother; Polak makes a strong impression with only one word of text. Beatriz Pizano is an earthy prostitute, and Sanjay Talwar is sharp in several cameos. Kemeny's intriguing Belisa slides from one tale to the other, both actor in and increasingly controlling narrator of the events.
Still, Blinn's direction doesn't always give the show the magic it requires. At times a matter-of-fact flatness undermines the material, and as a result the narrative's wonders, fears and passions lose their special quality. The problem is most noticeable in a weak ending that should -- but doesn't -- make further alluring ripples in the story's pool.