`FLAUBERT'S LATEST' FLIRTS WITH LITERARY HISTORY

In the stage play "Flaubert's Latest," playwright Peter Parnell transplants Gustave Flaubert from 19th-century France to contemporary Connecticut in this part literary joke, part romance in the modern idiom. Mr. Parnell's Litchfield County excursion pursues a generally light-fantastic course.

A 20th-century writer named Felix (Mark Nelson) has set himself the task of completing Flaubert's unfinished novel, "Bouvard et Pecuchet," but his male companion Colin (Mitchell Anderson) constantly distracts him.

Supernatural things are set in motion by Ursula (Mary Louise Wilson), who happens to be playing the psychic Madame Arcati in a summer-theater production of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit." She conjurs up the spirits of Flaubert and his inamorata, Louise (Jean DeBaer).

As might be expected, "Flaubert's Latest" proves liveliest when it concerns the flamboyant author of "Madame Bovary" himself. The shaggy-maned John Bedford Lloyd gives a tempestuous performance, filled with raillery, tantrums, and literary allusions to match his romantic illusions. "The truest pleasure is anticipation," goes a typical Flaubert quote. But as somebody else asks: "Who is going to recognize Flaubert in Litchfield County?" Fortunately, he is accompanied by his longsuffering lover Louise.

As directed by David Saint, the production responds to the grace and style of Parnell's slight but literate comedy. James Noone has designed a setting that could win a garden-club prize, and Kenneth Posner has lighted the scene to suit its times and moods. Jane Greenwood's costumes span the eras becomingly.

"Flauberts' Latest," which closes July 19, concludes Playwrights' Horizons' 1991-92 season.

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