Unabashedly old-fashioned 'Filumena'; 'Filumena.' Comedy by Eduardo de Filippo. English version by Wills Hall and Keith Waterhouse. Directed by Laurence Olivier. Starring Joan Plowright, Frank Finlay.

"Filumena" is an unabashedly old- fashioned comedy about repentance and redress by Italy's most popular and prolific dramatist-actor-producer. An earlier version of the Eduardo de Filippo Neopolitan romance closed here in 1956 after three performances.

The new adaptation has received every possible Anglo-Italian advantage. Adapters Willis Hall and Keith Waterhouse are a topflight British writing team. What the St. James Playbill lists as "an original Franco Zeffirelli production" has been directed by Laurence Olivier. Stars Joan Plowright and Frank Finlay are here to re-create the roles they originated in the British National Theater production which became a London hit.


This powerhouse of talent is lavished on a mostly comic, sometimes sentimental folk play about a former prostitute, Filumena Marturano (Miss Plowright), who has been for 25 years the faithful companion of Domenico Soriano (Mr. Finlay), an explosively macho Neapolitan businessman. While Domenico was dividing his time between fast horses and fast women, Filumena has been minding the store and keeping his house. Determined to legitimatize her three sons, now grown men, filumena tricks Domenico into marrying her. When she realizes that the legal action he intends will dissolve the marriage, Filumena makes an outraged exit -- but not before telling the arrogant chauvinist that one of the sons is his.

The remainder of the comedy concerns Domenico's transformation into a determined father figure as he meets and comes to know Filumena's offspring. With a fine Italianate hand (both hands, in fact), Mr. Finlay elaborates and punctuates his extravagant comic performance of the volatile and voluble domenico. As directed by Olivier, he conveys both the absurdity and desperation of a man whose verbal explosions are no match for Filumena's implacable logic and maternal resolve.

Miss Plowright's filumena, who all too vividly recalls the slums she could bear revisiting only once, is a woman of dignity and integrity as well as devotion. Her scorn for the man Domenico has become does not prevent fer from recalling the man she once loved.

The sound and tone of the performance may well be suggested by the fact that the actors talk with a slight Italian accent. The characters involved in the imbroglio include the stage comedy maid and cartoon lawyer (Lisa Passero and Pierre Epstein), Domenico's latest fancy (Donna Davis), a pair of old-faithful retainers (Ernest Sarracino and Miriam Phillips), and the three agreeably amusing young men (Dennis Boutsikaris, Stephen Schnetzer, and Peter Iacangelo) whose existence their father-to-be has never suspected.

The 1946 Neapolitan setting and costumes by Raimonda Gaetani have been lighted by Thomas Skelton.

'Canterbury Tales.' Musical Comedy with book by Martin Starkie and Nevill Coghill (based on Mr. Cognill's translation from Geoffrey Chaucer), music by Richard Hill and John Hawkins, lyrics by Mr. Coghill. Directed by Robert Johanson. Choreography by Randy Hugill.

"Canterbury Tales" ran for a relatively brief three months on Broadway in 1969. Otis L. Guernsey Jr. described it (in "Best Plays of 1968-1969") as "a jade of bawdy affectation, often in doubtful taste." This week, the Equity Library Theater rivival of the British musical reopened the elegantly refurbished, chandeliered, sconced, and comfortably seated Little Rialto on broadway at Times Square. Although the ELT cast comprises a lively, agreeable, and talented band of pigrims, Mr. Guernsey's finding still seems valid.

Embellished with song, movement, and dance, this 20th century sampling of a 14th century classic extracts the Miller's, Steward's, Merchant's, and Wife of Bath's tales from the Chaucerian table of contents. The broad burlesquerie often proves more self- consciously labored than diverting. The Wife of Bath's tale -- in which an Arthurian knight is promised a reprieve from his death sentence if he can discover what women desire -- brings some welcome charm and one of the show's best songs.

The composers and lyricist serve their author blithely with a score that might be described as contemporary rock of Middle Ages. The players respond with a will to the musical airs and graces, and so does the bright brassy orchestra conducted by John Kroner. Robert Stoeckle, Mimi sherwin, Robert Tetirick, Krista Neumann, and K. K. Preece are among the more notable members of a fine singing cast. Robert Johanson's staging and Randy Hugill's choreography defy the necessary small-stage limitations of Michael Anania's ingenious Medieval unit set.The lighting is by Gregg Marriner.

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