Jane Marla Robbins has gone once more to the biography shelves for a piece of period stage portraiture. In 1974, Miss Robbins made a substantial hit as Fanny Burney in ''Dear Nobody,'' a one-woman play she wrote with Terry Belanger about the 18th-century English novelist.
In ''Jane Avril,'' her new work at the Provincetown Playhouse, the actress-playwright recalls the Parisian dancer of the 1890s and her relationship with the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, whose at-times suggestive posters helped promote her career.
In the Robbins version, the recurrently stormy friendship begins with shared confidences: Both the painter and his performer-model survived brutal childhoods - in Henri's case a crippling accident. His genius yet to be recognized, Toulouse-Lautrec reacted against bourgeois respectability and hypocrisy in works that could be savagely satirical, and in an alcoholically dissipated life style.
In the course of its action from 1881 to 1901, ''Jane Avril'' visits a Moulin Rouge rehearsal room, Toulouse-Lautrec's studio, Avril's apartment, and a sanitorium outside Paris. The brief scenes are occasionally lively and, at times , touching. Superficially plausible, the performance directed by Albert Takazauckas scarcely qualifies as stage portraiture in depth.
Yet it presents in Miss Robbins's Avril a performer of natural grace and natural candor; in Mr. O'Connor's Toulouse-Lautrec a caustic and driven artist whose work could transcend its often sordid milieu; and in Mr. Council's Baron Dufferin a conventional aristocrat unawarely astray in a bohemian world.
''Jane Avril'' owes most of its fin de siecle Parisian atmosphere to Peter Harvey's quick-change settings, David Murin's costumes, Mal Sturchio's lighting, and composer William Schimmel's ever-ready accordionism. Ron Dabney choreographed the incidental dances.