D. Hannah Delivers on London Stage

Friday, October 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) — Can Daryl Hannah cut it on stage?

The answer is a resounding yes, if her theater debut on London's West End is any gauge. Inheriting a part immortalized on screen in 1955 by Marilyn Monroe, Hannah plays the blonde sexpot in ``The Seven Year Itch'' with style, aplomb and canny comic timing.

George Axelrod's 1952 Broadway play, by contrast, more often than not elicits a groan, not least because it portrays sexual escapades that are more than a bit sleazy.

Nowadays, for example, what woman would come back for more after being manhandled by a neighboring stranger? But that's what happens in ``The Seven Year Itch'' between the Girl — as Hannah's character is generically called — and the lascivious downstairs male tenant nearly twice her age.

Still, a dated and defiantly politically incorrect warhorse is not the story here: The news at the Queen's Theater is the sight of the screen siren from ``Splash'' making a splash on stage. And London's leggiest performer — that is, since Jerry Hall opened next door in ``The Graduate'' — does not disappoint.

Before Hannah's Oct. 9 opening, the signs were not great.

To begin with, the svelte star of ``Blade Runner'' and ``Roxanne'' had spoken candidly of fears at attempting an untested discipline. Appearing before the public, Hannah maintained, would either make or break her. Hypnotherapists were reported to have been on standby to see her through the performance.

Well, far more seasoned theater folk have voiced similar concerns, so the happy surprise is that Hannah's nerves — however severe — are nowhere visible.

Clothed by costume designer Tim Goodchild in a succession of show-stopping outfits — one pink number pays direct homage to Monroe's billowy white dress in the film — Hannah makes a souffle out of some leaden ingredients.

Her director is Michael Radford, the Briton with whom Hannah just collaborated in Los Angeles on an improvised film, ``Dancing at the Blue Iguana,'' which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last month.

An Academy Award nominee several years back for ``Il Postino'' (``The Postman''), Radford also is shifting for the first time to the stage — in his case, far less successfully than his star.

Radford's best idea comes near the start. With the audience fully expectant, Radford delays Hannah's entrance so that theatergoers remain as tantalized as Richard Sherman (Rolf Saxon), the seven years-married advertising executive confronting the itch to stray.

The sweltering Manhattan summer finds Richard's family away at the beach. That leaves him ample time to deal with sudden intrusions from a psychiatrist (Anthony O'Donnell, very funny in a very silly part) and fantasize about his wife, Helen (Debora Weston), who, Richard is sure, has taken a lover.

How better, then, to plot his own semi-revenge but in the comely form of the Girl upstairs — especially if her arrival allows Richard to fiddle with a champagne cork, which makes for some tired — and protracted — comic business?

And so the Girl — a model-turned-actress — is heard breathily shouting down from above before she ever steps into Richard's apartment. Once inside, it's in abject apology for her klutziness, even if, as Hannah plays her, she's the only one on stage with class.

In terms of stage time, the play may belong to the actor playing Richard, a lovesick nebbish of quite surreal proportions. But following in Tom Ewell's stage and screen footsteps, Saxon projects little beyond a glumly hardworking impassiveness. The part cries out for someone far quirkier and more funny — Bill Murray or Dan Aykroyd, say, if they're not too old, or Matthew Broderick perhaps.

Hannah might seem a bit advanced in years to play a 22-year-old, even if this is one Girl who has heard of Sartre.

In real life, the 39-year-old Hannah is the same age as the hapless Richard. And yet, watch her nibble at a potato chip or extol the virtues of 55-cent movies (those were the days!) and you find a blithely sexy yet unaffected innocence that cannot be feigned.

Its social and sexual mores may make ``The Seven Year Itch'' seem centuries old, but Hannah's theatrical instincts throughout could not be more fresh.

Let's just be grateful she caught the itch.