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— In Amy Freed's Restoration Comedy, Amanda's married to a philanderer named, appropriately, Loveless. He ran off to the Continent and, for a decade, celebrated "the diversity of God's creation."

Hearing she died, Loveless returns to England. But she's still alive and has remained as patient as Griselda, as true as Penelope at the loom. To win Loveless back, however, Amanda decides to become the consummate libertine. At the Old Globe, her education in the wiles of dalliance is one of the funniest scenes in recent memory.

H.L. Mencken defined Puritanism as "the haunting fear that somewhere, somehow, someone is enjoying himself." The Restoration era sprang from the repressive Puritanism of Oliver Cromwell like an arrow from a bow. Caralyn Kozlowski's Amanda embraces the new liberation -- and may be one of the world's quickest studies. She stands too stiff, her teacher and secret admirer Worthy (Peter Frechette) tells her: "A woman of pleasure leans on things. This suggests that she might be...toppled." As Amanda warms to de-regulation, Kozlowski does a swift, hilarious thaw.

Kozlowski has the smarts, talent, and comic timing not only for Restoration comedy and Shakespeare (I'd love to have seen her Rosalind) but also for the plays of Amy Freed. Her plays The Beard of Avon, Safe in Hell, and Freedomland combine thought, history, and humor in fresh, inventive ways. In Restoration, for example, she makes intelligence feel bawdy and -- no mean feat -- the bawdy, intelligent. Freed also teaches acting and, unlike many who practice her craft, knows how to write for actors. The Old Globe recently named Amy Freed playwright-in-residence. Hear! Hear!!

Restoration combines Colly Cibber's Love's Last Shift (1696), which has a happy ending, with John Vanbrugh's hastily composed riposte, The Relapse, which doesn't. Act One of Restoration rounds with a sense of completion (and is one tough act to follow); Act Two, having to tie countless loose ends -- including a trio of love trysts -- tends to sprawl. But no matter: by then the production's buoyant energy builds to a resonant conclusion.

Much of that energy emanates from Marco Barricelli. He gives Loveless a baritone voice so expansive you'd swear he's miked (he isn't) and a Lust Writ Large swagger. Like the cast in general, Barricelli conveys the joy of playing someone who's the opposite of neurotic: sensually and verbally free, unafraid, or ashamed, to be alive.

(Historically, the Restoration only lasted around thirty years, from 1662, when Charles II issued an edict allowing women to appear on a stage for the first time, to 1700-ish; the Age of Reason lurked around the corner to squelch enthusiasms with lockstep rigor.)

Restoration is both an homage to, and a parody of, the period. Freed includes many an anachronism, and the Globe production adds more. For the seduction scene between Amanda and Loveless (in which he "cuckolds himself"), the Rolling Stones sing "Start Me Up"; when Lord Foppington (scene-stealing Danny Scheie in a lion's-mane wig and several of Robert Blackman's majestic costumes) chooses new clothes, director John Rando adds a gratuitous, but funny, Chippendales fashion show. At first the anachronisms irk, as if the production (and Rando has done this before) has to apologize for its subject and pad it with shtick. But soon they make sense as modern correlatives for the play's unrepressed spirit.

Restoration theater was more interested in sensuality and wit than in scenic designs, which slid flats on a proscenium. Ralph Funicello's set begins with this principle. A thick rose-colored curtain, cupids floating above, opens on a traditional Restoration look. But then Funicello layers in flats and drops and creates three-dimensional depths (including a sweeping panorama of London). Like the production, and the play, the set celebrates diversity.

***

NEWS BRIEF from Preston Turegano: It looks as if it's back to square one in the state parks department's effort to find a Theatre in Old Town operator.

Mark Anderson -- owner of Insta-Theatre Inc., based in Encinitas -- says his negotiations with the California state parks department recently came to "an impasse" over which entity (Insta-Theatre or the state) would have control over intellectual property rights and how many shows might run simultaneously at the Theatre in Old Town.

"I never had any experience negotiating with the state," Anderson said. "I was ignorant about a lot of things, but I think the state was, too, especially about how shows are produced."

Last spring, the state began soliciting bids from individuals or companies seeking a ten-year Theatre in Old Town concession. Since 1992, Miracle Theatre Productions had operated the 248-seat venue on a month-to-month basis. Miracle had been paying the state $1000 a month in rent and 10 percent of merchandise and food and beverage sales at the theater. During 2004-05, the 10 percent cut resulted in the state receiving $48,933 from Miracle.

State law requires state park concessions to be put out to bid periodically. In 2005, the procedure led to Diane Powers's Bazaar del Mundo's departure from Old Town State Park after more than 30 years as a park concessionaire. Bazaar del Mundo shops are still in the Old Town area, and the Casa de Pico restaurant (once within the Bazaar's Old Town State Park grounds) moved to Grossmont Center in La Mesa. At one time, the state was receiving more than $2 million a year as a result of Bazaar del Mundo's Old Town presence.

Insta-Theatre's contract was to have commenced in January. Anderson has been in the entertainment business for 23 years. His production of the comedy Crazy Love had extended runs in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Alexandria, Virginia; and at the Carlsbad Village Theatre in North County. Extended runs were Miracle's specialty, including such musical revues as Forever Plaid, Forbidden Broadway, and Too Old for the Chorus, but Not Too Old to Be a Star.

The state parks department was looking for a concessionaire who would present plays about Old Town between 1820 and 1870. Anderson said he was prepared to stage a minstrel show at the Theatre in Old Town with performers who own their intellectual property in regard to the American musical genre that was popular in the 1800s.

"The state wanted intellectual property ownership," Anderson said. "That could not happen. The state also wants to decide when a show ends its run. If I put on a show that wasn't a hit, I'd be stuck with it, losing money."

A new Theatre in Old Town operator was also going to have to make physical improvements, such as accessibility in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a new roof, carpeting, electrical upgrades and landscaping maintenance outside the facility. Built in 1979, the theater is barnlike and void of elegant features.

"Unfortunately, Insta-Theatre Inc. refused to sign the contract after it was awarded," said Donna Renner, California State Parks Coast District concession specialist. "This was a huge disappointment all around. We are now inviting the previous participants, one by one, to engage in negotiations. If we are able to engage in negotiation, we will re-bid."

Although the parks department last year received just one bid for the theater concession, three companies participated in a pre-bid question-and-answer process. Besides Insta-Theatre, Cygnet Theatre (currently in the Rolando/College area) and Miziker Entertainment Group (of Burbank, Calif.) were the other Q&A participants.

Anderson said he spent about $30,000 in application and legal fees, equipment purchases, and miscellaneous items to secure the theater concession that was awarded in January.

The parks department also approached Miracle, but it declined to get involved, Renner said. Miracle is moving to Encinitas to build a playhouse at the Encinitas Ranch Town Center.

If contract negotiations don't start by the end of March, the state will consider renting out the Theatre in Old Town for special events during a six-month rebid process, Renner added.

Restoration Comedy, by Amy Freed

Old Globe Theatre, Simon Edison Centre for the Performing Arts, Balboa Park

Directed by John Rando; cast: Marco Barricelli, John Keating, Peter Frechette, Kimberly Scott, Caralyn Kozlowski, Amelia McClain, Danny Scheie, Kate Turnbull, Chip Brookes, Michael Izquierdo, Chris Bresky, Jonathan McMurtry, Cara Greene, Rhett Henckel, Aaron Misakian, Summer Shirey, Christa Scott-Reed; scenic design, Ralph Funicello; costumes, Robert Blackman; lighting, York Kennedy; sound, Paul Peterson; original music, Michael Roth

Playing through April 8; Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Matinee Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 619-234-5623.

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