Gypsy and the Yellow Canary

British actress Irene Worth has adapted Prosper Merimee's famous novella about the gypsy Carmen into a one-woman show that serves as a vehicle for the display of her remarkable performing talents. But "The Gypsy and the Yellow Canary," as she has titled her adaptation, stands on its own as storytelling that could be performed by other solo artists, male as well as female.

British actress Irene Worth has adapted Prosper Merimee’s famous novella about the gypsy Carmen into a one-woman show that serves as a vehicle for the display of her remarkable performing talents. But “The Gypsy and the Yellow Canary,” as she has titled her adaptation, stands on its own as storytelling that could be performed by other solo artists, male as well as female.

“Gypsy” is a monologue in the single voice of Carmen’s lover, Don Jose, and it is he who supplies the voices and spirits of the other characters as he dramatizes the tale of his own decline and fall. As he awaits the hour of his death by execution, the proud Basque soldier recalls his dark relationship with the seductive Carmen, and how his obsession with her led him to exchange his promising military career for a life of crime as a thief and murderer.

Vivid details support the play’s many well-drawn scenes, and Worth is splendid throughout, supplementing the particulars of the text with one strong yet subtle gesture after another. A flick of her fingers beside her head conjures up the gold combs in Carmen’s hair; a sweep of her arm and a shift in posture demonstrates the proud honor of Don Jose. She makes no broad physical or vocal effort to conjure up the soldier’s masculinity but it is there in the plain, direct manner in which she speaks for him.

Most of the performance takes place behind a music stand where a copy of the text is placed, with the setting sparsely designed by Myung Hee Cho. There is little more than a shawl draping down behind her, a bench and a couple of chairs, a few bells, and a thick wooden beam with a hook at the end projecting out over the playing area, suggesting the arm of a gallows. Chad McArver’s lighting supports the play’s several moods.

Gypsy and the Yellow Canary

Public Theater's Martinson Hall, New York; 104 seats; $25 top.

Production: A Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival presentation of a play in one act based on a story by Prosper Merimee, adapted and performed by Irene Worth.

Creative: Sets, Myung Hee Cho; lighting, Chad McArver. NYSF producer, George C. Wolfe; artistic producer, Rosemarie Tichler. Opened May 4, 1997. Reviewed May 6; Running time: 1 HOUR, 10 MIN.

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