TRISTAN AND YSEULT, Babcock Theatre, University of Utah, through Sunday (581-7100 or, running time: 2 hours (one intermission)

The Emma Rice, Carl Grose and Anna Maria Murphy version of the ancient legend of "Tristan and Yseult" is wacky in the best sense of the word.

Those who are not offended by the sight of extreme physical passion will not want to miss the University of Utah theater department's production, directed by L.L. West. Under West's guidance, "Tristan and Yseult" is as funny as it is thought-provoking.

You know the plot. You've seen the opera, or the movie "Camelot." This is the story of a woman who loves two men. One is powerful and one is sexy. She can't choose between them and, as is always the case, eventually the choice is made for her.

Rice, Grose and Murphy wrote a play that makes use of some wonderful traditional elements: a classic plot, a Greek chorus and several characters who speak in iambic pentameter. At the same time, however, there are modern elements, including a jukebox playing "Our Day Will Come." The play resonates on two levels at once.

Before a word is spoken, the pantomiming chorus engages the audience. You sit in your seat remembering how it felt to be at a junior high school dance, completely identifying with the characters onstage, knowing that, in your heart, you are both dorky and shy.

And somehow, even though King Mark and Tristan and Yseult are not outwardly insecure, the pantomimes make us more able to feel what the main characters are feeling. Perhaps the theme that links the modern and classic elements is the theme of desperation.

The members of the chorus are called "the love spotters." They peep and spy and long for love themselves. In spite of their plaid pants, they feel hopeful. (The costumes are great. So is the hair, by Amanda French.)

The Babcock actors, of course, are student actors. They are not perfect, but they are equal to the script, which demands much in the way of comic timing and expression. The parts are double cast, so that the members of the chorus get to be the stars every other night.

The role of Tristan is filled by Brandon Tessers and Anthony Gaskins; Yseult is played by Stefanie Londino and Kristen Bailey; King Mark is either Jason Hackney or Logan Black.

On Wednesday, opening night, Eb Madson was very funny as Frocin, the courtier, and Summer Spence also stood out as Whitehands, who is the narrator for most of the play.

Sensitivity rating: No nudity but plenty of making out and several scenes of such steaminess that the producers believe no one younger than 14 should see this play.

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