Sunday, July 12, 2009

review - The Light in the Piazza

The Light in the Piazza
book by Craig Lucas; music & lyrics by Adam Guettel
directed by William Robert Ewing
El Portal Second stage
through July 26
Like a beautiful painting Adam Guettel's The Light in the Piazza is a true work of art. With discordant music not unlike that of Stephen Sondheim, written for a small chamber orchestra, feelings of love - from all kinds of people -fuel passionately. Without the right actresses to play the American mother and daughter visiting Florence, the play loses its fragility and inner beauty. This production could not be more divine. Mary Donnelly Haskell as Margaret Johnson and Stephanie Wall as her decidedly different daughter make sparks fly with their glorious acting and singing.
Clara Johnson was kicked by a pony in the back of the head at age 12 and suffered a mental deficiency as a consequence. So, at first glance, she seems sincere and enthusiastically atuned to the world around her, but it isn't until later when reactions of fear and rage emerge from her, that we clearly understand how very unusual she is. And...this different behavior is at times keen and extraordinarily insightful, especially when it comes to appreciating the loyalty that should exist between lovers...
Fabrizio Naccarelli (Blake Mciver Ewing) falls madly and passionately for Clara. It is up to Margaret to decide if his intentions are truly honorable and if Clara will be able to handle the situation with any any form of stability. At first she objects vehemently, but gradually comes to realize that Clara is more mature than she has given her credit for. Fabrizio's brother Giuseppe (Darius Rose), in typical Italian style, cheats on his wife Franca (Christine M. Capsuto, in a stunning performance) and the Signora (Dena Drotar) is quick to attest to the fact that Italian husbands are prone to wander, as is her husband (Joanathan Kruger). What bothers Clara is this open sense of infidelity and she is not afraid to point out to Franca that Fabrizio is her fiance and to keep her hands off.
Minor confusion about Clara's age and her own father's (Gregory Franklin) protestations put a damper on the engagement, but there is a happy ending. And it is mother Margaret's decision about Clara's future that sets the play apart and brings it to a most remarkable and joyous conclusion.
The entire ensemble is superb under Ewing's meticulous direction. Haskell brilliantly makes Margaret a three dimensional woman and Wall is endearing at every turn.
Stunning here as well is the outstanding use of the small stage to accommodate both the inner and outer worlds of Florence and Rome.
Guettel's music is so delicately beautiful that I am not ashamed to admit it moved me to tears more than once. A passionately engrossing evening for lovers, friends and for anyone who believes in the value of love.
5 out of 5 stars


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