Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Passion"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark


"Passion"

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Based on the film "Passione d'Amore" directed by Ettore Scola
Directed by Paul Daigneault
Music Director Paul S. Katz

Set Design by Susan Zeeman Rogers
Lighting Design by C. Scott Ananian
Sound Design by Brian M. Parenteau
Costume Designs by Naomi Wolff
Production Stage Manager Brian D. Wagner
Stage Manager Dana Elizabeth Wolf

Clara..........................................Julie Jirousek
Giorgio.........................................David Foley
Colonel Ricci.................................Sean Roper
Doctor Tambourri..........................J. T. Turner
Lieutenant Torasso / Ludovic....Brian Robinson
Sergeant Lombardi.........................Bob DeVivo
Lieutenant Barri................................Jim Ansart
Major Rizzolli / Fosca's Father...Marshall Munis
Private Augenti.............................Brian Abascal
Fosca.............................................Leigh Barrett
Fosca's Mother / Attendant.......Rebekah Turner
Mistress / Attendant...................Sarah O'Malley

ORCHEASTRA
Piano...................................Paul Katz
Keyboard...............Jonathan Goldberg
Percussion....................Wendy Baisley
Woodwinds...Louis Toth, Ray Taranto
Violin................................Katy Gillan
Cello.......................Catherine Stephan
Conductor...........................Paul Katz

This is a time of plentiful harvest for theater-goers, with three of our leading companies offering splendid work --- and I was privileged to see two of them back-to-back. (The one I have yet to see is the Lyric Stage of Boston's "Lend Me A Tenor" which stars half a dozen of Boston's best actors in what everyone tells me is a laugh-a-minute farce). Last Friday I saw Tom Stoppard's "The Real Thing" at The New Rep, right after Thursday's performance by the SpeakEasy Stage Company of Stephen Sondheim's sublime one-act "Passion"! The last two deal, in unique styles, with love and infidelity and are stunningly performed. Anyone seeing one really ought to see both --- and anyone who loves theater must see all three! Let me tackle "Passion" first.

James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim have worked so often and so well with one another that it's impossible to tell where one or the other did what --- but this is the most lyrically compelling score the pair have come up with. It isn't a musical "comedy" but it is such a compelling story that I cannot tell you how long it takes for the events to unroll before your eyes and ears. There must be many (It's Sondheim after all!) but I only noticed one rhyme --- the lyrical flow from idea to idea rather than such surface effects is what makes the evening sublime.

The setting is 1863 Italy --- with romanticism at its height. The story begins in bed, with two beautiful people (David Foley and Julie Jirousek) declaring undying love, though the Captain has been ordered out of Milan to a peacetime garrison in a distant backwater town. They promise to write every day --- probably in the afternoons when they've been in the habit of "matinee" trysts. When he arrives the modest, heroic captain becomes fascinated by his Colonel's (Sean Roper's) cousin --- a neurasthenic invalid locked away and, so the Doctor (J. T. Turner) says, soon to die. She lives by reading, and they meet to discuss the books he loans her. This Fosca (Leigh Barrett) is as short and plain as Giorgio's Clara is tall and beautiful, and each offers him a very different kind of "love," a different kind of passion. It is his attempts to brighten her last days that complicate these lives and bring inevitable, unexpected disaster.

This is the stuff of opera, except that it's not the pure, abstract beauty of the singing (which is there!) but the powerfully honest acting supported and exalted by that singing which is, always, uppermost. There seem to be no "arias", no songs --- just emotions expressed quite naturally in music.

Susan Zeeman Rogers' unit set moves from place to place quickly, with walls that swing open and shut so the cast ---mostly the seven officers grumbling and gossiping at mess --- can strike and re-set props so quickly as to lend a cinematic swiftness to the proceedings. The dry, wretched, crumbling backwater is all yellow-brown under C. Scott Ananian's lights, with dead vines and a line of dying ivy clinging to dusty walls. And Milan, of course, is a pool of bright light with a bed in it.

The magic of both Director Paul Daigneauilt and Music Director Paul S. Katz is carefully invisible here. It's these strange, enmeshed people singing themselves on through both "love" and "passion" that seem, every moment, alive. Every soldier, no matter how slight the part, is an individual attentive to detail, and those who re-appear for a flashback seem new people entirely.

I think what I'm saying is that everyone, from Lapine and Sondheim down to Sarah O'Malley and Rebekah Turner playing silent serving maids, has added something to the whole. And, with all those dedicated energies perfectly meshed, this may be Stephen Sondheim's best work so far. No one who loves good theater should miss it.

Love,
===Anon.


"Passion" (26 April - 18 May)
SPEAKEASY STAGE COMPANY
Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON
1(617)426-2787


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