Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Lisbon Traviata"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark

"The Lisbon Traviata"

by Terrence McNally
Directed by Eric Engel

Assistant Director and Dramaturg Jeremy Johnson
Scenic Design by Brynna Bloomfield
Lighting Design by Linda O'Brien
Props by Jaime L. Orsini
Costume design by Gail Astrid Buckley
Sound Design by J. Hagenbuckle
Assistant Stage Manager Tom Madden III
Production Stage Manager Kris Diehl

Stephen..................Peter A. Carey
Mendy.....................Neil A. Casey
Mike...........................Bill Mootos
Paul....................Jason Schuchman

The universal fear is of loneliness. That is why I have gotten calls at three or four in the morning demanding "You must tell me I'm a nice man." It's what drives people to bond with hysterical tenacity to anyone sharing a like-minded passion that makes a cruel, contemptuous world irrelevant. It's at its worst when, even with a loved one next to you, you are still alone. This is the motor for Terrence McNally's magnificent play "The Lisbon Traviata" --- the first act comedy, the second tragic --- which only heightens its universal human awareness by stating it in terms of gay people's deification of diva Maria Callas.

For the initiates, the world is divided between those who recognize Callas as the undisputed greatest exponent of the most sublime art invented by man, and barbarians. The high priest of this cult is Mendy (Neil A. Casey), in a camp kimono of garish silk, who must have opera --- almost any opera in a pinch --- in the air, and is bitchy-queen Furious that a pirate lp of his goddess' Lisbon performance has been released and Already Sold Out before he could snag a copy. Almost worse is the fact that his somewhat cooler acolyte Stephen (Peter A. Carey) Did buy one; but he didn't bring it because Mendy's peremptory "You MUST come over to hear my new record!" (Mendy is one of those people for whom the phrase "a cultural fascist" had to be invented) meant, he thought, that Mendy had also done the obvious. Mendy is suddenly devastated to learn his prize is the London not the Lisbon Traviata.

McNally's ear for the multi-level shorthand of gay-speak --- quick wit, quick dogmatic opinions, quick switches from superficial to serious, quick tricks and quick judgements of tricks, quick plunges to heights and depths --- transcends mere exaggerated satire here. Both care passionately, but that genuine emotional investment in trivialities only occasionally lets through glimpses of the fact that one cannot attract a true-love, while the other is trying to ignore the fact that his own true-love is entertaining another man in their shared apartment.

Both acts of this play are dead-on realism, but the first is all glittering style, the second gritty truth. For where Mendy is a pack-rat who can cite the dates and scenes when his goddess sang two notes flat, Stephen sees --- and needs --- the essential emotional soul of operatic experience. He has blinded himself to the obvious end of his eight-year life with Mike (Bill Mootos), and arrives home deliberately early to interrupt him and chill his night with Paul (Jason Schuchman) --- not a one-night trick but Mike's new life-partner. And it is his passionately, irrationally needful blindness that turns act two into a real-life tragedy of shocking, operatic proportions.

No doubt Director Eric Engel continues to tweak and sandpaper what opened as a stunningly human production. He should be proud of a cast that melts the theatrical fourth wall to accept the audience, no matter their sexual preferences, into this mix of real and hyper-real. Peter A. Carey is reborn in his new fringe of chin-whiskers into a growingly irrational man trying to hold together a life already out of his grasp. Bill Mootos tries repeatedly to lay out the harsh, complicated truth, while Jason Schuchman becomes aware he's been thrust into a drama he thought had already ended. And just as the temperature begins to rise, there is Neil A. Casey in an indescribable hat for just the right brief explosion of comic relief that makes the insufferable possible.

This is a production with which The Lyric Stage of Boston and "its combination of Boston actors, directors, designers, technicians and creators" has become synonymous. Everyone connected with it, from Dramaturg Jeremy Johnson to Assistant Stage Manager Tom Madden III, have done perfect work bringing to life a great, compelling American play.

And I say that as an admitted barbarian. I am not gay, and opera to my ears is noisy, irrelevant caterwauling. But, perhaps because I know what it's like to worship several nights a week in the many temples to My god (Thespis), I can see McNally's people as brought to life here as fellow, lonely, human worshipers.


"The Lisbon Traviata" (8 February - 9 March)
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 427-7172

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide