Bernard Farrell has written his first play to be set, and open, outside his native Ireland. It’s not, however, dislodging that has undone this journeyman playwright’s latest work. He just seems to have packed too light. Set in Milan and premiering at the commissioning Laguna Playhouse in Orange County, California, The Verdi Girls is a bloated romp in need of a spine. One sees splinters of marrow in there, but Farrell will have his work cut out for him getting to it, and building upon it.
In its premiere staging, Artistic Director Andrew Barnicle goes after broad laughs, which is really all he’s got to rely upon, and gets what there are of them. However, his fine cast can milk for only so long jokes that are not only meager but based in side stories that are not that interesting. It’s not that a play built for laughs isn't welcome relief these days. The play just needs to feel supported by more than a mechanic’s creeper, ready to roll in any direction to catch a drop of punch line. It’s doubly painful when a rich backdrop and a decent ensemble feel squandered under those wheels.
In a nutshell: an annual convention of Verdi aficionados has become a reunion of sorts for two couples – Linda (Elyse Mirto) and Steve; Patricia (Traci L. Crouch) and Peter (Bo Foxworth) – and the event’s pompous director, Oliver (Gregory North), and his dotty wheelchair-bound mother (Patricia Cullen). During the past year, Steve, who was by all accounts any man's better and any woman's bedder, died in a car accident. Linda appears determined to carry on the special tradition in his honor. In his stead is an Irish Verdi fan, Breda (Katharine McEwan), whom she and Steve befriended in a Verdi online chat room. Linda has since convinced Breda to attend her first festival as Linda's roommate.
Another important tradition is Oliver's Verdi quiz, which Peter has always finished as runner-up to the superior Steve. Oliver, a site gag in his Verdi top hat and cape, promises these questions will be tougher than ever. He also promises that his 83-year-old mother will not disrupt the events as she has in the past. On reprieve from her dreaded senior day care, she might be expected to behave in a way that keeps her out. Mario (Vasili Bogazianos), who provides both hotel security and bellman duties for these fifth floor rooms, rounds out the cast of characters.