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Theatre Review (LA): Passion by Sondheim and Lapine at the Met Theatre- Mainstage

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I happen to love Stephen Sondheim’s intimate chamber opera Passion. I never got to see it on Broadway but saw an excellent version of it at East West Players not long ago. East West Players has an affinity with Sondheim (Pacific Overtures?) and has produced successfully many of his works. Doma Theatre Company that has taken up residence on the Met Theatre-Mainstage is a relatively new company but seems determined to try difficult works. Previously they produced Cabaret, a show that I did not see but heard was moderately successful. Passion is also moderately successful, based on the beauty of that rhapsody-like music, a powerful story, and some strong singers. Where they fell down was in the acting department.

Passion is about a love triangle in 1863 Italy between a handsome army captain, his beautiful (married) mistress and the sickly and unattractive cousin of the regiment’s captain. Nathaniel Reynolds, a stiff actor with a gorgeous voice, plays the captain. He played the part on one note of whining frustration. His mistress, the lovely Melissa Cook, fares much better. She can act and sing well and fully inhabits her role. Lindsay Zana plays Fosca, the extraordinary role of the obsessive lover. You hate her for being so manipulative but are eventually won over by her persistence and pain. The message seems to be: true love requires suffering. Ms. Zana too has a lovely voice but the acting required is way out of her depth. But this is a young company and they have to start somewhere and you don’t gain experience by avoiding risks.

The sets and lighting are minimal and are said to be the same as the previous production of Cabaret. The costumes, however, were nice period designs. Director Marco Gomez was not up to the task. He wasn’t able to get better performances out of his actors and totally missed the end of the piece, where the captain is supposed to have gone crazy when he learns of Fosca’s death and has been institutionalized. Gomez had the captain and Fosca (a ghost) appear together on a balcony with no reference to place.

I know I have been tough on this company, but I really did enjoy the music and the singers. Even the smallest role was well sung. A company doesn’t grow unless they get honest criticism of their work. Passion is playing at the Met Theatre- Mainstage until Sept 11.

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