BWW Reviews: Theatre22's THE LISBON TRAVIATA Relies Too Heavily on a Love of Opera
Terrence McNally is by far one of my favorite playwrights. I mean his current Broadway offering had me in tears as does most of his work. But even your favorites are bound to have one or two pieces that just don't work for you. Such is the case with "The Lisbon Traviata" currently being produced by Theatre22 as part of their inaugural season as well as their Summer Pride Festival. Yes, there are some good performances in the production and the set is gorgeous but ultimately it just felt like not enough of a story being offered in Act Two that couldn't redeem the lack of story in Act One not to mention the highly specific audience needed to enjoy it.
It's a fairly simple premise, the dissolution of a gay relationship. Stephen and Mike (Daniel Christensen and Sean P. O'Bannon) have an open relationship. And so while Mike has his latest trick Paul (Kyle James Traver) over to the apartment, Steven is hanging out with his fellow opera lover friend Mendy (Eric Mulholland) until later in the evening when he has his own dalliance waiting. But Stephen is less than thrilled with this open arrangement and would much prefer to be home with Mike who is drifting further and further away. Oh and there's a lot of talk about opera, specifically Maria Callas and her Lisbon "Traviata".
That about covers it. Pretty simple huh? And most of this story is covered in Act Two while Act One is spent with Stephen and Mendy dishing about opera for 95% of the Act. I now have much more sympathy for non-musical theatre people who get caught up in a conversation with me and my friends when we go off on one of our musical tirades as that's what Act One was for opera lovers with just a hint of exposition for Act Two thrown in. Yes, I understand it's a set up as Act Two and the break up become its own kind of opera but even that convention seemed fairly self-indulgent as if McNally was trying to exorcise some personal demons. It didn't get completely to being his therapy on stage (which is a pet peeve of mine) but it came pretty close.
OK, let's try and get past the play which I obviously didn't shine to and look at the performances. There is some good stuff here. Christensen is completely engaging and thoughtful throughout the piece and manages some lovely and tragic moments. O'Bannon as his drifting lover is likable and sympathetic but I missed some levels in his performance. Mulholland too is likable and kind of the comic relief of the play but he too could have used some variation in his character. And Traver, while only on stage for a brief scene manages some wonderful intensity especially in his standoff with the soon to be ousted Stephen.
The production values especially the set from director Gerald B. Browning are top notch and make for a gorgeous backdrop, it's just the script that left me wanting especially from one of my favorites. I can see why this one isn't often produced. With my three letter rating system, I have to give this one a MEH mostly as the story or lack thereof just didn't grab me.
"The Lisbon Traviata" from Theatre22 performs at Richard Hugo House through June 28th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.theatre22.org.