The Last Castrato: Hits High Notes Despite Something Missing
Castrato singers were all the rage in Italian opera during the 17th and 18th centuries. Pre-pubescent boys with promising soprano voices would be castrated, thus retaining their high notes into adulthood. It was said that a male castrato could sing with far greater range and power than female sopranos, but the practice was banned by the mid-1800's and the only castrato to ever record his voice was a way-past-his-prime Alessandro Moreschi.
Technically, the title character in Andy Eniger's The Last Castrato is not a castrato at all. He was simply born without a penis. But it's best not to question very much in this amusing monologue mixing young love, science fiction and classical music. (Like, for example, how does he urinate?)
"Mother prayed for a healthy and exceptional baby", explains our hero, Joseph. "What she got was a healthy baby who was born with an exception." Named after the biblical father who Mary didn't need to conceive the son of God, Joseph at least has a healthy sense of humor about his predicament.
"I was the only child in kindergarten whose dolls were anatomically correct."
Sent to a school for children with physical deformities, he feels out of place being the only student without remarkable artistic or athletic talent. One catatonic classmate is violin prodigy. A limbless acrobat performs amazing stunts using his teeth.
And then there's Elena, who was born with a beautiful soprano voice and her skin inside out. After an awkward courtship, Joseph helps Elana's voice become world famous by passing himself off as a castrato singer, miming his way through live concert appearances while she remains hidden backstage doing the actual singing.
Though Eninger's 45 minute play is funny and entertaining throughout, it still leaves you needing more. The Elana/Joseph concert career is cut short about midway through the piece, followed by some twists and turns which aren't nearly as interesting. The text provides a good narrative, but there's little emotional punch. And if I may temporarily act as dramaturge, I would have liked to see Elana played by an actress, instead of just being described and presented crudely as a prop skull wearing a dress.
What I wouldn't change is the casting of Jeff Swearingen, whose exuberant energy and nice-guy likability is a treat to watch. Performing with no set -- just a folding chair, two tables, minimal props and nothing behind him but a black curtain -- director Brad McEntire puts him through a cardio workout with physically demanding staging full of pratfalls and human sound effects. His fun performance of an enjoyable, if incomplete, script makes The Last Castrato hit some pleasant high notes.