Erotic Adventures in Venice

By Mario Fratti
Directed by Dan Friedman
La Mama E.T.C.
74A East 4th Street (475-7710)
Equity showcase (closes Feb. 24)
Review by Jonathan Shandell

The ingredients are all there for lively, biting, satiric farce. Playwright Mario Fratti takes on all the tastiest varieties of indiscretion -- fiscal, political, criminal, and sexual -- that make up the stew of contemporary society. For characters, he gives us a slippery and corrupt senator, a few prostitutes, a drug-addicted son scheming for the family fortune, and an enterprising couple who build a booming business around the sale of (as the play bluntly puts it) "kinky sex." He simmers these characters together within a setting positively bubbling with dramatic possibility: Venice's picturesque, haunting, and (dare I say) erotic cemetery of San Michele -- the sumptuous final resting place of Ezra Pound, Igor Stravinsky, and other bygone luminaries. But despite all these tantalizing ingredients, Erotic Adventures in Venice never captures the promise of its recipe.

Fratti's play deals in part with the Tangentopoli (or "Bribestown") scandal that shook the Italian government in the mid-1990s through a certain "Senator M" (Dave DeChristopher). The Senator remains defiant and unapologetic over his collection of political "contributions" but decides to seek temporary seclusion from the public sector until the fuss blows over. He retreats to the cemetery on San Michele, where he has conveniently installed an admiring disciple, Guido (Mika Duncan), as caretaker. Guido has already discovered a fringe benefit to his graveyard shift: the ability to rent the cemetery's empty rooms and shadowy, secluded nooks to homeless friends and trysting lovers. But the Senator's sojourn fills him with grander commercial aspirations. Motivated by his guest's X-rated encounters with prostitutes in all of the cemetery's darkest and most macabre corners, Guido and his wife, Dora (Caroline Strong), turn the cemetery into a booming sex business serving the kinky cravings of international visitors. It seems that every foreign tourist visiting the island harbors some twisted fantasy of "doing the deed" near the dead and famous, and they're willing to pay handsomely for the privilege. Who knew?

Though the synopsis sounds steamy, Erotic Adventures in Venice never comes close to converting all this titillation into genuine humor or keen social commentary. Fratti fills his play mostly with lengthy dialogue and lots of character exposition, which do nothing but weigh down the fun. The play gets lost in lengthy digressions about a red-haired temptress who entices Guido to New York, or in the dysfunctional family history of Guido's friend Alfio (Ross Stoner) and his estranged grieving father, before the sex and scandal even get started. Director Dan Friedman failed even to initiate (let alone sustain) that nimble, accelerating tempo that should animate a lively farce. While Duncan brought some charm and variety to Guido, DeChristopher was wooden and static in his portrayal of what should be a hypnotically slick and seductive Senator. Floyd Gumble's set approximated the interior of a stately mausoleum, but Stephanie Rafferty's costumes were almost nondescript, conveying nothing that might locate these characters as late-20th-century Italians of a specific social status.

For all of the tantalizing possibilities behind Erotic Adventures in Venice, and for the disappointment in its execution, all that can be said is "Che peccato!"

Box Score:

Writing: 0
Directing: 0
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 0
Lighting: 1/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 Jonathan Shandell