Operatic passions

The Lisbon Traviata

By Terrence McNally
Directed by John Sannuto
Ryan Repertory Company
Jonathan Rosenblum Performing Arts Space in the Harry Warren Theatre
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Byrne Harrison

There is no shortage of drama to be found in opera. And there is no shortage of drama to be found in those who love it. Playwright Terrence McNally’s story of love and obsession, The Lisbon Traviata, highlighted both in this able, though somewhat by the numbers, production directed by John Sannuto.

The play follows Stephen (Michael Perrotta), a literary editor in late 1980s New York, as his relationship with Mike (Brian Armstrong), his lover of eight years, finally comes to an agonizing end. In the first of two acts, Stephen has taken refuge at fellow opera fanatic Mendy (Tony Marinelli)’s house, while Mike has a tryst with Paul (Ely ’Āina Rapoza), a sexy college student. While he tries to cover his feelings by listening to opera, dissing inferior divas, and taunting Mendy for his obsession over the one Maria Callas performance he doesn’t have, the Lisbon Traviata, he begins to realize that the relationship is in trouble.

McNally has a gift for clever, bitchy dialog and it is evident in this act. In the hands of Perrotta and Marinelli, both of whom showed good comic timing, the words dazzled and amused.

The second act has Stephen returning home to face Mike and Paul. Through the entire scene the audience watches as the cocky and self-assured Stephen slowly crumbles, realizing that nothing he can do will keep Mike from leaving. And he does try all his tricks, including alternately trying to seduce and humiliate both Mike and Paul. In the end, he does the only thing he knows how, a grand operatic attempt to keep Mike from leaving, which leaves him alone with only Maria Callas to console him.

While the first act of this production was strong, the second never seemed to build to the crescendo that the play seems to demand. As a result, the ending seemed somewhat subdued compared to the grand opera that it was meant to emulate. While it might have been a risk to let the scene rise to the melodramatic heights that opera can, the play would have been stronger for it.

The second act was ultimately saved, however, by Armstrong and Rapoza, who were engaging as the young lovers and had good chemistry. Armstrong was even more effective in his scenes with Perrotta. Watching Perrotta slowly crumble as Stephen’s power over Mike slips away, and watching Armstrong as Mike gains the strength to finally leave Stephen, made the evening worthwhile.

Despite the cramped stage at the Harry Warren Theatre, the sets (by Perrotta and Sannuto, wearing many hats in this production) were very well done. Mendy’s apartment was warm and cozy, while Stephen and Mike’s was sleek and modern, both giving insight into their occupants’ lives. Lighting (Barbara Parisi) and sound design (Edward Alsina and John Sannuto) were both very effective, as well.

While not a ground-breaking production, it was a solid one. If anything, it showed that after 34 years, the Ryan Repertory is still able to bring thought-provoking, quality theatre to its community.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2006 Byrne Harrison