By Terrence McNally
Directed by Walter Bobbie
Manhattan Theatre Club
City Center Stage I
West 55th Street, Btw. 6th and 7th Avenues
Artistic Director, Lynne Meadow
Executive Producer, Barry Grove
Dierdre Friel, Coco Monroe, George Morfogen
Bebe Neuwirth, Lee Pace, Ethan Phillips, Lorenzo Pisoni,
Will Rogers, Eddie Kaye-Thomas
Scenic Design, Santo Loquasto
Costume Design, Jane Greenwood
Lighting Design, Peter Kaczorowski
Sound Design, Ryan Rumery
Hair & Wig Design: Tom Watson
Production Stage Manager: James Fitzsimmons
Artistic Producer: Mandy Greenfield
General Manager, Florie Seery
Director of Marketing, Debra Waxman-Pilla
Production Manager, Joshua Helman
Director of Casting, Nancy Piccione
Director of Artistic Development: Jerry Patch
Press Representative, Boneau/Bryan-Brown
General Manager, Golden Age: Lindsey Sag
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 18, 2012
I had seen and enjoyed Terrence McNally’s Master Class, about an opera workshop with Maria Calls, some years ago, but tonight’s new Golden Age, presented by Manhattan Theater Club, was cringe-worthy. The only real opera in this pretentious, hollow play is heard on offstage, un-credited, retro recordings, plus a bit of live piano from Lee Pace (that incredulously includes some pop phrases), playing Vincenzo Bellini in his consumptive angst. The scene is backstage at the Theâtre-Italien, in Paris, January 1835, on Bellini’s premiere of I Puritani, which, now, I have no desire to see. The offstage arias were so misplaced and anticlimactic, that their melody and tone seemed detached. In fact, the entire cast seemed detached, from the play and from each other. After the final curtain, I ran into a colleague, an opera buff, who decried McNally’s tacky treatment of opera, demeaning an artistic genre, known for pleasure and enlightenment. Those were not his words.
Lee Pace is literally pacing (and consumptively coughing), throughout both acts, worrying about the Parisian reception to his new work. He has a few choice words for the critics, probably those of Mr. McNally, himself. Keeping Bellini company backstage, among others, is Giulia Grisi (Dierdre Friel), Bellini’s star soprano, whose voice is made to appear as the soprano in offstage recordings. Ms. Grisi, a diva, becomes so worked up that she has a fainting spell, causing Bellini to grab a replacement for a significant introductory aria. Grisi’s replacement is Maria Malibran, who is between opera gigs, as we might say. Malibran is played here by Bebe Neuwirth, as a strangely zipped up persona, tight of words and gesture. Ms. Neuwirth happens to be one of the most vivacious, seasoned stage personalities, but, here, she appears frozen and dreary, two words that are the antithesis of the two words Bebe Neuwirth.
Also backstage (the one curtained set) are Francesco Florimo (Will Rogers), as Bellini’s apparent lover, who’s also conveniently a donor, Antonio Tamburini (Lorenzo Pisoni), a baritone with a grotesque penchant for adding fruit to his under-costume, Luigi Lablache (Ethan Phillips), a bass who’s in search of better publicity, Giovanni Rubista Rubini (Eddie Kaye Thomas), a tenor who is impassioned about Ms. Grisi to a hyperactive state, a page (Coco Monroe), who runs hither and yonder with urgent messages, and, finally the infamous Gioacchino Rossini (George Morfogen), who appears on the scene just as he was assumed to have walked out of the opera. His character, as well as that of Giulia Grisi, were the two most entertaining of this ensemble. Mr. Morfogen and Ms. Friel were erudite (he) and glowing (she). One most annoying attribute of the script was to call the play’s opera “The Puritans”, and to call another Bellini opera, “La Sonnambula”, “The Sleepwalker”. Does Mr. McNally really think the theater audience is below ‘opera translation 101’?
Walter Bobbie is a renowned director (Venus in Fur, Sweet Charity, Footloose, to name a few), who deserves a pass for this one. Santo Loquasto is a quintessential and seasoned set designer, and he certainly did his best with his antique and piano-filled space, backstage at the Parisian-Italian opera. Jane Greenwood’s costumes may be the stars of this show, with Bebe Neuwirth’s billowy, red taffeta, off-shoulder gown the eye candy of the stage. The britches and boots and ruffled shirts and suspenders of the men’s costumes were attractive, as well. Lighting and sound enhanced the experience as agreeably as the experience could be enhanced. Kudos to the actual Vincenzo Bellini, whose brief career (he died at 33) merits a better play.