The Light in the Piazza at Arena Stage

I went into Arena's temporary Crystal City theatre with no prior knowledge of this show. Sometimes it's really fun doing that. The entire night I was practically on the edge of my seat, wondering what would happen next. My fellow blogger Two Hours Traffic was with me that evening, and she did know about the show and I imagine got a good laugh at my expense a couple of times. However, that is exactly what theatre should do to an audience every single time, even if they know the show. It should leave them breathless, irritated that intermission is here already, and anxious to see the next act.

The Light in the Piazza is a beautiful story about a girl and her mother who go to Italy on vacation. While there, the girl, Clara, meets a boy, Fabrizio. They fall in love and want to get married. Naturally, there are several roadblocks they have to get over before they get their happily ever after. A simple tale, but set to Adam Guettel's gorgeous music and lyrics, it takes on a whole new life. Some of it is in Italian, and the actors were very facile with the language, which I appreciated. Saying the words is one thing, but knowing what you're saying is another thing entirely.

The cast was overall pretty strong. I had some issues with Margaret Anne Florence (Clara)'s singing voice, but everyone else was lovely. I particularly enjoyed Nicholas Rodriguez as Fabrizio Naccarelli, and Hollis Resnik as Clara's mother, Margaret. Florence and Resnik had a camaraderie that seemed very much like any mother and daughter who are spending a couple of weeks on vacation together. Rodriguez also had a really nice relationship with his father and brother (Ken Krugman and Jonathan Raviv, respectively). They were very much the typical Italian family - okay, stereotypical Italian family, since I've never actually met an Italian family.

The overarching theme of the piece is love. There are so many kinds shown in the show - mother and daughter, husband and wife, family - and each is different and yet it always brings people together. They may not be the people you anticipated, but love, more than anything, connects people. Everyone in the audience can relate to at least one type of love shown onstage, and that makes it so personal, because you can imagine yourself in the place of the characters. Linda J. Cho's beautiful and detailed costumes brought the 1950s setting into vivid life, while Anne Patterson's set provided a hint of Italy's beauty without being overpowering. The 5-piece orchestra is also to be highly commended for their efforts on the complex score. They are really working up there.

While I don't think that every performance is necessarily really strong, I certainly recommend the show just for the music. 3 stars.

The Light in the Piazza
book by Craig Lucas
music and lyrics by Adam Guettel
directed by Molly Smith
Arena Stage
through April 11, 2010


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