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A CurtainUp Review
Gabriele D'Annunzio and Eleonora Duse are here renamed Gabriele Torrisi and Eleonora Della Rosa in the play. We meet the lovers backstage at a company rehearsal the morning after the devastating opening night of Torrisi's new play which he is fiercely reworking. He also argues with his leading lady Della Rosa on how to improve her monologue. When he insinuates that her arch-rival Sarah Bernhardt could perform it better, she grabs a knife and threateningly points it at him.
Fortunately, the arrival of the clowns Marco (Ed Malone) and Beppo (David O'Hara) interrupt the quarrel, and when Domenica (Aidan Redmond), the leading man, joins them a more civil atmosphere is restored. But Domenica also brings the disheartening news that the theater owners Pallone and Asters (who remain off-stage throughout) have closed his play and plan to replace it with Ibsen's A Doll's House.
The action — gorgeously framed by a simulated stage of the Teatro Argentina in Rome by set designer Gianni Quaranta — leisurely unspools, with the company rehearsal in Act 1 shifting to Act 2's full rehearsal on the stage of the Teatro Argentina. While a bit long-winded at times, the players are ferociously intent on resuscitating Torrisi's play.
At the bottom of all the frenzy, however, is a truth confronting Torrisi and the acting company: It's 1899, and there's been a sea change in the theater. The neoclassical style that Torrisi and the troupe embody has become passé and the psychological realism of the Nordic playwrights' Ibsen and Strindberg is now the rage.
While Imperfect Love gives you a fascinating backstage look at the love affair of a famous couple, it has some structural problems. Most conspicuously, Torrisi's play that's being reworked is given no dramatic contours. The play's name is never mentioned, and its storyline is vague. The best description of it comes from Della Rosa when she's trying to breathe life into her part and turns to her leading man for advice: "Oh, Domenica, how am I to say these lines convincingly? It's the same tired story of a love betrayed." While it makes sense that the actors are having a tough go with their anemic parts, the audience still needs to latch on to what the drama is about and why Torrisi believes in it as a stage vehicle.
Imperfect Love has a long and curious history. Cole wrote the drama in 1984 and it became the source for the 1999 film Illuminata, which featured John Turturro and other big name actors. The film, co-written by Cole and Turturro, was described in a New York Times review as a "fond homage to the world of acting, beguilingly presented and filled with knowing backstage humor." Although the film enjoyed a modest success, it would take another year before Cole would see his original work take on three-dimensions and be staged at New York Performance Works in March 2000. (See Les Gutman's review here).
Returning to the current stage production, it's a poignant story that captures the competing styles of theater in fin de siècle Italy. Cole bills it in the program as a "serious romantic comedy." And it is. For as the old school meets the new-fangled modernism of Ibsen and Strindberg, playwrights' reputations will rise and fall in the theater world, and actors will have to adapt to the times. Even the clown Marco suspects that his career might be finished when he asks about Ibsen: "This Scandinavian, Domenica, that you mentioned before, this tormented bourgeois Ibsen fellow, is there a part for a clown in his play?"
Though flawed, Imperfect Love is sensitively directed by Michael Di Jiacomo and finely acted by the entire ensemble (especially Aidan Redmond as Domenica). If you want a veiled glimpse of the rocky relationship between the real-life Eleonora Duse and Gabriele D'Annunzio, this is a bittersweet valentine.
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Directed by Michael Di Jiacomo
Written by Brandon Cole
Cast: Cristina Spina (Eleonora Della Rosa), Rodrigo Lopresti (Gabriele Torrisi), Aidan Redmond (Domenica), Ed Malone (Marco), David O'Hara (Beppo).
Sets & Costumes: Gianni Quaranta
Lighting: Jon Degaetano
Sound: Bennett Golden
Fight & Choreography: Rick Sordelet
Stage Manager: Corinn Moreno
At the Connolly Theatre, 220 East 4th Street. Tickets: $39-$49. For more information, visit imperfectlove.net or phone 800-838-3006.
From 1/31/18; opening 2/04/18; closing 2/25/18.
Tuesday through Saturday @ 8pm; Sunday matinee @ 3pm.
Running time: 1 hours; 45 minutes plus one 20 minute intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 2/03/18
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