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A CurtainUp Review

by Les Gutman

Caruso once said, "There are men and there are tenors..."

John D'Arcangelo and Catherine La Valle
J. D'Arcangelo and C. La Valle
(Photo: Brett Singer)

The WorkShop Theater has been producing plays on the main stage of its new digs on West 36th Street for a little over a half year, and with Operaplay it seems the company has found its footing. This is a well-written, well-directed and generally well-acted piece, with production values worthy of the new surroundings.

Umberto (John D'Arcangelo) is a world famous opera singer who has reached, and passed, the peak of his career, and has entered what might be called the operatic equivalent of menopause. His high-C is not what it once was; his appetite for singing is now exceeded by his appetite for eating (and with an extra 50 pounds to show for it); yet his attraction to beautiful young sopranos (and one in particular, Lucia (Catherine La Valle)) is unabated. There are some problems: she hates him, he won't sing without her in his life and there is a live worldwide television performance scheduled in five months.

Not surprisingly, his manager, Vittoria (Gerrianne Raphael), and his assistant, Fazio (Peter Farrell), are beside themselves. His maid, Peppina (Dee Dee Friedman), is too; she's also in love with him. (In a very clever subplot of sorts, Peppina cannot speak, the result of a most unfortunate experience that is explained in due course.)

A scheme is hatched to right this sinking ship: they will bribe Lucia to become Umberto's lover, get him to stop stuffing his face and convince him to start singing again. The bait is the role of Violetta in La Traviata. (Lucia has her own problem, though she's seemingly unaware of it: she can't sing.) The story plays out with much humor (some quite farcical but well-handled) until it reaches its predictable but enjoyable end.

D'Arcangelo is terrific as the lovable suffering maestro, with comparisons to another famous tenor most apt. Ms. Raphael is thoroughly believable as the flummoxed yet imperious manager while Ms. Friedman manages to be both endearing and hysterically funny as the devoted maid who must suffer untold indignities. Mr. Farrell and Ms. La Valle are not nearly as comfortable in their characters, though she is astonishing in conveying Lucia's singing, which is unlikely to please anyone beyond the confines of her shower. Eisenberg's scrupulously-wrought script is staged with equal attention to detail and comic nuance.

Peter Barbieri has provided a fluid, painstakingly-detailed recreation of Umberto's Roman salon (with a nice view of Rome's rooftops out the window), matched by Isabel Rubin's exceptional costumes. Both are a sizable step up from those I've seen in previous WorkShop efforts, and much appreciated. Overall, this production goes far in raising standards. If this "scrappy little company" (as Elyse Sommer branded it when she reviewed their first production in the new theater) can sustain them while maintaining its mission of developing new work and casting a bit more strenuously, it will go far in elevating itself. And we'll have to come up with a new adjective; like "impressive".

by Rick Eisenberg
Directed by Steven Petrillo
with John D'Arcangelo, Peter Farrell, Dee Dee Friedman, Catherine La Valle and Gerrianne Raphael
Set Design: Peter Barbieri
Costume Design: Isabel Rubio
Lighting Design Richard Kent Green
Fight Director: Ellen Saland
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes with 1 intermission
WorkShop Theater, 312 West 36th Street (8/9 Avs)
Telephone: (212) 695-4173
WED - SAT @8; $15
Opening September 5, 2003, closing September 27, 2003
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 9/11/03 performance

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