Monday, March 29, 2010

Theatre Review: "The Light in the Piazza" from Pittsburgh Playhouse Conservatory Theatre-28 March 2010

Point Park University’s Conservatory Theatre students have taken on a difficult assignment, that is to make the best out of playwright Craig Lucas and songwriter Adam Guettell’s musical The Light in the Piazza. This multi-Tony award winner has a fragile, almost elemental story enhanced by some beautiful melodic writing, especially for multiple voices. The cast does exceptionally well with the singing, but neither some major performers nor director Scott Wise have overcome the problems inherent in the script, the characters or the staging in such a small space as the Rauh Theater.

Most of this takes place in Florence Italy in 1953 when Margaret Johnson and her daughter Clara are visiting as tourists. 20 year old Italian Fabrizio Naccarelli instantly falls in love with Clara. And she falls in love with him. Margaret tries to break up the relationship fearing that Clara is not mature enough to handle it, because 26 year old Clara had an accident years before which has impeded her mental and emotional development. Fabrizio’s father is likewise against the relationship learning that Clara is older than she looks and behaves.He seems to get over the problem quickly though. Thus questionable premises dominate what happens, although they may have been accepted in the less sophisticated time of 1953, even though the musical is from 2003. There is also a potential interesting sub-plot regarding the emotional and physical distance between Clara’s father and Margaret which could have been better developed but here feels marginal. i.e the story needs help. And the choreography looks patent, especially in this space.

Making the characters genuine in The Light in the Piazza remains a problem among such student performers but Katie Sexton always looks and sounds right as Margaret and many people in the company do very well in the constant Italian dialogue. Courtney Bassett sings with a touching and beautiful voice as Clara but doesn’t appear capable of conveying Clara’s complex and fractured personality. Jaron Frand’s version of Fabrizio works rather well, although he doesn’t seem sufficiently immature. And as Fabrizio’s father, Adam Soniak looks completely wrong for the part.

Guettell’s score gets fine rendering by an on-stage string-based quintet led from the piano by Camille Rolla whose visible, constantly bobbing head could be a major distraction for much of the audience. Director Wise should have placed her somewhere less in view, perhaps facing the cast, which, as is often the case in musicals, could see the music director’s cues.

Considering that this show won many Tony Awards you have to credit the original cast and director for doing it so well and acknowledge that students may have a difficult time equaling such high standards.

The Light in the Piazza continues only through next Saturday at Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland. 412/621-4445-


  1. To precurse this I'd like to say that I'm not usually one for commenting on blogs. I don't have one myself so I can't really speak of any special knowledge or advice I have to offer in respect to their upkeep. But I do know reviews.

    Please take all of this as constructive. None of this is meant to offend. I’m only trying to help you hone your craft as a reviewer.
    Now, every review must fall under at least one of two categories: Persuasive or Entertaining. For a review to be persuasive, it must contain Aristotle's classic argumentative trinity, ethos pathos and logos. For it to be entertaining it must... well be entraining, containing gross hyperbole and in most cases at least one expletive.

    Your review contained none of this.

    To begin you spend more time describing the play itself than reviewing the production. This leads to one to believe that you may have been half asleep when watching the show. You probably weren’t, but this is never a good thing to hear from a reader. Spending more time giving back-story than you do reviewing is something kids do in high school because they can't think of anything else to write. It’s childish. Don’t do it. Ever. I’m sorry, maybe it’s just a pet peeve of mine, but to me it undermines your journalistic integrity, and that’s the last thing anybody wants.

    Second of all and most importantly, there is no intellectual side to your review. This review comes as string of insults and half heated sighs of “meh” without any rhyme or reason behind them. Going about saying that a show, or performer’s work is shit without a well thought out (and explained) reason for doing so only serves to make you look bad, which once again, no one wants.

    Also on that note, you might want to add into your reviews something I like to call a cerebral climax*. In any successful review, comedic or persuasive, the reviewer has to at one point come up with some sort of cerebral observation that causes the reader to sit back in their swivel chairs and say, “damn, I never would have thought of that.” You must convince the reader that you have thought about this, that you’ve took the time and the effort to find something that the untrained eye could never see. You must convince the reader that you have to right to review**. I know you have the right to review, you have a very lengthy list of credentials, but your average reader would not.

    On the other hand, I did notice that none of your credentials listed had anything to do with acting, which is rather obvious in the way you write about the actors. I see that you are, for lack of a more accurate term a music guy.*** I’m sure you can talk at length about music and it’s many facets, and I’m sure you can do so very articulately. I would be nice if you stuck a little more to that, because… well do know what it’s like to say that an actor or actress isn’t “CAPABLE of conveying” something? Here, let me put it to you this way: What if I said “Gorden Spencer just isn’t capable of pleasing his wife.” You wouldn’t like that would you? Please, don’t ever say that again unless you absolutely mean it and have consistent evidence to back it up. It’s a very shitty thing to say. She also, wasn’t that bad. Remember, she’s still in college and has time to grow. Constructive comments (i.e. saying what is missing from her performance) would be a much better rout to go, as it also adds to and proves your ethos, and you can never have too much proven ethos.

    Ok, well that’s about all I have for today. I’m sorry if this sounds a bit harsh at times. I just take reviews very seriously, and I’d appreciate it if you would do the same, as you are a published columnist.

    Thank you for your time.

    *I have to find a less seemingly sexual term for that.
    *This realization may have nothing to do with the show itself, but rather deal with the industry as a whole
    **I almost said “music man” but the potential for pun was outweighed by my irrational hatred for that show.

  2. If you do read this please do so with an open mind. Please take it as constructive feedback, as it was intended. (Also “precurse” is a word. At least it was in 1913. I refuse to let such a great word die)

  3. I just realized that all of the problems that I found with your review could have been due to space restraints within your column. Sorry if that's the case. It was entirely my oversight.