Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Light in the Piazza
The 2005 musical by Adam Guettel (music and lyrics) and Craig Lucas (book) may be a bit rarified for some people, but audiences who appreciate soaring melodies and intense emotion should find satisfaction in this fable of Americans in 1950s Italy.
Margaret Johnson (Hollis Resnik), the comfortably well-off wife of a tobacco company executive, and her innocent daughter Clara (Margaret Anne Florence) visit Florence, where Clara soon meets Fabrizio Naccarelli (Nicholas Rodriguez). The plot traces the different varieties of love: the unexpected passion between the young lovers; the maternal protectiveness of Margaret, who has devoted most of her energy to caring for her daughter, leading to a distancing from her husband (Thomas Adrian Simpson); the combative relationship between Fabrizio's brother and sister-in-law (Jonathan Raviv, Ariela Morgenstern); and the complex dynamics between Fabrizio's sympathetic father (Ken Krugman) and circumspect mother (Mary Gutzi).
Resnik has sculptured her portrayal of Margaret out of so many exquisite details: her upright posture as she attempts to keep Clara away from Fabrizio; the moments when weariness and frustration flash across her face; and the differing vocal textures depending on her mood. As the childlike Clara, Florence starts out giggly and giddy with excitement but ably conveys the character's growth. Rodriguez is ardent and charming, while the other standout is Morgenstern as a beautiful but bitter young woman.
Anne Patterson's scenic design uses a few simple elementsa staircase, a wall of arches, several free-standing columnsto represent a succession of settings, enhanced by Adam Larsen's projections of Italian artworks and architecture. Michael Gilliam's lighting design offers both the golden warmth of the Florentine sun and prismatic beams in interior settings, and Linda J. Cho's costumes not only show the distance in attitude separating the Italians from the Americans, but also reveal the blossoming of Clara and Margaret during their stay.
The one place where smaller is not better is the fact that Guettel's swelling, surging score deserves more than five musicians, one of whom is musical director Paul Sportelli. They do well enough, however, and the inclusion of a harpist goes a long way.