The Lisbon Traviata
The Pride Company of San Francisco is presenting the 10th Anniversary Production of Terrance McNally’s The Lisbon Traviata at the New Conservatory theatre. This play is brilliantly and poignantly written and the acting of the four male members is superb. It is one of the best productions this company had staged in several years. The play demands from the actors a mix of geniuses and flippancy and they succeed in this production.
I saw the play at the Manhattan Club in New York with Nathan Lane playing Mendy, the opera queen. You could see that this role was finally going to make him a Broadway star. I saw the play again when it toured here in San Francisco with Richard Thomas playing Stephen as the unfortunate person who is losing his lover of eight years. Again Nathan played Mendy.
In the play, Mendy is a ferociously dedicated opera buff who begs and cajoles his friend Stephen to let him borrow his copy of the pirated Maria Callas recording of “La Traviata” made during a performance in Lisbon, Portugal.
Beneath their banter, it is evident that both men are deeply unhappy, trapped within opera and its grand but contrived passion. Infidelity and jealousy poison the relationship between Stephen and his lover Michael as the play veers from high comedy to stark tragedy and an explosive conclusion.
The first act is mostly the banter between Mendy and Stephen. You notice immediately that both are serious opera buffs. Mendy has a semihysterial personality and it plays against Stephen’s slightly more reserved nature. You finally find out toward the end of the first act that Stephen is attempting to hold together the swiftly dissolving relationship with his longtime lover Michael. For Stephen and Mendy, the opera and Callas herself act as an emotional salve and a distraction from the realities facing them.
The second act contains the real meat of the play. We discover that Michael has a new and younger lover. Stephen returns to the apartment early in the morning when both Michael and the lover are still in Stephen’s apartment. We now see the bitchy side of Stephen in its unresolved jealousy onward Michael and the new lover Paul. Michael also tells Stephen that he is leaving . Stephen cannot contain himself from love of Michael and jealousy toward Paul. The play closes on a dramatic and shocking climax, you could say just like in an opera.
Greg Hoffman shines here as Stephen’s carefully composed socialite crumbles into an insecure, mean-spirited, jilted lover, forced to confront his own demons. Terrence Young is riveting as the younger, frustrated Michael who finds himself pulled into a more fulfilling relationship with Paul despite his love for his partner of many years. John Schumacher plays Mendy who give a piquant buoyancy to a juicy role. I think Nathan would approve of John’s characterization of Mendy. The cast is rounded out Kirk Mills, a new and talented young handsome actor -- a person to watch.
- Richard Connema