Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Sondheim's score and James Lapine's book, based on an Italian film drawn from an 1869 novel, is relentless in its feverish emotions and characterizations that transcend the limits of simple realism. Gardiner has brought together a stellar cast led by Natascia Diaz, whose performance as Fosca oozes both neediness and determination, and the more conventionally attractive Claybourne Elder and Steffanie Leigh.
The story, set in 1860s Italy, centers on the emotional entanglements among three people: Giorgio (Elder), a handsome and rather callow soldier; Clara (Leigh), his mistress, a married woman with a son; and Fosca, the cousin of Giorgio's commanding officer (Will Gartshore) at a remote posting. Fosca is chronically ill, physically unattractive, and always dressed in black except for her white nightgown, but she knows what she wantsand that's Giorgio.
Diaz has a way of making herself seen without undue drama, which works in keeping Fosca from seeming too over the top even as she becomes increasingly desperate. Elder is rather diffident as Giorgio, a man trying to use logic to explain to Fosca that he isn't in a position to give her the love she demands, regardless of her suffocating devotion and acts of stalking. Leigh bubbles and fizzes as Clara, bursting with love and radiant in Robert Perdziola's most detailed and alluring costumes.
The entire cast is strong, especially the ensemble work among the soldiers (including Helen Hayes Award honorees Bobby Smith and Lawrence Redmond, along with Gartshore). The production also soars with a full orchestra, conducted by Jon Kalbfleisch, performing Jonathan Tunick's original orchestrations. (The score gains depth with repeated listening, as Sondheim's motifs turn up in unexpected places and sung by unfamiliar characters.)