Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Light in the Piazza

Hollis Resnik and
Margaret Anne Florence

Arena Stage has captured the rapturous essence of the musical The Light in the Piazza in a lovely production at its Crystal City space in Arlington, Virginia. The intimate staging allows for small gestures and understated performances, all guided by Molly Smith's empathetic direction.

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 elements—a staircase, a wall of arches, several free-standing columns—to 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.

Arena Stage
The Light in the Piazza March 5th —April 11th
Book by Craig Lucas
Music and lyrics by Adam Guettel
Produced in arrangement with Turner Entertainment Co., owner of the original motion picture Light in the Piazza
Based on the novel by Elizabeth Spencer
Margaret Johnson: Hollis Resnik
Clara Johnson: Margaret Anne Florence
Fabrizio Naccarelli: Nicholas Rodriguez
Giuseppe Naccarelli: Jonathan Raviv
Franca Naccarelli: Ariela Morgenstern
Signor Naccarelli: Ken Krugman
Signora Naccarelli: Mary Gutzi
Roy Johnson: Thomas Adrian Simpson
Tour Guide/Ensemble: Jennifer Irons
Priest/Ensemble: Drew Eshelman
Waiter/Ensemble: Michael Vitaly Savonov
Directed by Molly Smith
Musical director: Paul Sportelli
Musical staging and choreography: Parker Esse
1800 S. Bell St.
Arlington, VA 22202
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or

Photo: Scott Suchman