Saturday, November 26, 2005

Bravo, Caruso! - Ensemble Theater

‘BRAVO, CARUSO!’ off key at Ensemble

Playwright William Luce is famous for his one-person scripts. His subjects have included Emily
Dickenson, Charlotte Bronte, Zelda Fitzgerald, Lillian Hellman and John Barrymore. In “BRAVO, CARUSO!,’ now being staged by Ensemble Theatre, Luce takes on Enrico Caruso, considered by many opera aficionados to be the greatest tenor of all time, in a two-character script.

Caruso was born into a working-class family in Naples, the 18th of 21 children. Early-on his mother was convinced that he had singing talent. By the time he was 10, the young Enrico's singing voice was receiving serious critical attention.

Caruso became a favorite at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, where he performed 37 roles in 607 performances. Since his career coincided with the development of the phonograph, he became one of the early recording stars. Earthy, and something of a clown, the singer was extremely popular, not only as a singer, but as a personality. In 1921, when he died at the age of 48, he was greatly mourned.

"BRAVO, CARUSO!" takes us into the tenor's dressing room at the Met on Christmas Eve, 1920. No one knows that he is about to sing his last performance.

As the tale unfolds, we see the eccentric, preoccupied and brilliant Caruso manipulating his devoted dresser, Fantini, into giving him the adoration the performer so desperately needs.

Any theatre choosing this script has to have two superb actors to play the roles. This is not a script for the ordinary performer. It also requires a director who has the inventive nature to work with the performers to hold the attention of an audience with a script that has little action, is very wordy and is two acts in length. There also has to be a sensitivity to developing the needed humor and pathos.
Unfortunately, Ensemble misses on all counts.

Though they try hard, Bernard Canepari and Pat Mazzarino can’t pull off the difficult roles. Neither is totally believable in their performances. Canepari seems so pre-occupied with remembering his lines that he fails to develop a textured character. The humor and the drama get melded together. Mazzarino plays at being fay and endearing, but never reaches down into the real Fantini. We never understand why he is so devoted to his master and why he is willing to be the brunt of the manipulation.

They are not helped by Licia Colombi’s directing, which consists of coming up with shticks and gimmicks rather than creating a unified feeling, using the humor and drama of the script. How many times can we be amused by an ironing board being taken out and put away? Does having Mazzarino mincing around the stage really help him develop a meaningful character? Why weren’t real food and cigarettes used? The faking was just too obvious, especially in a play that has to be real.

Ron Newell’s fragmented set, Michael Beyers’ lighting and Casey Jones’s sound effects all work well. Too bad the rest of the production doesn’t live up to the technical aspects.

Capsule Judgment One of the most difficult reviews for a critic to write is one that is generally negative. Unfortunately, every once in while, it is my unfortunate duty to have to do so. In choosing a difficult script to perform a theatre has to be sure they have the talent to direct and perform the intent and purpose of the script. Ensemble was over its head in selecting ‘BRAVO, CARUSO!’