AISLE SAY San Francisco


Music and Lyrics by Adam Guettel
Book by Craig Lucas
Directed by Robert Kelley
Presented by TheatreWorks
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
Castro and Mercy streets
Mountain View, CA / (650) 463-1960

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Almost any mother would wish a happy, loving marriage for her daughter, especially if her daughter has found a man who loves her and treats her well. Clara, the daughter in the Tony Award-winning "The Light in the Piazza," has found just such a man, but there are complications. The book by Craig Lucas and music and lyrics by Adam Guettel delicately deal with the romance and its complications in TheatreWorks' production.

Clara (Whitney Bashor), 26, and her mother, Margaret (Rebecca Eichenberger) are on a summer vacation in Florence, Italy, in 1953. Clara meets a handsome young Italian, Fabrizio (Constantine Germanacos). The two are instantly attracted to each other, but Margaret tries to discourage his attentions. In an aside to the audience, she explains that a pony kicked Clara in the head when she was 12, preventing her from any further intellectual or emotional development.

Her efforts are in vain as the two young people fall more deeply in love and want to get married, much to the dismay of Margaret and Roy (Richard Frederick), her husband at home in Winston-Salem, N.C. Nevertheless, Fabrizio's family encourages the couple until the last minute, when his father, Signor Naccarelli (Martin Vidnovic), raises objections and tries to call off the wedding.

Based on Elizabeth Spencer's novella of the same name, Lucas's book looks at various kinds of marital relationships as well as the changes in Margaret's attitude and her protectiveness toward Clara. Clara, too, grows during the two-act musical. Guettel's music is almost operatic, but the TheatreWorks' cast meets the challenge. The three principal performers -- Eichenberger, Bashor and Germanacos -- all have outstanding voices. Also equal to the vocal challenges are Vidnovic, Nicolas Aliaga as Fabrizio's brother, Ariela Morgenstern as Fabrizio's sister-in-law and Caroline Altman as Fabrizio's mother.

J.B. Wilson's fluid, arched set pieces recreate the ambiance of Florence (and, briefly, Rome), especially with the glowing lighting by Pamila Z. Gray. Fumiko Bielefeldt's costumes come straight out of the '50s, especially for the women. In the first scene, for example, Margaret wears a prim hat with a two-piece knit outfit set off by pearls, gloves and heels. Clara wears a mid-calf length dress buoyed by layers of crinolines. The sound is by Cliff Caruthers. William Liberatore, on keyboards, leads the five-member orchestra.

Unlike so many musicals today, there's nothing bombastic about "The Light in the Piazza." There's not even any dancing. Instead there's a delicate love story with lush music, both of which are served well by this production, so ably directed by Robert Kelley.

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