I THINK I HEARD BELLINI TURNING IN HIS GRAVE
Imagine yourself sitting tied to a chair in a stuffy, dark room with a very dull senile old man who talks on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on about nonsense, and you have imagined the experience of watching Terrence McNally’s Golden Age, a play about the backstage “drama” at the Théâtre-Italien in Paris during the premier of Vincenzo Bellini’s last opera I Puritani.
To address all the problems with this excruciatingly boring, misconceived, sentimental offering, incompetently directed by Walter Bobbie, might appear unnecessarily sadistic, so I’ll stick to the basics: There are no characters, only generic, meaningless archetypes. There is no dramatic development; potential conflicts are introduced and immediately resolved, with little to no effort on the part of the personages. There is no meaningful plot. What jokes there are feel like bits of licorice being offered to you by your torturer in the middle of a session – you don’t even want them. And what intelligent commentary there is – on love, on art, on opera, etc. – feels, without being dramatically motivated, like little patronizing lectures.
The poor actors, all talented and capable I’m sure, seem to be directed to play ideas of people instead of people; what characterizations they create feel superficial and not particularly truthful. In fact the whole show feels almost like an unintended parody of the mannered highfalutin spectacles we associate with bad theater of centuries past, with the wigs and the balls and the rapiers. Part of the intention might have been to reference that artificial opera-type acting, but the cast seems trapped in its phony world and nothing real ever happens.
F. Murray Abraham, despite having top billing, appears in the 130-plus-minute show towards the very end and for only about five minutes. Though he does manage to at least create a believable character, it is too little too late. The only other performer to bring life onto this stage is Coco Monroe, a child actor who plays a very small part as the page. Unburdened by stale ideas, Mr. Monroe, with his natural juvenile energy, not only gives the appearance of authenticity but makes other actors, for those brief moments when they’re interacting with him, feel as though they are actually communicating to an actual person.
Wasted are Santo Loquasto’s rich and dynamic set design, Jane Greenwood’s beautiful period costumes, and Peter Kaczorowski’s wonderfully subtle lighting.
Sound design by Ryan Rumery. Hair and Wig design by Tom Watson. Fight direction by Thomas Schall.
Cast: F. Murray Abraham as Rossini, Dierdre Friel as Giulia Grisi, Coco Monroe as the Page, Bebe Neuwirth as Maria Malibran, Lee Pace as Bellini, Ethan Phillips as Luigi LaBlanche, Lorenzo Pisoni as Antonio Tamburinim, Will Rogers as Francesco Florimo and Eddie Kaye Thomas as Giovanni Battista Rubini.
photos by Joan Marcus
Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center Stage I in New York City
scheduled to end on January 6, 2012
for tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit: http://www.goldenageplay.com/