Review by Judith Robinson
When a beautiful girl from America goes to Florence and meets the man of her dreams, the problems begin. Clara (Jacqueline Thair) is mentally challenged—injured by a horse when she was twelve. But her Italian-speaking love Fabrizio (Jeff Irving) does not realize it. Should her mother (Patty Jamieson) tell him?
The story line of The Light in the Piazza, (book by Craig Lucas, music and lyrics by Adam Guettel) is more complicated than most musicals… ditto the orchestrations & score. Photo courtesy of Emily Cooper
Guettel’s maternal grandfather, Richard Rodgers, who wrote Oklahoma, penned easily identifiable characters and hummable tunes. There was a clear clash between good & evil with external conflicts and obvious actions.
The struggles in the Shaw Festival’s production of Piazza are more subtle. Jamieson fights inner demons through gut wrenching songs and babbling conversations. She changes her mind frequently—never sure of her decisions. She moves forward and back in her acceptance of the relationship, and a gulf grows between her and Clara, and with her husband Roy portrayed by Shawn Wright.
While Wright’s character is black and white—clearly convinced that the relationship is wrong, Jamieson begins to believe that Clara should be given a chance at love. Jamieson is the glue that holds the production together with torturous tenacity, and painful self-doubts. She is the audience’s window into unfamiliar territory—our guide, not only into a foreign Italian terrain, but into the dark regions of the heart. Jamieson’s portrayal of a middle-aged woman’s fears, hopes and dreams hits all the right notes.
Thair hits the nail on the head in her portrayal of the innocent Clara. She has no idea of the extent of her disability—only that “something is wrong.” She knows she has to be with Fabrizio but she is not sure why. Her degree of devotion is childlike and obsessive. Has he become a parent to her—a replacement for her overprotective mother?
The genius of this production is in its ability to blend music with action. The characters move easily in and out of spoken words and songs. Under director, Jay Turvey’s competent coaching, the songs become part of the emotional expression. And the small orchestra, conducted by musical director, Paul Sportelli, easily compliments what’s going on on stage. There is no division between text and lyric.
The play conveys a feeling—a mood—an emotional palate—that goes far deeper than entertainment. This is exorcism. The viewers become participants in the emotional drama as Jamieson painfully releases herself from self-righteousness and the desire to control. This musical is a ritual ceremony of Jamieson’s letting go of her daughter and trusting the universe to take care of her.
As Clara moves forward toward Fabrizio the audience holds its breath. The Light in the Piazza is playing at the Court House Theatre until October 13th.