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Henrik Ibsen

Imperfect Love – Eleanora Duse and Gabriel D’Annuzio


This literate, seemingly classical play has been incubating a long time. Author Brandon Cole first conceived of writing about the tempestuous affair of actress/manager Eleonora Della Rosa called Eleanora Duse (1858–1924) and poet/ playwright Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863–1938) in 1984. One wonders whether the equally pithy manifestation of his unconditional love of theater occurred by plan or organically.

A splendid 1998 film Illuminata – directed by John Turturro; written by Brandon Cole and John Turturro (a must for theater aficionados) emerged from early drafts. Over the years, Cole immersed himself in copious research, including a study of Italian. His journey has produced a dramedy of depth, psychological insight, and style; a story of love and betrayal where life and theater merge.

David O’Hara, Aiden Redmind, Cristina Spina, Rodrigo Lopresti, Ed Malone

From the moment one enters the intimate, well appointed Connelly Theater, atmosphere envelops. Italian opera can be heard, a maquette of Gianni Quaranta’s imaginative and evocative Set (‘love the painted interior of curtained boxes) is on display, enlarged photos represent the era. Inside, the gilded proscenium is pleasure to behold.

“You blame me,” Rosa (Cristina Spina) says sharply. “Yes,” answers Gabriele “Because I know how to love you,” she continues, “I abandon myself.” As the couple draws us in, we don’t know whether we’re watching the actress and playwright or two characters rehearsing his drama. Shades of things to come.

Cristina Spina and Rodrigo Lopresti

There are so many seamless crossovers of life and script as the 1899 cast tries to repair a poorly reviewed play while salving the relationship of its principals, worlds meld. Rather than being confusing or irritating, the approach adds intriguing layers to most every speech. Like other aspects of Cole’s work, it lands like Shakespeare.

Gabriel’s drama opened in Rome last night to scathing reviews. Unless he can repair it in a day, it will be shuttered in favor of “A Doll’s House,” the work of young Scandinavian playwright Henrik Ibsen that “will appeal to the thinking class.” In fact, Rosa secretly agrees to appear in the new piece only if her lover’s effort is given a second chance. They have a day a day to rewrite.

Ed Malone, Aiden Redmond, David O’Hara

A small group of players who regularly work with the pair are as personally devoted  to them-especially to Rosa- as they are dependent. Marco (Ed Malone) and Beppo (David O’Hara), two clowns in the broad Shakespearean sense, get involved up to their eyebrows. Marco contributes ideas and notes often based on purloined correspondence and overheard conversations. His ear for and way with words is astute. With the best of intentions, Beppo sets off an emotional Rube Goldberg mechanism of false assumptions and potentially disastrous outcomes centering on Rosa’s arch rival.

Romantic leading man, Domenica (Aiden Redmond), seems to temper group reactions until a scene where bile surfaces and double entendres rise and parry like a cartoon rapier. The actor serves as an everyman player, preoccupied with his own presentation (watch for the sword selection) and career, yet there when the company needs him. Domenica is aptly the only one on stage wearing bright color in the form of a red vest.

Brandon Cole’s eloquent, often poetic script eventually ties unruly loose ends in a satin bow. The process requires attention. Go see something you can sink your teeth into. And it’s fun.

Cristina Spina is marvelous. From her true Italian accent to proud, theatrical bearing she inhabits the role completely. We watch Rosa think, seethe, yearn and erupt. Even keeping her own counsel reflects in adjusted charisma. If this were a film, I’ve no doubt her eyes would be windows to a committed soul. She hums with presence.

Ed Malone and David O’Hara should be cast as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The two work beautifully together. Malone favors an elongated Dick Van Dyke or Bill Irwin. He moves with the clarity and intention of a mime while delivering lines with utter finesse. Marco is sweet, sympathetic, and brighter than his station. David O’Hara shifts with staccato grace emitting snappy, opinionated dialogue in contrast to his colleague. His Beppo is good-natured, easy going, amoral and in for the long haul. Both characters seem real.

Aiden Redmond is well cast as the rather regal Domenico. It’s effortless to imagine his character in any number of traditional heroic roles. The actor’s performance is deceptively low key; filled with small gestural and expressive pleasures.

The weak link, I’m afraid, is Rodrigo Lopresti’s Gabriel. On a stage with a credibly international company, the actor presents as extremely American in a deeply Italian role. Pronunciation is flat or furry. Instead of seeming egotistical, commanding, and passionate, Lopresti appears one-note angry, his interpretation depending on volume. Chemistry between him and the fiery Rosa is improbable. The underplayed performance belongs elsewhere.

Except for letting Rodrigo Lopresti get away with poor semblance, Director Michael Di Jiacomo does a wonderful job. Other players are distinctive and adept with captivating stage business. (There’s a smart moment when scrunched between the two white-clothed clowns, Domenico absentmindedly puts a hand on each man’s knee in brotherhood of misery.) I don’t really comprehend two underused gramophones, but applaud a spinning parasol (another metaphor.)  Everyone listens. Pacing is deft.

Costumes, also by Gianni Quaranta couldn’t be better if executed on Broadway scale, representing period and character with taste, authenticity, and originality. In Act II, his excellent Set includes a carved sculpture that looks very much like a larger version of  Rome’s iconic Mouth of Truth said to close on inserted arms of the dishonest. Expanding  on the metaphor, there’s even a mini theater inside.

Lighting (Jon DeGaetano) leaves much to be desired.

Production Photography by Richard Termine
Opening: Rodrigo Lopresti and Cristina Spina

The Left Wing in Association with John Turturro presents
The World Premiere of
Imperfect Love – A Serious Comedy in Two Acts by Brandon Cole
Directed by Michael Di Jiacomo
The Connelly Theater
220 East 4th Street

Listen to Alix Cohen talk about covering theater on WAT-CAST.

A Doll’s House-Part 2 – Unexpected


Fifteen years ago, stifled and condescended to, Nora Helmer walked out on husband Torvald and her three children in search of self respect and self knowledge. She entered a world that would have been hostile to her. The heroine that marches back through a forbiddingly enormous portal is wealthy, independent, creative, self confident and sexually liberated. Though actors wear appropriate period costumes (well designed by David Zinn) and legal constraints are accurate, language is contemporary. Go with it; it works.

Nora (Laurie Metcalf) now writes women’s books – under a pseudonym. Her cry for freedom is so convincing that numbers of readers have left their husbands. One abandoned, bitter spouse, a powerful judge, tracks down the author and discovers that she’s still married. (Nora was sure Torvald had, as agreed, divorced her.) Conducting business as a single woman is illegal, misrepresenting herself in print will mean ruin, her behavior if married, has been blatantly immoral. The official threatens exposure unless she publicly apologizes assuring the loss of everything she’s built.


Jayne Houdyshell and Laurie Metcalf

Apparently a one-step request for men, divorce saddles women with an endless burden of reasonable proof. Nora has returned to secure a decree to which she’s sure there can be no objection. If she’s forced to bring suit, both party’s reputations will irreparably suffer. Still, Torvald flatly refuses.

Revolving around the character in lesser and greater orbits are housekeeper Anne Marie (Jayne Houdyshell), a sympathetic confidant in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House who’s stayed on to raise the children and take care of Torvald; grown-up, admirably well adjusted daughter Emmy (Condola Rashad), appealed to as a last resort in hopes of convincing her father to cooperate, and Torvald himself (Chris Cooper) who, still wounded, finds Nora unfathomable.


Chris Cooper and Laurie Metcalf

Playwright Lucas Hnath has utilized the Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House as a starting point/inspiration and spun it into an entertaining tale with social context in two contrasting eras. Nora finds herself caught between a rock and a hard place. Disagreement with Emily about the nature of a woman’s role in marriage puts each choice in context. Characters have no filters. What they think and feel comes out of their mouths with directness that belies the period, but makes whopping good theater. Everyone is multidimensional. Allegiances are complicated. Unpredictable changes become seismic before our eyes. The ending is a shock.

Jayne Houdyshell’s Anne Marie is a whole human being. The character organically shifts from welcoming to protective. She’s watchful, sympathetic, innately funny with opinion and observance, and bone tired. In the hands of a lesser actress, the role could have been played for laughs or subjugated judgment. This artist has understanding and finesse.


Laurie Metcalf and Condola Rashad

As Emmy, Condola Rashad represents a girl raised in the atmosphere Nora has fled, yet securely flowering. Her femininity – she’s quite graceful, soft voice, and exhaled thoughts tumbling together in a rush – effectively differ from that of her mother. Rashad brings youthful brightness and optimism to an otherwise dour stage.

Torvald is a challenge to illuminate, as repressed, he expresses himself less. (Body language is eloquent.) Chris Cooper allows us to see the agonized husband host a wrestling match between unresolved feelings and lifelong thinking. Anger, stress, puzzlement, and longing color controlled, patrician behavior.

Laurie Metcalf’s Nora is extremely masculine in the way she moves and sits. Wild, emphatically punctuating gestures indicate physicality inappropriate to the 1900s, but fitting to this libertarian. Metcalf spits fire. Determination, then resolve are both palpable. The actress is especially fine when speaking out at the stage apron without breaking a fourth wall.

couple floor

Laurie Metcalf and Chris Cooper

I hated what Sam Gold did with The Glass Menagerie and was hesitant to check out this next effort, but am decidedly glad I did. The director utilizes every bit of his empty stage without causing characters to appear unnatural as they circle or unspool. With only four chairs, where each is dragged and the level at which a character sits (including the floor) becomes telling. A hand on a knee and one reaching across the floor both resonate without advertising. We clock visible differences between thinking and instinct. (At one exquisite point, Nora crawls to Torvald.)

Keeping with Gold’s less is more vision, Miriam Buether’s Scenery has been kept to a few chairs and large, title lights naming each character’s turn. It’s gimmicky, but the play more than makes up for it.

Photos by Brigitte Lacombe
Opening: Laurie Metcalf; Jayne Houdyshell

A Doll’s House-Part 2 by Lucas Hnath
Directed by Sam Gold
Golden Theatre
252 West 54th Street
Through July 23, 2017