LETTERS TO EDITOR
BOOKS and CDs
Type too small?
A CurtainUp Review
by Kathryn Osenlund
Camila (the appealing Elizabeth Sastre) visits her grandmother, La Perichona (fine chanteuse and actress Jane Summerhays), whom she is forbidden to see. The woman is under house arrest for having been the consort of the Spanish Viceroy before Gen. Juan Manuel De Rosas and his Federacion came into power. She reads tarot cards and is a scandal all-around. Dreamy scenes of La Perichona dancing with her viceroy occur throughout and are quite affecting.
The grandmother reads the cards and predicts that Camila soon will meet the love of her life. Shortly thereafter her new confessor, Ladislao Gutirrez (Michael Hayden), listens in the confessional as she tells of her love-filled dreams. When her family, which doesn't see eye-to-eye in either love or politics, throws a birthday party for Camila, the priest shows up. She is being pursued by her usual Lothario, Armand (Wilson Mendieta), whom she does not love, but whom her parents expect her to marry. "A single woman", her father says, "unravels the fabric of society."
Despite its advertising, the show comes up light on revolution. At the party a bookseller gives her a forbidden volume of poetry and later is arrested and executed for selling foreign books. The priest questions the fairness of the execution. Later, with the help of a higher-ranking and more cautious priest, he hides a suspected revolutionary. This is his act of revolution. Camila herself is not shown as a revolutionary. Her crime is her love of a Jesuit. Their "revolutionary" act is to fall in love and run. It is hard to buy the headliner that they inspired the people of Argentina to overthrow the regime, at least not on the basis of their revolutionary acts.
Agents of the repressive government, supported by the girl's father (David Brummel) pursue the lovers. Ladislao's fellow priest, Padre Gannon, played excellently by William Parry, joins the search. The danger is palpable. The sense of menace increases and there's a feel of impending peril. Inevitability is a hallmark of any decent tragedy. However, this is not a true tragedy, but rather a melodrama with high excitement levels and plot-driven drama enhanced by exciting music.
Jane Summerhays, David Brummel, and William Parry give notable performances. Otherwise the acting is solid, but on the whole unremarkable. The two leads can't really shine as they might because their characters need some filling out. Elizabeth Sastre is charming, but not strong. She could use more heat. Michael Hayden delivers a restrained performance. Of course, he is playing a priest, but the priest does go astray and Hayden might go a little more astray himself. The musical relies on the dance and music to speak for the lovers, when perhaps the lovers need to speak more for themselves.
This show is full of dances which, as it progresses, get hotter and better. Throughout dances of death , welcome the newest victims of the Federacion to tango-heaven. The lively, intricate dance of the gauchos is first-rate, as is the fated "La Chacarera", a dance at once merry and portentous.
This musical features forbidden love, the always tantalizing mix of love and religion-- the appeal of the cloth. Older theatre-goers may find themselves reminded of Richard Chamberlain in The Thorn Birds. One erotic dance is reminiscent of Carmina Burana with its suggestion of the link between the holy and the profane, as it is performed behind the young woman and the priest when they are in a religious setting. The use of percussion also is reminiscent of Carmina, but in musical theatre it is more difficult to meld movement, words, and music as completely as that work can manage to do it. Camila is, however, remarkably successful in the interaction of acting, music, singing, staging, light and shadow.
The director, BT McNicholl, lately lyricist and director of The IT Girl in New York (CurtainUp's review), felt that the tango "lifts [the work] to a new plane, and allows us to show the characters' deep desires in ways the narrative context simply doesn't allow." His production is remarkably successful in the interaction of acting, music, singing, staging, light and shadow.
The staging in terms of composition, arrangement, and sequence of scenes is masterfully done. In particular, Act 2 opens with the tango bar, which melts into a bedroom scene. The actors here, however, could stand to take a lesson in steam.
There is beautiful music like the choir's performance of McKelvey's "Ave Maria". The jazzy rendition of "My Love is a Whisper", sung by Sastre, was popular with the audience. Another number, with family members singing different lyrics simultaneously, was impossible to understand.
The staging in terms of composition, arrangement, and sequence of scenes is masterfully done. In particular, Act 2 opens with the tango bar, which melts into a bedroom scene. The actors here, however, could stand to take a lesson in steam. There is beautiful music like the choir's performance of McKelvey's "Ave Maria". The jazzy rendition of "My Love is a Whisper", sung by Sastre, was popular with the audience. Another number, with family members singing different lyrics simultaneously, was impossible to understand. The lighting design is fabulous, but the production staff should be aware of the prominence of constellations of their bright position markers on the stage floor, which are distractingly visible .
The author is quoted as saying, "Two people were accused of the crime of love- that's amazing." Near the end of the story, the rather late protestations of "she did nothing" ring hollow. Nothing? Hel-lo, this is 1840's in Catholic Argentina,, and she seduced a priest. That leaves questions at the heart of this musical lie questions that needs to be resolved: In what sense is Camila a revolutionary? What does "revolutionary" mean here? Is it primarily political or is it social? What did it mean in Argentina at that time, and what does it mean to this playwright?
This is Lori McKelvey's first professional production, and it is big. She is a very talented writer, lyricist, and composer. The Walnut has gone all out with seasoned actors, singers, choreographer, musical direction, designers, and director. Still, the production cries out for more import, more emphasis on character-- over plot and music --if it is to be viewed as tragedy, which seems to be the aim. But this is a musical, after all, where tragic heroes must share the stage with other concerns, and taken as a musical it is a fine show.