Monday, October 15, 2012

The Objects of Their Affection

If you've been reading any of the questionnaires on Internet dating sites, you've probably come across the following description of someone's relationship:  "It's complicated." That could mean that the person is in an open relationship, has a very jealous cat, has multiple friends with benefits, or is extremely devoted to one person until the next hot number passes through his field of vision. As David Duran recently wrote on The Huffington Post "Your Boyfriend Lives With His Husband?"

On November 9, 1938, Mary Martin made a smashing Broadway debut with her rendition of Cole Porter's song, My Heart Belongs to Daddy, during the opening night performance of Leave It To Me! Years later, she confessed to having absolutely no idea that finnan haddie was one of Porter's sexual innuendos.


Ten years later, Porter continued to poke fun at fidelity in Kiss Me, Kate. Here's Ann Miller singing "Always True To You In My Fashion" to Tommy Rall in the 1953 film version of Porter's musical.


Some people take the "carpe diem" approach to enhancing their love lives. Others like to set their goals high and expect to settle for nothing less.


In the long run, success is a measure of how flexible one can be when it comes to accommodating romantic expectations that are wildly unrealistic.

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The Left Coast Theatre Company recently offered an evening of short plays under the catch-all title of "Family Programming." Two, in particular, dealt with people whose focus on a particular object of affection defied common sense. In Best Man, playwright Steven Korbar introduced the audience to Ben (George Duryea) and Ayre (Daniel O'Reilly) at a critical moment in their relationship.

Best friends since childhood, Ayre has always been as sure of his homosexuality as Ben has been sure of his heterosexuality. But, as Ben prepares to head to the altar on his wedding day, Ayre can't help but take one last shot at happiness, asking Ben if he really thinks that his fiancée is the right person to be his lifetime partner.

Ayre has always been so infatuated with Ben that  it has occasionally warped his judgment (he hired a male stripper for Ben's bachelor party). He also knows that the woman Ben plans to marry treats her groom like dirt and can be a real ball buster.  Faced with a last-chance moment, he asks Ben if his bride can really give him the kind of total, unselfish love that Arye has always wanted to give him.

Director Cheryl Simas Valenzuela captures a nice twist on the plight of the hopeless romantic by helping to make clear that Arye is telling Ben something that Ben inherently knows to be true but simply can't handle. George Duryea and Daniel O'Reilly made the best of a fairly lightweight script.

George Duryea and Daniel O'Reilly in Best Man

Later in the evening, playwright Rich Orloff gave the audience a new twist on America's fetish for honoring its troops. As directed by Joseph Frank, Betty (Laura Espino) finds herself in an awkward position.
  • On one hand, she's been dating Charlotte (Sarah Doherty), a really hot woman who never fails to thrill her.  
  • On the other hand, the woman she married who left to go serve her country in Afghanistan, has just returned home from the Middle East.  Needless to say, Francine (Angela Chandra) is eager to pick up where things left off.
Vowed and Wowed deftly demonstrates how smart women can work together to resolve a tense situation. The resulting threesome makes for the kind of relationship where each woman gets more than she bargained for and couldn't be happier.

Angela Chandra and Laura Espino in Vowed and Vowed

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There are times when an audience's reaction to an operatic performance veers off in opposite directions with regard to musicality and production values. I can think of no better example than the San Francisco Opera's current staging of I Capuletti e I Montecchi, a ravishing evening of music by Vincenzo Bellini which had its world premiere in Venice on March 11, 1830 at the Teatro La Fenice.

Saimir Pirgu as Tebaldo (Photo by: Cory Weaver)

Conducted by Riccardo Frizza with an acute awareness of the score's bel canto riches, the evening was a magnificent triumph for mezzo soprano Joyce Didonato as Romeo and soprano Nicole Cabell as Giulietta. Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu scored strongly as Tebaldo (Tybalt), with San Francisco Opera's Adler FellowAo Li, doing some exceptional singing as Lorenzo (Friar Laurence).  Surprisingly, the only soloist to disappoint was Eric Owens as Giulietta's father, Capellio.

Romeo (Joyce Didonato) and Juliet (Nicole Cabell) in
I Capuletti e i Montecchi/ (Photo by: Cory Weaver)

It's rare that I am so utterly appalled by a physical production, but set designer Vincent Lemaire, costume designer Christian Lacroix, and director Vincent Boussard merit top honors for laying a gigantic artistic turd on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House. A co-production with Munich's famed Bayerische Staatsoper, the evening begins with a scrim that looks like a cross between some ancient cave paintings and an extremely murky Rorschach test. In his director's note, Boussard states that:
"We designed the production and the costumes, which function mainly to reveal the hidden and fragile interior of the characters, as an echo to the highly refined compositional style of the music.  The set acts as if a reminiscence of the most elaborate fresco would be sweating from the walls of this palace -- a box for Capellio's 'Jewel-lieta,' but also a jail and a grave for the two young lovers. The question we are left contemplating is the following: Is it possible that even the highest degree of love and the most refined culture are left utterly crippled when coupled with the cruelty and craziness of people sick with revenge?"
Romeo (Joyce Didonato) and Juliet (Nicole Cabell) in
I Capuletti e I Montecchi (Photo by: Cory Weaver)

Well, hot diggity dawg, you could have fooled me! What I saw was a soprano forced to climb up on a ledge resembling a washbasin in order to sing a long, luscious aria while trying not to fall on her face. Later, when a barefoot Giuletta was precariously perched on the bottom part of a giant picture frame the size of the entire stage, Boussard had her crawl across a treacherously sloped platform nearly 15 feet above the stage floor. At that point I found myself giving mad props to Ms. Cabell for her bravery and willingness to tackle a fairly ridiculous challenge from a stage director while fantasizing about tar and feathers for Boussard.

Nicole Cabell as Giulietta (Photo by: Cory Weaver)

While costume designer Christian Lacroix may have done a spectacular job of recycling old ballet and opera costumes in order to create the garish dresses worn by the female supernumeraries, Giulietta's wedding gown looked like something cobbled together using gift certificates from Ross Cross-Dress for Less and Bed, Bath & Beyond. This was a production to be heard and not seen.

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