Elden Street Players PassionBy McCall Doyle • Aug 4th, 2009 • Category: Reviews
Elden Street Players
Industrial Strength Theatre, Herndon, VA
$22/$19 Seniors and Students
Playing through August 22nd
Reviewed August 2nd, 2009
The Elden Street Players shoot for the stars and score with their polished production of Sondheim’s Passion. A curiously sad offering for the quirky, clever and whimsical Sondheim, Passion is about the deepest human emotion, and its lingering questions: Can you make someone love you? Do you love someone because you need them, or do you need them because you love them? What is love?
Giorgio, an Italian soldier, is in love with the beautiful (and unfortunately married) Clara. They steal moments of ardor whenever they can, carefree but in love. When his orders take him far away, they remain in touch through tender letters. But at his military post, Giorgio finds himself in an awkward position when his commander’s cousin, the ailing Fosca, becomes enamored of him. Fosca is the antithesis of the attractive and vivacious Clara, and so desperate in her pursuit of Giorgio that he is initially repulsed by her. But all is not what is seems, and love can grow in the most unusual of places…transforming all of those involved in different ways.
Sondheim’s score is as challenging as ever, flooded with intricate harmonies and offbeat rhythms. The capable orchestra, fearlessly led by conductor and musical director (Elisa Rosman), is strong and fastidiously musical. However, the singers would definitely benefit from a video monitor or a well positioned mirror. The orchestra is above the stage, and while Ms. Rosman can see the singers and followed them well, they couldn’t see her…and the duets and trios are really tricky. That said, even the struggles were few and far between. There was also a marvelous balance of sound between the musicians and singer, neither overpowering the other, simply complimenting each other.
Body mics would normally be impractical in such a small space, but in this case, with a lot of intimate conversation in word and song, they were perfect. Each syllable was heard, accentuated by excellent diction.
Heather Whitney as Clara was lovely. She played the role with a cool, classy detachment befitting her character, and sang charmingly with a focused and pretty soprano.
Patrick McMahan as Giorgio was fantastic. He gave a layered, exquisite performance, leading us through his metamorphosis with poetic tone and superb acting. McMahan’s voice was constantly lyrical and fluid-a wonderful match for both Clara and Fosca’s vastly different styles.
Evelyn Trester‘s heartbreaking portrayal of Fosca was extraordinary. Gorgeous, soaring vocals combined with an absolute embodiment of her character’s sickly façade and cloying personality allowed the audience to engage in a love/hate relationship with her. One felt the depths of her loneliness and rage, the woman crying out to be heard. Her unique voice has a rich, honeyed warmth that grabs a hold of you and doesn’t let go, and her renditions of both “I Read” and “Loving You” were thrilling, chilling, and utterly memorable.
Clara, Giorgio & Fosca were exceptionally cast in their roles, and splendidly directed by Gloria Dugan, who leaves a distinctive and thoughtful mark on all of her productions. There were no superfluous or exaggerated gestures; each one was honest. From the moment Clara & Giorgio are in bed together, there is a sense of genuine relationship between each character. Their hands are not afraid to touch, to hold, to caress…integral to a show with this title.
Terrific choreography (Jeannie Torres) for the soldiers helped with the many seamless transitions as ESP kept their small set moving from place to place…a bedroom, a dining hall, a train station. Solid singing and acting was found throughout the ensemble.
Standouts also came in the form of the calm and cultured doctor (Michael Sherman), who creates an impossible situation for Giorgio and finds himself regretting it later; and Lance Adell as Giorgio’s superior officer, Colonel Ricci (who is also Fosca’s cousin and protector). Adell hit notes of sympathy and eloquence with his nuanced storytelling of his cousin’s veiled past.
Much attention to detail was given to the vibrant costumes (Judy Whelihan) and props (Mike Smith) and it was greatly appreciated and enjoyed. The basic set (John Vasko) was simple and functional…a bright Italian villa in the 1800s that served as a backdrop for all the action. The lighting design (Franklin Coleman) and execution (Michael O’Connor) was perfection…even the smallest cues were precisely done and thoughtfully so.
Passion is a deeply emotional show, displaying a few of Sondheim’s signature styles and then some of his lush, glorious melodies. It cannot survive on grand sets, dance numbers, or a trite, happy ending. But with the careful eye and professional caliber of these performances, it not only survives…it flourishes, like the love that is deeply woven into its core.
- Clara: Heather Whitney
- Giorgio: Patrick McMahan
- Lieutenant Torasso: David Segal
- Colonel Ricci: Lance Adell
- Doctor Tambourri: Michael Sherman
- Sergeant Lombardi/Man: Sam Nystrom
- Lieutenant Barri/Ludovic: Blakeman Brophy
- Major Rizzoli/Father: David Boleyn
- Private Augenti: Michael Shaaff
- Fosca: Evelyn Trester
- Attendant/Mistress/Woman: Sharon Grant
- Attendant/Mother/Nurse: Susanna Todd
- Co-Producers: Jeff Boatright, Nanette Reynolds
- Director: Gloria Dugan
- Music Director: Elisa Rosman
- Choreography: Jeannie Torres
- Co-Stage Managers: Angie Anderson, Leslie Peterson
- Asst. Stage Manager: Hillary Huse
- Backstage Crew: Lucy Todd, Christine Spata, Trevor Johnston
- Set Designer: John Vasko
- Master Carpenter: Marty Sullivan
- Assisted by: Phillip Archey, Theresa Bender, Bill Behan, Jeff Boatright, Richard Durkin, Scott Healy, Tod Kerr, John Shea, Amy Skiavo, Mike Smith, John Vasko
- Lighting Designer: Franklin Coleman
- Master Electrician: John Shea
- Assisted by: Theresa Bender, Matt Bell, Michael O’Connor, Doug Olmsted, Jeff Boatright
- Sound Design: Stan Harris
- Assisted by: Tony Aiello
- Costume Design: Judy Whelihan
- Seamstress: Carol Steele
- Set Dressing/Props: Mike Smith
- Set Painting: Cathy Rieder
- Assisted by: Sabrina Begley, Theresa Bender, Maggie Cotter, Trish Cronan
- Make Up: Kat Brais
- Hair/Wigs: Bette Williams
- Light Board Operator: Michael O’Connor
- Audition Accompanist: Alan Margolis
- House Management: Dave Sinclair
- Box Office Management: Richard Durkin
- Publicity: Jeff Boatright, Todd Huse, Ginger Kohles
- Cover Graphic: Michael Sherman
- Playbill: Ginger Kohles
- Reeds: Mitch Bassman, Jane Hughes
- French Horn: Deb Kline, Mark Deal
- Trumpet: Patrick Dwyer
- Violin: Michele Jacobs
- Viola: Margie Bassman
- Cello: Virginia Gardner
- Bass: Don Williams, Randy Dahlberg
- Percussion: Matt Robotham
- Piano/Conductor: Elisa Rosman
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