'Passion' at Zoetic: Serious Sondheim

Challenging Operatic Theater Done Well

Roger Martin,  ATCA

Nicholas Richberg, Anna Lise Jensen and Jeni Hacker.<br> Photo by Justin Namon


Nicholas Richberg, Anna Lise Jensen and Jeni Hacker.
Photo by Justin Namon

So here's a bag of bravas, bravos and standing Os. You can pick it up, hold it high and then shake it til it empties. All over the Zoetic Stage Company. For its production of Stephen Sondheim's and James Lapine's Passion, an almost opera seldom seen and a challenge for any company.

Playing at Miami's Arsht Center, it's a two hour, one act daunting for audience and actors. There's no comedy tonight in this dark story of a 19th century Italian army officer who fights his wars in bed rather than on the field.

Nicholas Richburg is Giorgio, the officer, and the show opens with him, naked, and Clara, played by Anna Lise Jensen, also starkers, wrapped in post coital bliss. And a few sheets. They lie on a revolving bed, courtesy of designer Michael McKeever, and as the bed turns they sing and kiss and kiss and sing and the singing is glorious. The kissing? I can only imagine.

The plot also turns and Giorgio is posted to a far off outpost under the command of Colonel Ricci (Mark Sanders). Here he meets the Colonel's cousin, Fosca, played by Jeni Hacker. Fosca is an unappealing, sick and lonely woman given to nocturnal shrieking. Giorgio is kind to her and gets the usual reward: a mad woman hopelessly enamored.

Jeni Hacker and Nicholas Richberg.<br> Photo by Justin Namon


Jeni Hacker and Nicholas Richberg.
Photo by Justin Namon

Clara fights for Giorgio, Fosca fights for Giorgio, and he fights his guilt. And a duel.

Passion is song and music. And the ten actors do very well by Sondheim. There's nothing easy here. Sondheim has chosen to write the emotions of complicated, hurting people and he's done this with such tenderness and understanding that any gloom is forgiven.

David Kwiat is Doctor Tambourri and Clay Cartland plays Lieutenent Barri. Major Rizzolli is played by Stephen G. Anthony. Robert Fritz, Casey Molino Dunn and Brian Reiff complete the cast.

Stuart Meltzer's direction and the skills of the veteran cast ease this anachronistic piece for today's audience, but be aware, it is still a far cry from American standard.

McKeever designed the large, three tiered set with lighting by Rebecca Montero and costumes by Ellis Tillman. Musical direction by Caryl Fantel who also led the excellent
musicians: Tom McCormick, woodwinds; Doug Michels, trumpet; Liuba Ohrimenko, violin; Konstantin Litvinenko, cello; Rupert Ziawinski, bass and Joe DeMarco, percussion.

Nicholas Richberg and Jeni Hacker.<br> Photo by Justin Namon


Nicholas Richberg and Jeni Hacker.
Photo by Justin Namon

Passion plays through March 13 in the Carnival Studio Theater in the Arsht Center, Miami. 1300 Biscayne Blvd. 305-949-6722

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