Dear Terrence McNally,
I’d like to thank you, because you’re the guy who made it possible for me to admire Neil LaBute’s skill and still wonder what the hell is going on in his head. It was watching one of your plays (Love! Valour! Compassion!, if you’re curious) that made me realize it’s entirely possible for a gifted theater craftsman to put together a moving story that, upon closer examination, doesn’t have much at all to say about the world it’s set in or the people caught up in it.
Returning to The Lisbon Traviata, though, I just have to wonder: What were you smoking? The first act is hilarious, the second ridiculous. And I’ve gotta say: I’ve had an opera-obsessive conversation or two in my day, but this show’s suggestion that a life lived too intensely in that world can go operatically wrong? Oy.
I’ll grant you that you’ve got a live one in John Glover, who’s making high-camp hay with the character of the aging Maria Callas acolyte Mendy. (Who I gather is based on a real friend of yours; those must have been some fun evenings.) And Christopher Ashley’s Kennedy Center staging, with that lavish complementary pair of Manhattan apartments, opulent and sleek by turns, so much at odds with each other personality-wise, is very handsome.
Malcolm Gets’ resentful literary editor, though? He’s a bit of a cipher in the first act, bandying opera anecdotes with Mendy, and I’m afraid he’s just repellent in the second, when his jealousy and heartbreak over the doctor who’s leaving him for the hunky grad student drive him around the bend to that showy finale. Speaking of which: I’d believe it if Puccini had scored it, maybe. But all you’ve got is facile jokes and flimsy psychodrama, and I’m afraid you lost me shortly after intermission.