"If this isn't a family show, I don't know what is!" says Richard Hutton, one of the stars of The Light in the Piazza, recently produced by Jefferson Performing Arts Society. I guess that makes me an orphan. Or more accurately, a curmudgeon. To me, the show seemed like sugar-coated melodrama.
To be fair, the staging was top-notch. Under Roland "Butch" Caire's direction, the cast sang and performed with verve. And maestro Dennis G. Assaf coaxed a pleasing sound from the eccentrically composed orchestra, which was heavy on strings and woodwinds but had no brass. Composer Adam Guettel's music is noted for straying from the Broadway pop musical mode.
Margaret Johnson (Nancy Ross) takes her daughter Clara (Ariel Assaf) on a tour of Italy. While in a piazza in Florence, a breeze blows Clara's hat into the hands of Fabrizio Naccarelli (Richard Arnold). Fate has struck. Boy has met girl. Love at first sight.
In the play, Margaret is an obsessively protective mother and continually places herself between the smitten youngsters. Eventually we learn that as a child Clara was kicked in the head by a pony. Doctors said she would not develop normally, but to our eyes she looks normal.
Innocent Clara is awed by Italy's abundance of "completely naked statues." Clara ends up sharing a deep kiss on her hotel bed with the half-naked Fabrizio. So Margaret whisks her off to Rome, but to no avail. The girl is in love and has accepted Fabrizio's marriage proposal.
While making arrangements, Fabrizio's father, Signor Naccarelli (Richard Hutton), notices something on Clara's marriage form that infuriates him and calls off the wedding. Now Margaret is determined to save her daughter's wedding, and she visits Naccarelli. He's upset that Clara is 26 and his son is only 20. Margaret calms him and the wedding is rescheduled.
The rest of the Naccarelli family, Signor's wife (Celeste Angelle Veillon), Fabrizio's brother Giuseppe (Scott Sauber) and his temperamental wife Franca (Kate Abreo) offered a likable and spicy pasta of hysterics.
And speaking of hysterics, various outbursts are scattered through the drama — as when Clara overhears her mother on the phone to her father describe her as handicapped.
Despite my reservations about Craig Lucas' script, Light in the Piazza has won critical awards. And it's always good to see new works presented locally. — DALT WONK