Loving you is not a choice. Its who I am.
Those words are emblazoned on the front of Queen City Theatre Companys playbill for Passion. They come from the lyrics but werent on the cover of the cast album or the original Broadway playbill. By highlighting them, director Glenn Griffin challenges us to think about the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical as something beyond a profound depiction of obsessive love.
The story of handsome captain Giorgio and Fosca, sickly cousin of his commanding officer, thus becomes a representation of any love that society would forbid because it seems bizarre or unfathomable. With Amendment One looming on the N.C. ballot Tuesday, youll draw your own conclusions.
Griffin writes in a program note about his own obsession with this musical since hearing it 18 years ago. For once, love didnt make a director blind: This is a local premiere, and Queen City gives us an exceptionally tender rendition of a psychologically tricky show.
Cynthia Farbman Harris is actually too attractive to play Fosca, who is frequently described as ugly or unappealing. (Her name means gloomy or somber in Italian.) But Harris clenched body, trembling voice and febrile attitude make us feel the desperation of a woman who is both physically and emotionally a virgin, and who fixates on the new arrival at a remote Italian Army base in the mid-19th century.
He is Giorgio, a callow but never callous man who has left a married mistress in Milan. Kristian Wedolowski opens his heart completely as Giorgio: He progresses from kindliness toward Fosca to frustration at her ceaseless attention to wonderment than any human being can love another so selflessly. When Giorgio realizes he reciprocates Foscas feeling, Wedolowski is flooded with emotion, and the line between character and actor dissolves.
Though Lapines book won a Tony as did Sondheims score and the musical itself the other characters remain sketches. Clara, Giorgios mistress, merely serves as a reminder that measured-out love cant satisfy forever. (Brooke Mize sang attractively but has nothing to play in this part.) The seven other soldiers remain a bland chorus, passing harsh judgment on the leads.
Passion is Sondheims last acclaimed score and one of his hardest to sing, and it frequently defeats the supporting cast here. (These harmonies require a precision they simply dont have.) Wedolowski, too, sometimes struggles with notes, but emotion carries him across any gaps. The reduced orchestra plays well, though this little band half a dozen musicians, including three keyboards cant reproduce the full opulence of the score.
The play benefits from the intimacy of Duke Energy Theater: When Fosca begins to break down, theres no place to look away, and were snatched into her fantasy. But as the space is so small, you may wonder why the actors need to be amplified by microphones that occasionally make voices sound boomy. Cant singers project over a six-piece band in a 170-seat theater any more?