Ah, the beauty and glory of grand opera! And the men who love it and live through it. The Terrence McNally play, The Lisbon Traviata, running for the next two weekends at Spontaneous Productions, offers a tragicomic view of four gay men seeking affection and connection in what can be a cruel world. Director Mike Silva has paced the show well, building to the unexpected melodramatic finale, while sensitively emphasizing the humanity and pain of being without love or losing love.
The title refers to a 1958 production of La Traviata in Lisbon, Portugal featuring opera star Maria Callas. Two opera aficionados, Mendy and Stephen, open the show with an involved discussion of the late Callas and her magnificent performances. Mendy, played with feisty abandon by John Elliott, goes nuts when he learns there is a recording of her Lisbon show he has not heard.
During the discussion, Stephen unintentionally reveals his eight-year relationship with sexy doctor Michael is undergoing some rocky weather. Mendy, an expert investigator of gossip and scandal, worms additional details out of him and learns Stephen's partner has a date that very evening with Paul, a student at Columbia.
Elliott, after a slight fumble with his lines early in the play, hits his stride and launches into a memorable and hilarious characterization, glorying in Mendy's sarcastic wit, histrionics and spellbinding story-telling ability. In a moment of personal agony, Mendy admits his involvement with opera disguises his own desperate loneliness. And opera never betrays, rejects or cheats the way people do.
Stephen is full of advice and calm assurances that Mendy will find love if he seeks it properly, instead of scaring men away with his neediness. But as Stephen's own love life falls apart, he becomes even more distraught than Mendy, and his philosophical demeanor evaporates.
David Rose gives a brilliant performance as Stephen-at first urbane, well-traveled and intellectual-and later trying to hide his emotional despair with petty bitching, criticisms and heartbreaking pleading. But the impact of his desperation at the loss of his long time love is reduced by the fact that Rose is so young and handsome himself, instead of middle-aged looking. While the power of love varies with every individual, it is impossible to believe Stephen would have a hard time replacing his young lover after a period of recovery.
Matt Melton plays the straying lover Michael, with just the right amount of resistance and annoyance. Eight years of being forced by Stephen into the world of opera which he doesn't even enjoy, plus putting up with all his idiosyncrasies, eroded the love Michael originally felt. Melton creates a believable character, but sometimes lacks the intensity the situation needs.
Justin Boyer gives a strong performance as Paul, Michael's new love. He handles the potentially explosive confrontation with a quietly nervous reaction tinged with restrained frenzy, while Stephen probes and makes snide remarks.
In spite of the play's title, the entire script has more elements of the opera Carmen than of La Traviata. A fun and touching show, this production of Lisbon Traviata owes some of its sparkle to the lavish jewelry sported by Elliott, his unforgettable coyness, and the more-than-a-glimpse of nudity offered in Act II.
The Lisbon Traviata by Terrence McNally
Directed by Mike Silva
At Spontaneous Productions, Inc., 1011 Williams St., Boise (Just off Boise Avenue, west of Broadway, in the old fire station.)
8 p.m. March 24, 25, 26, 30, April 1, 2
Tickets $10 at 1-866-468-7624; www.sponprod.com, at all TicketWeb outlets; or at door