The Second Tosca
nytheatre.com review by David Hilder
June 14, 2007
Tom Rowan's play The Second Tosca seems to be an update of The Philadelphia Story by way of Lend Me a Tenor. If it never manages to escape the boundaries of its predecessors, The Second Tosca still provides laughs, heart, and a satisfying romantic ending.
The story: Lisa Duvall is a soprano, currently employed as the cover for the title role in a West coast production of Tosca—conveniently enough, being conducted by her fiancé, Aaron. Great (or perhaps formerly great) diva Gloria Franklin will sing the role, except at the family matinee. But whether or not Ms. Franklin will actually perform is constantly in question, and figuring into the confusion are Lisa's gay brother and manager, Stephen; Gloria's dresser and protégé, Darcy; Ben, an assistant stage manager who hates opera; a devoted fan of Lisa's named Nathaniel; and the ghost of a dead soprano, Angelina Renucci, who died at the end of a performance of Tosca. Lisa, in struggling to understand the role of Tosca and in facing the difficult circumstances surrounding the production—not to mention her love life, complicated by increasing tension with Aaron and the arrival of not one but two other potential suitors—claims her own personal power. She becomes a true diva.
Rowan seems still to be finding a consistent style for the play. The overstuffed beginning is paced (and staged) like an antic farce; other sections of the piece are straight-on comedy; and at its best, The Second Tosca offers simple, naturalistic conversations. Everyone on stage relaxes when these moments arrive, and it's in these scenes that the play is most satisfying. And at two and a half hours, the play feels attenuated.
Throughout, however, Rachel de Benedet is luminous as Lisa. Warm, beautiful and immensely appealing, de Benedet is the play's greatest asset in an assured and graceful comic turn—it's no wonder men go nuts for de Benedet's Lisa. Similarly excellent, though in a smaller role, is Jeremy Beck as Nathaniel. Beck is never less than terrific as an awkward young composer who perhaps confuses idol worship for love, but ends up figuring out which end is up. He's totally committed and thoroughly delightful. And Vivian Reed's Gloria is appropriately fearsome and wise, a grand diva, indeed. Less successful are Mark Light-Orr, who overplays Aaron's uptightness to the point where one wonders why Lisa would go on a date with him, much less agree to marry him, and Carrington Vilmont, whose strange vocal mannerisms undersell virtually every terrific comic opportunity the role of Stephen offers.
Newbury's staging is terrific on Charlie Corcoran's impressive set (Joanne M. Haas designed the excellent costumes), and as noted he and the cast shine when the play settles into a comfortable, naturalistic rhythm. In seeking to live up to opera's reputation as an art form filled with gigantic egos and extreme personalities, Rowan has attempted to create a comic motor that doesn't blend well with the heartfelt story of personal fulfillment he ultimately tells. Still, there is much to enjoy in The Second Tosca, and no doubt Rowan and Newbury are to be commended for the excellent production on display at the 45th Street Theatre.