Friday, February 2, 2018

Imperfect Love, a serious comedy, basis of 1998 film Illuminata, perfect for 2018's sea change of real vs. fake





Imperfect Love by Brandon Cole was the basis of Illuminata, a 1998 film he cowrote with John Turtorro and, in an unusual quirk of fate, the play first made into a film is now at the Connelly Theater in New York (thru February 18th.). I found it unexpectedly timely for 2018, though it first appears a period piece.

We currently ride a wave of social and technological change, where the old verities, values and attitudes have suddenly become suspect, called to question, even irrelevant.  In Imperfect Love, the 19th century verities about love, the roles of men and women, class and status were celebrated in a mythic theater driven by tumultuous passion and poetry. As Imperfect Love begins, the old plays have lost ground to the  new nordic realism of Ibsen and Strindberg. Plays of the mind, psychologically driven, are replacing the "elevated"emotion of the Italians.

This clever play surfs the wave, shifting from mythic reality to our modern psychological age. Imperfect Love opens with the "set" pieces of the era, the prima donna Eleonora Della Rosa, (modelled on Eleanora Duse), her long-term lover, poet/playwright Gabrielle Torrisi (based on D'Annunzio and played by Rodrigo LoPresti)), a commanding leading man and two contrasting clowns--one a provocative firebrand, the other a sensitive devoted to the leading lady. All play against a sumptuously painted mural of a theater in Rome.

What opens as a comedy from a different time evolves another dimension. The "gods" of this set-up are the offstage producers with the power to open or close the play. The dilemma is the playwright and actress' long term affair and the play he's written for her. The complicated actress played with high tragicomedy by Cristina Spina, is her own mythic creation. Actress, woman, lover, she supposedly seeks a life of emotional/spiritual resonance from art, yet she's also an ambitious careerist. Her drives are the fulcrum of the play.

Yet they are in comic concert with Gabriele Torrisi's tortured playwright, full of position and found wanting by all--personally and professionally. Genius or has-been, faithful lover or betrayer (with no less than the mythic Sara Bernhardt)? Rosetti, Byron might understand the function of his lines, stepping stones for his lady's emotions, as he interprets their divine passion.

Reality and confusion are choreographed by the two clowns. Are these buffoons writing Rosa's lines, filling-in for the playwright, or not? You're never sure. The play is everything and their family, but also their bread and butter, And is Rosa, like any worthwhile muse, actually giving (not just inspiring) her lover the lines? This may be a last stand for the mythic theater of love, but  the buffoons put us in existential Beckett country with their hilarious machinations.

Is the show being cancelled? Have the ciritcs killed it, is the playwright no good, about to run off to Paris? Will Rosa dump all for Ibsen? Do the owners exist? On the cusp of a sea-change, all are revealed as careerists with real ambitions, ruthlessness in a world of Imperfect Love. The clown Marco is played by Ed Malone and Beppo, by David O'Hara. They are incidentals completely pertinent in our world of Fake vs Real News. Smart of Michael Di Jiacomo, director to delineate the boundaries.  My congrats to Brandon Cole for this play making it to the stage at this time.

SW