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Love Italian-American style

Strong performances buoy provocative Light in the Piazza

The Light in the Piazza

At the Norman Rothstein Theatre until Oct. 9

Tickets: 604.684.2787

A funny thing happened to me at the Norman Rothstein Theatre last Tuesday night. I was actually creeped out by Act 1: young Italian Fabrizio Naccarelli falls head over headsat first sightfor Clara whos visiting Florence with her mother. Shades of Romeo falling for Juliet across a crowded ballroom. Ah, those Italians. But Clara and Fabrizios story is complicated by the fact that lovely Clara, as a result of a childhood accident, functions at the emotional level of a child. Doesnt Fabrizio notice? She fidgets, twists her fingers, taps her chest, holds her head when shes upset. And when Fabrizios Mama and Papa meet Clara and witness a meltdown, dont they see something isnt quite right?

But by the end of The Light in the Piazza, actor Katey Wright had taken me on the same emotional journey as Claras protective, loving mother Margaret. And while no oneincluding Fabrizios family or Margaret (or me)believes that Fabrizio and Clara will live happily trouble-free ever after, they deserve a shot at it.

Adam Guettels music is operatic and difficult but it is superbly performed by director Peter Jorgensens cast of ten, backed by an orchestra (including harpist Albertina Chan) of five under the musical direction of Sean Bayntun. A few songs are in Italian, which is frustrating, but sets up a funny joke later on when Fabrizios mother Signora Naccarelli (Heather Pawsey) breaks into English, saying, I know I dont speak English but I have to tell you whats going on. Thank you, Signora Naccarelli.

This is the role of a lifetime for Wright. Not only does she deliver songslike Dividing Day and Fableseemingly effortlessly and note-perfectly, but she gets into this character with such sensitivity and generosity; gradually she opens up the complicated character that is Margaret. And Wrights not without comedic skill, either, as Margaret bumbles through textbook Italian and tries to separate the would-be lovers.

Wright finds her match in David Adams, Fabrizios father. One of the sweetest scenes pairs Wright and Adams in Lets Walk, during which Margaret and Signor Naccarelli come to an understanding.

Adrian Marchuk is Fabrizio and his big, passionate voice brought the house down on opening night despite the fact that his first two songs (Il Mondo Era Vuoto: and Passeggiata) are entirely in Italian. We get the gist: hes heartbroken, life sucks, he may as well be deador something like that. Ah, Italians. Ah, youth.

The most difficult role is that of Clara. She must look twenty-six, behave like a little girl, have sexual impulses and make us believe she epitomizes a state of pure, innocent love thats unsullied by life experience. Samantha Hill does all this, sings like a lark and, her character having quickly mastered the catechism (Clara must convert to Catholicism before marrying Fabrizio), gives us hope that Clara may yet mature beyond the woman/child who hollers Ally Ally Oxen Free in the cathedral or blushingly pokes the penis of Michelangelos David.

Mezzo-soprano Dana Luccock is a knockout as Fabrizios sister-in-law Franca, married to philandering Guiseppe (Daren Herbert).

Lance Cardinals set design takes us to Florence inside a large, ornate picture frame that, appropriately, is broken. Other frames move in and out of the space as Clara and Margaret explore the galleries and museums of Florence.

This is an ambitious project for Patrick Street Productions (founded by Peter Jorgensen and Katey Wright in 2007). Previous productions, including The Full Monty, Into the Woods and Bat Boy: The Musical, have been much lighter fare.

Provocative The Light in the Piazza is. Is love enough? Or, as Margaret sings, is love a fake, is love a fable?