I’ll admit that I’m not generally the most cheerful person in the universe. I have a tendency to view the glass as half empty and am drawn to darker works of the art.
But I swear the gloomy theme that has emerged at the festival is not of my mind’s making, and there’s nothing depressing about it. But since I last wrote, just yesterday evening, two of the three works I saw had suicides and the third the death of a child. Don’t blame me, I didn’t program the festival. And don’t be afraid.
The two works were very different from one another and even from different festivals: the PURE Theatre production of Clybourne Park, the other the double bill of operas Mese Mariano and Le Villi.
The praise for PURE’s production (part of the Piccolo festival) is decidedly deserved. This is a powerful drama, with plenty of humor, set in the same house, but 50 years apart. In the first act, set in 1959, a couple is selling their inner-city home to a black couple — something neighbors are not thrilled about. There’s also a dark event haunting the house. The second act is set 50 years later, with a white couple planning to move into the house in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. It’s a full circle. And it’s a full circle in that all the actors in the first act are also in the second, at times playing relatives of those in the first. This is an ensemble work and the entire cast is stellar, as is the direction by Rodney Lee Rogers. Playwright Bruce Norris has created a play that’s filled with incredible language with many layers from the personal to the political, and PURE pulls off this brilliant, thought-provoking, and darkly humorous piece.
One of the Spoleto productions I was most looking forward to was the opera double bill of Le Villi by Giacomo Puccini and Mese Mariano by Umberto Giordano. The first is rather famous as Puccini’s first opera, written when he was only 26, although overshadowed by his many big hits. Mese Mariano has rarely been performed and has only recently been rediscovered by the larger opera community.