Mario Fratti based Passionate Women (written in 1977) on the life and loves of film director Federico Fellini, whom Fratti covered as a journalist in Italy in the 1950s. He envisions all the women who are sexually and artistically exploited by Nino-the fictionalized Fellini-rising up against him. Despite its title, this play full of such passion-stirring subjects as art, revenge, infidelity, and Italians is devoid of vigor.
The direction seemed to be the biggest culprit. After almost every scene (and there are many of them in this short play), two stagehands rearranged the furniture. These frequent scenery changes not only hampered the pace but also were largely unnecessary. Most scenes took place either in a bedroom or an office. A unit set-with the bed on one side and the table and chairs on the other-would have allowed quick cuts from one scene to the other. That would have boosted the play's energy level as well as simulated film editing, which would be appropriate for this play about making movies. With such frequent appearances, the running crew garnered nearly as much attention as the actors-especially the female crew member, whose outfit was more Felliniesque than any woman's in the cast (it also was distracting and impractical for moving scenery). The leaden pace of Passionate Women could make the 90 intermissionless minutes in folding chairs uncomfortable for the audience.
Another fault in the production was the miscasting of two key roles. Portly, bald Tony Torn certainly didn't look like a lady-killer-OK, neither did the real Fellini. But Torn had no magnetism either, and he didn't display any artistic-genius qualities that would draw women to him. As Valia, Maria Cellario looked too old to be one of Nino's mistresses, and her sultriness seemed severely labored. The performances suffered even more in comparison with those of the charismatic Raul Julia and Anita Morris, who played the Nino and Valia roles in the Tony-winning musical Nine-another Fellini-inspired story by
In Passionate Women, Nino's muses-his mistresses, his wife, her best friend-decide to make a movie about his fantasies and anxieties, and they surreptitiously film him in private moments. The first time they surprise him with the camera is one of the only moments in the play with any excitement. The rest of the time, the characters talk about sexuality, betrayal, jealousy, loyalty, stimulation, but the audience never sees or feels any of it. Director Joumana Rizk virtually leaves it up to the music between scenes to set the mood, and although it was a good score, it could not bear that burden.
(Also featuring Holly Cate, Rebecca Nelson, Bruce Katzman, Susan Wands, Jeanne Langston, and Charmaine Lord. Set, Jonathan Marvel; costumes, Quina Fonseca; lighting, Howard Thies; sound, Han Young.)
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Copyright 1998 Adrienne Onofri