Catch a Summer Romance in the Center Theater Piazza
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, June 18, 2022
There’s no escape from Escondido’s summer sun like disappearing into the streets of Florence; The Light in the Piazza, running June 17-25, offers that bit of respite in its two week run at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido as the penultimate musical of CCAE Theatricals’ inaugural season.
A 6-time Tony Award winning show, The Light in the Piazza, featuring a book by Craig Lucas and music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, tells the story of Margaret Johnson and her tour of Italy on holiday with her daughter, Clara, in summer of 1953. When Clara’s hat rides a breeze into the hands of Florence local Fabrizio Naccarelli, the pieces have been laid for romance bigger than Clara (and Margaret) could have ever imagined. At the crux of this show is a past traumatic brain injury sustained in childhood by the now-adult Clara, resulting in lifelong developmental disability. This disability leaves mother Margaret carrying a resulting protectiveness over her daughter alongside disenchantment with the concept of love.
Therefore, while Fabrizio is falling head over heels with the impressionable and enchanting woman of his dreams and Clara is exploring adulthood and romance for the first time at age 26, Margaret’s reticence holds the young lovers back from their happy ending. Is their romance an appropriate outcome or not? Audiences are left to decide based only on the clues dropped by Clara’s parents (her diminished capacity is discussed, but not evident in the script or score), a plot that meanders and weaves, the introduction of new characters and conflicts just to solve and push them away, and an orchestration that weaves in both classical and operatic phrases as well as contrasting unexpected harmonic shifts. Add in the mental gymnastics of navigating alternating Southern and Italian lyrics and scenes… and, well, the escapism leaves no room for jet lag.
While the subject matter may leave audiences feeling uneasy, the romantic relationship between Madison Claire Parks’ Clara Johnson and Nigel Huckle’s Fabrizio Naccarelli is electric. These two young actors are enchanting in their portrayals of their respective characters. The care and consideration with which they orbit and, ultimately, engulf one another is beautiful and intimate to watch. Of note, Huckle’s Il Mondo Era Vuoto requires no translation; he simply becomes a young man in love before the audience’s eyes and it is exquisite.
This small but mighty cast also includes Nancy Snow Carr, John LaLonde, Colden Lamb, Melissa Musial, Debra Wanger, Tucker Boyes, Kelsey Ann Sutton, Devin Collins, Maggie Randolph, Chase Lowary, Caroline Nelms, Ernesto Figueroa, and Marisa Moenho, led by director Kari Hayter and music director/conductor Lisa LeMay.
Fly away to catch The Light in the Piazza, running for two weeks with evening performances on the 17, 18, 24, 24, and 25 at 7:30 p.m and matinees on June 18, 19 and 25th at 2 p.m; tickets can be found at www.artcenter.org.