By Kay Kipling
You might struggle a bit to see how Asolo Repertory Theatre’s second production of the rotating rep season, Joe DiPietro’s Living on Love, fits into the company’s ongoing exploration of the American Character. But the audience on opening night didn’t care about that; they were too busy enthusiastically enjoying this lighter-than-air souffle of a show.
To carry the food analogy a step farther, when you’re cooking a soufflé, timing is everything. It has to be done just so. And under Peter Amster’s panache-filled direction of this play, the ingredients blend well enough and the timing is exact enough to almost make you forget there really isn’t much to it.
In fact, Living on Love was not a huge critical success in its recent Broadway run, despite the presence of real-life opera star Renee Fleming as Raquel, the slightly fading diva who, along with her egotistical maestro husband, occupies center stage. Chances are it could have been, back around 1957, the year the play (based on an earlier Garson Kanin work, Peccadillo) is set. Broadway tastes have changed since then, but there’s no reason why Living on Love couldn’t be a big hit “in the provinces,” as Raquel might say with a shudder.
The Raquel here is Rebecca Caine, who looks the part and does occasionally burst into welcome snippets of opera arias. But we only meet her after we’ve met her husband, Vito (Karl Hamilton), an over-the-top conductor who likes to boast more of his amorous conquests than his musical ones. The boasting in this case is being done to his ghostwriter Robert (third-year FSU/Asolo Conservatory student Josh James), who’s finding his job more than a tad frustrating.
In fact, he’s about to give up on it when the female half of the show arrives, in the person of the diva he admires and also in that of a young would-be female editor (Conservatory student Ally Farzetta), who wants desperately to succeed in a man’s world. It isn’t long before she’s writing Vito’s memoir, Robert’s writing Raquel’s, and the battle between the dueling egos of the diva and her husband ensues.
There’s nothing unexpected about that battle; we can see many of the laugh lines (written assuredly enough) coming. But style is what matters here, and Living on Love has it in spades, from the dead-on deliveries of the cast (which also includes two menservants, Roland Rusinek and Matthew McGee, who get their own moments to shine) to the opulent Manhattan penthouse set and Raquel’s gorgeous costumes (both designed by Robert Perdziola). Everyone plays the show the way it’s meant to be played, but it’s particularly fun to watch Hamilton in a flamboyant performance that couldn’t be further removed from his work as Hubert Humphrey in the theater’s All the Way, which opened a week ago. That’s a reason to glory in the rotating rep system.
Living on Love continues in rep through Feb. 25; for tickets call 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org.