By Karen Isaacs
Seven Angels Theater in Waterbury is giving the drawing room comedy is getting its due with Living on Love through Dec. 6.
For those unfamiliar with the genre — it features a beautiful apartment or house (and mainly the living room), glamorous and apparently wealthy characters, witty dialogue, servants, and a plot where the most serious conflict may be whether to stir or shake the martinis.
No major issues, no earth-shattering ideas, no serious heart-ache. No one dies or gets destroyed.
Living on Love is adapted by Joe DePietro from Garson Kanin’s 1985 play Peccadillo which never made it to Broadway.
We have the requisite glamorous people — in this case Vito De Angelis a conductor whom everyone calls “Maestro” and his wife, the opera singer Raquel De Angelis, who is referred to as “Diva.” They are living in 1957, in a gorgeous Manhattan penthouse attended to by two male servants who have been with them for years.
But everything is not as perfect as it could be. Both Maestro and Diva are aging and their careers are not booming as once they did. The money isn’t pouring in. Leonard Bernstein is the new hot conductor — just the mention of his name sends Maestro into spasms, and Maria Callas is getting the parts and salary that Diva once did.
As the play opens, a young author, Robert Samson is waiting for Maestro to emerge from his bedroom to continue work on his autobiography. He’s been given a $50,000 advance but so far, he has fired six ghostwriters and Samson (the 7th) only has two pages written. Not only does Maestro want to dictate it, he is also perennially late. Soon Diva arrives from her tour which has not been a big success and Samson gushes over her. Enter Iris Peabody, a young junior assistant editor who arrives to deliver bad news: the publishers want their advance back.
But all is not lost — suddenly Maestro is willing to work with Iris and Diva decides that her memoirs would be more interesting and will work with Samson to write them.
What transpires is predictable. Both of the older couple think that the young writers are enamored of them while sniping at their spouse. In the meantime Iris and Robert begin to get together as they both have to cope with the outsized egos of the two musicians. Plus both of the would be authors have little interest in telling the truth in their memoirs.
Since the stories always tend to be lightweight, evaluating a drawing room comedy means judging how silly it all is (relatively), the level of wit, the production values and of course the performances and direction. Does it move? Are the characters appropriately outrageous or civilized?
Here, the Seven Angels production gets mixed reviews.
For a small theater creating the glamourous set and costumes is difficult. How do you create a luxurious NYC apartment and designer costumes on a very limited budget? The answer is that Seven Angels doesn’t manage it. The set by Daniel Husvar creates an appropriate background but then some of the furniture choices seem more 1930s or grandmother’s left overs than an elegant apartment. The same is true for the costumes by Janelle Berte, the fabrics are more Kmart than Saks. They have some resemblance to clothes from the 1950s but they are not particularly flattering for the Diva. Stephanie Zimbalist who plays Diva is also given one of the most unattractive hair styles for a glamorous character that I’ve seen on the stage. Even her make-up could have been better.
Director James Glassman keeps the pace up so that we don’t ponder for too long the absurdity of it all. Yet he makes some odd choices. One is the strange voice that one of the servants, Eric, played by Michael Irvin Pollard uses. The other is the almost hopping movements of Iris (played by Ali Breneman), the young editor. Neither really works, and her movements are silly and inappropriate.
Overall it requires a cast with style and panache. No-one in this cast really achieves that.
The star of this production is Stephanie Zimbalist. She manages the over-the-top aspects of Diva well and even sings a few snippets in a more than acceptable voice. Steve Vinvich, plays the over-the-top Maestro with a mane of grey-white hair that becomes charmingly disarranged. This is a man who believes his press clippings.
The two young writers whose roles are so much blander are needed to balance the extravagance of the older couple. Ali Breneman is hindered by the odd almost hop; plus she plays the role like a stereotype of the up-tight librarian complete with prominent glasses and hair in a bun. Alex Grossman as Robert Samson, the ghost writer, appears so young that it is hard to believe that he is out of college, but it he does let you see his insecurity. These characters are sincere, young and mostly dull.
Bruce Connolly and Michael Irvin Pollard are good as the two servants, Bruce and Eric, who keep the household running and are not surprised at anything their employers do or say. The scene changes are a delight; the director did an excellent job choreographing them.
Living on Love is a pleasant theatrical “junk food” that will amuse you but not strain your brain. It is at Seven Angels Theater, 1 Plank Rd, Waterbury through Dec. 6. For tickets contact 203-757-4676 or online at SevenAngelsTheatre.org.