There are many theater companies in the world that pride themselves in doing productions of little known works. Washington Shakespeare is one of them; this year’s season for them ends with two shows running in tandem, Night and Day, one of Tom Stoppard’s earlier and lesser known plays, with two obscure Tennessee Williams one-acts which my family decided to skip. Wolf Trap’s opera company occasionally likes to do it too, and they managed to fish out from early last century one chamber opera with the title of Le Donne Curiose by Italian composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, and in the lecture before the show the opera was raved about, talked up as a real find, and two scenes from it were presented where the powerful voices of the company’s young artists were on full display; the music went over better in the lecture room than it did on the stage; even Wolf Trap Barns’ small theater was just a little too big for it.
The basic problem with doing this is that there are truly a limited amount of diamonds in the rough, and too many plays and operas that get forgotten simply because they weren’t very good.
Not that any Tom Stoppard play would truly be bad. Night and Day, a play about British reporters trying to cover civil strife in a fictional African country in the early 80s, is very thought-provoking, often funny, and heartbreaking at the end. The characters are well-realized, the conflicts well displayed. But Stoppard shows his early weak spots; as interesting as the monologues he includes are, they’re too long and there are too many of them, and the audience gets bored. The program talked about the difficult and often dangerous work these war correspondents did in an age when they really were the only way the public found out about events in distant countries, and his admiration for them shows clearly, but perhaps he was a little too in love, and didn’t realize the audience wouldn’t be interested in every single thought that could be contemplated on the subject of them. Washington Shakespeare’s production knew well enough what to do with the better aspects of Night and Day, but they didn’t find any solutions to its problems; if this play was to be done more often, it would be wiser to do it with some cuts.
But at least Night and Day had some very good features that makes it well enough worth seeing if you like Tom Stoppard. Less so with Le Donne Curiose. Here we start with stereotype cliches, men needing a men’s only club to escape their stupid women, who promptly assume their doing either wicked things in said club(gambling, cheating, which at least is an understandable concern), or absolutely crazy things(alchemy, communing with demons), and responding in such a outrageous way that these horridly sexist men suddenly seem justified in wanting to be away from them. By the end of the second act I felt contempt for all the characters, which says enough about an opera. I don’t think the production wanted to acknowledge how misogynist their opera was, trying to ignore that they had a husband bragging about hitting his wife and leaving out the harsh physical slapstick that the original Carlo Goldoni play would have no doubt been defined by, covering it up instead with corny 60s mis-en-scene that just increased the absurdity. Much of the music had beauty, but none of it was memorable enough to make the three hours worth sitting through.
Night and Day runs until July 3. I think there may be a couple more performances of Le Donne Curiose, but you probably shouldn’t go to them anyway.