"Hamlet," South Coast Repertory Theatre, Costa Mesa, CA
"Hell Valley High School Reunion's 'Titanic Cruise,'" The Found Theatre, Long Beach, CA

"The Verdi Girls," The Laguna Playhouse, Laguna Beach, CA

At times stacatto-sharp and interesting, the main thrust of Bernard Farrell’s The Verdi Girls, directed by Andrew Barnicle for it’s world premiere at The Laguna Playhouse, is off-key and dull.

It wasn’t the script.

All manner of hilarity occurs when a trove of true believers converges on Milan for their annual Verdi Weekend: pratfalls on balconies; a vengeful (and bored) mother, Mrs. Green (Patricia Cullen), who wrecks havoc on lectures and trophies; memorable characters including Oliver (Gregory North), a pompous English clerk with a fetish (women’s feet, photographs, close-ups); chatterbox Patricia (Traci L. Crouch) who's married to Pete (Bo Foxworth), a recent graduate of an anger management class; and Mario (Vasili Bogazianos), bellhop, security man, with no-small interest in lesbian two- and three-somes.

And all manner of sadness colors things blue: Steve (not shown), husband of Linda (Elyse Mirto), killed in a car crash, charismatic in life, idealized (and then brought down to earth) in death. Breda (Katherine McEwan), Linda’s hotel- and Internet chat-mate, otherwise cute and interesting but who nonetheless waxes melancholic. There’s a red herring of an affair between Patricia and Linda’s husband; but that’s small fish compared to the blockbuster announcement of a fling between Steve and Breda.

All this humor and grief, placed in Dwight Richard Odle’s scrumptiously lavish hotel room, with a majestic view out the window, against a backdrop of the heightened drama that is opera, should equate a rousing performance, right?

Wrong.

The script offered but Barnicle failed to realize its ample opportunity to exaggerate the tragicomic (read operatic) aspects of the script.

Though they much in common (a passion for Verdi; a sense of humor; and an affection for the charismatic Steve), the Verdi Girls didn’t connect. Nothing set up that effective-in-theory ending. That initial awkwardness between Linda and Breda was over the top; ditto for the discomfort of Patricia toward Linda. Both instances seemed (and continued to seem) forced, allegedly the better to forward the story.

For the majority of the production, then, until we learn that Breda had a dirty weekend with Steve and Patricia had one with a plumber conveniently named Steve, there’s this gawkiness between the three women that, until we learn it’s source, drones like a mosquito, blanches otherwise comic moments, and scrambles the play’s conclusion.

Though the bits that carried the story didn’t hit the high notes, the anecdotal parts did. Bogazianos nailed Mario’s funny, running gags; Cullen’s nailed the machinations of the wheelchaired and maniacal Mrs. Green; and Foxworth’s Pete was not just always on the verge of ballistic but, motivated to outdo the deceased Steve, not just because he always won the weekend’s competitions but because he suspected him of having an affair with his wife, he captured the ugly American to a tee.

Performances are Tuesday – Saturday, 8:00 PM, Saturday & Sunday, 2 PM, Sunday, June 24, 7 PM. The play runs until July 1. Tickets are $25-65. The Playhouse is located at 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. For more information call (949) 497-2787 or visit www.LagunaPlayhouse.com.
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