I caught The Lisbon Traviata at the Kennedy Center last night.
For those of you who don’t know the piece, it’s a play like Into the Woods and Sunday in the Park… with a first act that is fun and seems almost complete and a second act that throws everything into disarray. Even though the role of Mendy who dominates the first act is currently at the top of my wish list of roles (along with Max in The Sound of Music), I’ve always enjoyed the second acts of all these pieces more.
The first, fun, act of the show, set in the Eighties, has two gay men of a certain age dishing about opera. It is a truism that as gay life has become more open, previously-thriving cultures set around such things as the ballet, opera, and yes, cabaret, have seen themselves wane. So it is lovely that we have a document of this culture in this piece. It is also interesting that in the decade or so since the premier of the piece, it’s clear that the audiences “get” the specific jokes less, and this production makes the choice to only try to land selected ones instead of going for them all. Watching last night, I also felt that playwright Terrance McNally also showed inadvertant prescience in having the characters dealing with a number of New York Institutions such as Tower Records and the beloved Village bakery Jon Vie that no longer exist.
Interestingly, at some point after the script was published, the second act was re-written to bring back a character who had only appeared by phone. And the ending of the show departs from both the script and my memories of the previous productions that I’ve seen, to what I understand was the original outcome.