nytheatre.com review by Case Aiken
October 7, 2009
I sometimes accuse shows in festivals of getting stuck in theatre spaces that don't quite fit with the nature of the shows; sometimes the stage is too crowded with actors or the dynamic that would have worked in a more intimate setting is diluted by the stage being too large. Fortunately, Lorenzo: The Man Who Wrote Mozart, part of this year's NYMF festival, is able to fully take advantage of the spacious real estate it was offered at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row. The show tells the story of Lorenzo DaPonte, a real life librettist from the 18th century and contemporary of many famous composers, not the least of which (obviously, given the title) was Mozart.
It starts sometime later in his life, with Lorenzo staging an autobiographical show, having us as an audience watching the rehearsal. This seems like an unnecessary staging device and plays into my only other complaint, which I'll get to in a moment. I'll admit, the play/rehearsal-within-a-play structure allows some of the minimalist approaches to costume changes and props to be more easily taken, but it has the infuriating element of having actors step out of character periodically and leaving me wondering if that was supposed to happen! My main reason against it, however, is that the play doesn't need that additional layer. The music and lyrics by Richard Engquist and Judd Woldin are very good, the cast is skilled, and the story is a fascinating layer of history that most people (history buffs aside) will be learning about for the first time while watching the show. Peter Reardon strikes a dashing figure as Lorenzo DaPonte, carrying the show with the same charisma that his character must have used throughout his illustrious career. He feels like the perfect romantic protagonist, a swashbuckling poet who has completely relatable flaws, and Reardon plays the part perfectly. The rest of the cast cycle through multiple roles, doing a very good job of keeping it clear who they are playing at any given time. In particular, Carl Wallnau impressed me very much with his various portrayals. Trisha Rapier's performance as Anna Grahl provides a great female role in a show that could potentially have been very male-centric. It's such a great piece that I was more distracted than anything by the breaking of character that happened too sporadically for it to feel integral to the show.
My other complaint that I had walking out was that the show ended just a little abruptly. Where the story of Lorenzo ends in the show doesn't make it seem natural that he would then be staging his own story in any setting. This is where, if that superstructure were not present, I wouldn't have even noticed, but as it was I was left confused. Thankfully, Wikipedia filled me in on the rest, but that wouldn't have been necessary if it hadn't been structured that way.
In the end, my complaints are minor and subject to my own biases. The show is very good, more action-packed than most, and extremely engaging. I hope to see it develop further (though I understand that it's already had a fair share) as I would very much like to see a more elaborate production in the future.