Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Signature Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule (updated)

Natascia Diaz and Claybourne Elder
Photo by Christopher Mueller
Much of the power of the Signature Theatre production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Passion comes from the way director Matthew Gardiner and scenic designer Lee Savage ratchet up the tension. It isn't just that the work runs almost two hours, not only without an intermission, but with no breaks for applause; Savage has configured the MAX Theatre, the larger of the two Signature stages, into two facing banks of seats, confining the action to a narrow corridor with wrought-iron balconies at either end and an overhanging canopy of flowers and chandeliers.

Sondheim's score and James Lapine's book, based on an Italian film drawn from an 1869 novel, is relentless in its feverish emotions and characterizations that transcend the limits of simple realism. Gardiner has brought together a stellar cast led by Natascia Diaz, whose performance as Fosca oozes both neediness and determination, and the more conventionally attractive Claybourne Elder and Steffanie Leigh.

The story, set in 1860s Italy, centers on the emotional entanglements among three people: Giorgio (Elder), a handsome and rather callow soldier; Clara (Leigh), his mistress, a married woman with a son; and Fosca, the cousin of Giorgio's commanding officer (Will Gartshore) at a remote posting. Fosca is chronically ill, physically unattractive, and always dressed in black except for her white nightgown, but she knows what she wants—and that's Giorgio.

Diaz has a way of making herself seen without undue drama, which works in keeping Fosca from seeming too over the top even as she becomes increasingly desperate. Elder is rather diffident as Giorgio, a man trying to use logic to explain to Fosca that he isn't in a position to give her the love she demands, regardless of her suffocating devotion and acts of stalking. Leigh bubbles and fizzes as Clara, bursting with love and radiant in Robert Perdziola's most detailed and alluring costumes.

The entire cast is strong, especially the ensemble work among the soldiers (including Helen Hayes Award honorees Bobby Smith and Lawrence Redmond, along with Gartshore). The production also soars with a full orchestra, conducted by Jon Kalbfleisch, performing Jonathan Tunick's original orchestrations. (The score gains depth with repeated listening, as Sondheim's motifs turn up in unexpected places and sung by unfamiliar characters.)

Signature Theatre
August 14th - September 23rd, 2018
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Based on the film "Passione D'Amore" directed by Ettore Scola
Giorgio: Claybourne Elder
Clara: Steffanie Leigh
Colonel Ricci: Will Gartshore
Lieutenant Torasso: Ian McEuen
Major Rizzoli: Bobby Smith
Lieutenant Barri: Lawrence Redmond
Doctor Tambourri: John Leslie Wolfe
Sergeant Lombardi: Gregory Maheu
Private Augenti: Christopher Mueller
Fosca: Natascia Diaz
Fosca's Mother: Rayanne Gonzales
Fosca's Father: Bobby Smith
Ludovic: Gregory Maheu
Mistress: Katie Mariko Murray
Directed by Matthew Gardiner
Music direction by Jon Kalbfleisch
MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or