I’m still having trouble believing that 1994’s Passion is a Sondheim–Lapine creation, let alone that it won a small pile of Tony Awards. As it’s so rarely performed, I’m not the only one who thinks so. New Melbourne company Life Like chose it as their debut piece. There are enough Sondheim diehards in town to ensure a sell out, but will it ensure anticipation for their next work?
It’s 1863 Italy and soldier Georgio is having a happy secret relationship with married and pretty Clara. When transferred out of the city, he finds himself at an outpost where the only woman is Fosca, who’s plainness hides her mental illness. She falls in love with Georgio at first glance and behaves with stalker-like obsession. Will he fall for her unquestioning, pure love or shoot her for being a freak?
Based on a film that’s based on a book, Passion does away with subtext and complexity and delivers a passionless melodrama.
Of the many things I love about Sondhiem, his women fascinate me the most. The women in A Little Night Music, Company, Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods are complex and real. Fosca and Clara are women whose actions and thoughts are only those seen through the eyes of the man they are both obsessed with; they are creatures who exist only for him. And this reflection of the world isn’t helped by the minor female characters played by men in hats in this production.
Life Like’s design and direction are close enough to the original production (thank you YouTube) to please fans who have never seen Passion. But they don’t bring anything new or exciting to this piece. It may as well have been a concert performance there was so little risk or real passion brought to the stage. It’s not rarely performed because it’s controversial, it’s rarely performed because it’s boring.