We caught the Broadway touring Light in the Piazza at the Paramount last Friday from row W in the orchestra section, after having seen the original at the Intiman several years ago from, like, row E.
We liked Light better before. The pass through New York made it shorter, more spectacular, more amped up in the usual Broadway kind of way – but less authentic seeming, more disjointed, and much less emotionally immediate.
Plus it now reveals Clara’s secret earlier, just before the intermission, in a clumsy way that just seems stuck in there so people don’t worry their little heads off in the lobby.
When we saw it the first time, we’d of course already figured it out ourselves very early on – but that was half the fun. In fact, the secret seemed so open that what bothered me most was why the piece kept maintaining it as a secret for so long.
Then it dawned on me that this bit of rhetorical excess was a marker of something subterranean going on in the representation – as such rhetorical excesses nearly always are – and that what it was doing was keeping open the much more tantalizing possiblity that Clara’s secret wasn’t mere mental deficiency – or, later, excess age – but something much more interesting in a Crying Game kind of vein. Could she really at this early a date be a transsexual, or, more likely given the the novella’s 1950s genesis and setting, a resolved hermaphrodite who could never have a child herself?
In any event, Light does some interesting ideological work in our own contemporary setting as a kind of indirect allegory of gay marriage. No one these days is really all that opposed to an American marrying an Italian, or a younger man marrying an older woman, or even someone as moderately mentally challenged as Clara marrying anyone at all.
But some people are strongly opposed to people of the same sex marrying, no matter how much they are in love. And it’s against that kind of prejudice that Light works its magic, by dramatizing so effectively the age old story of love conquering all.
And works it so well that, despite the story being old and a little hoary, and the songs and music being a little too Sondheimesque and non melodic – the only really good one is Fabrizio’s final Love to Me, and Guettel cuts that so short it seems he must be embarrased by it – that the play has become so successful on the basis of this facination alone, I think, rather than from any inherent beauty or perfection in its dramatic realization itself.
One thing that was added in New York that clinches the case for this interpretation of the Light phenomenon – the enormous male nude sculptures that dominate the first couple of scenes, with physiques that derive less from the Italian Renaissance and more from the gay club scene at the end of the last millennium. Indeed, the curtain opens on a male nude seen from the rear – how much more in your face can you get than that?