At the end of Imperfect Love, written by Brandon Cole and playing now at The Connelly Theater, the most thrilling theatrical moment of the season occurs. A writer is cured of his writers’ block, a revenge plot is annihilated, a friendship is secured, a performance is assured, an actress finds her character and reunites with her lover — all of it in a single and most singular monologue.
Accomplishing this divine coup de téâtre is an actress, Eleonora Della Rosa, modeled on the legendary and charismatic Eleonora Duse and played with fiery rage in this recent production by the supremely talented Cristina Spina. Spina’s the kind of actress you hope to see when you see an Off-Broadway play, especially one produced in affiliation with the estimable John Turturro. Easily filling every moment of stage time with pathos, rage, joy and cunning, she is a diva in the best sense of that word. Commanding our attention and then giving us more than we’d ever expect or ask for, Spina shines here as the brightest of stars, the zenith of our theatrical stratosphere.
At play’s opening, we discover Gabriele D’Annunzio, here called Gabriele Torrisi (played by Rodrigo Lopresti with handsome authority) a writer with a very big problem. His play, regarding a love affair set somewhere in the antiquities, doesn’t quite work, and the theater owner is angry and ready to close the play. Domenica, the leading player of this unhappy little company (played commandingly by Aidan Redmond), has a few concerns of his own regarding the play’s imminent closing. It seems modern audiences are looking for naturalist plays by Strindberg or Ibsen and have left the neoclassical plays with their heightened histrionics behind. It’s a compelling conflict beautifully researched by Brandon Cole.
Finally offsetting the dramatic conflict, we meet two clowns, Marco (played with a demure and endearing presence by Ed Malone) and Beppo, his counterpart (played with pugnacious cunning by David O’Hara). The clowns as well as the leading player offer possible cures to remedy the writer’s block Gabriele is dealing with, all the while attempting to cheer him up as they offer romantic insights to the dueling lovers. A wondrously devious device is used to move the proceedings forward and in the final moments of this romantic comedy, inspired by the works of Pirandello and Beckett, we come to the very satisfying final monologue.
The physical production is equally stunning; on the night I attended the performance, the audience burst into applause at the opening of the second act. Major kudos to Gianni Quaranta, whose sets and costume designs fill the theatre with great ideas and gorgeous execution. Lighting by Jon Degaetano helps to bedazzle the proceedings beautifully. All of this gorgeous production occurs under the sagacious helm of Michael Di Jiacomo. There is an air of authenticity in the text; it’s clear both Di Jiacomo and Cole understand their medium. However, the rather dizzying conflation of sources, Strindberg, Ibsen, Commedia dell’arte, Beckett and Pirandello, sets the actors adrift onstage, sometimes landing with precision, sometimes not. The overall effect is still impressive though, with a slow narrative crescendo in the first act, giving way to the stunning monologue in the second act, revealing this penultimate valentine to Pirandello’s famous quote: “the history of mankind is the history of ideas.” So take your valentine to see Imperfect Love, and enjoy its bouquet of great ideas and romance.