“The Lisbon Traviata” produced by Theatre twenty-two at Richard Hugo House

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Stephen (Daniel Christensen) and Mendy (Eric Mulholland)

If this, their second production, is any indication of what to expect from Theatre twenty-two, we have much to look forward to. Currently playing at Hugo House, and offered to coincide with Seattle’s June Pride Celebration is Terrance McNally’s “The Lisbon Traviata.” Though it is certainly a play featuring gay men and the passion many of them have for opera, at heart it is a play for everyone with its focus on friendship, love, jealousy and heartbreak.

The renowned Maria Callas performance in Lisbon of “la Traviata” obsesses Mendy (Eric Mulholland) at whose apartment Stephen (Daniel Christensen) seeks solace. Stephen senses that his doctor lover is about to end their long-term relationship. Large-scale images of Maria are very much present, and operatic angst fills the stage. When Stephan leaves Mendy and returns to his apartment, a little earlier than expected, he finds his lover in the arms of another, and to make it worse, it’s a younger man! Obviously this is not going to end well.

McNally is a highly regarded contemporary American playwright, and this is one of his finer scripts. Although it portrays the gay scene in New York in the 1980s, it has the sensibilities of a current work. The production team here has worked miracles with the space. Gerald B. Browning’s sets are stunning with their integration of Callas images within modern apartments. The deep red/maroon velvets of the first act set, the overwhelming number of CDs and records, as well as the appurtenances create a scene that says almost as much as the dialog does. And the Act II set with its sharp lines and preponderance of black symbolically matches the play’s action.

Browning also directed this production, and here too, his work is up to the material. He and all the actors mine McNally’s script for every possible laugh and all its pathos. They cause you to feel deeply for the characters, to be charmed by them, flawed or fey though they may be.

And there’s Maria, always in the background, perfect Maria who some say never sang a false note. But she knew, just as these characters know: opera is about us—our life and death, our passions.

As the circus barkers of the old days used to say, “Step right up; see it here.”

Through June 28, Thurs.—Sat., also Mon. June 23, at Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave., Seattle, (brownpapertickets.com/event/575647 or info@theatre22.org or 206 257-2203).

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