“Passion” by Stephen Sondheim
a kate west review
at the East West Players, David Henry Hwang Theater
120 Judge John Iso Street, Los Angeles 90012, (213) 625-7000
Running September 10 – October 5, 2003

Most Sondheim musicals are difficult to stage, given the complexity of the music as well as the emotional depth each character exhibits. The East West Players do a fine job in their recent show “Passion.” From the fascinatingly dark set design (Victoria Petrovich) to the particular and economical directing by Tim Dang (also Artistic Director), this production certainly does justice to one of Sondheim’s best later works.

This achingly powerful and passionate story shows us the obsessive lengths to which someone in love will go. Handsome soldier Giorgio, aptly portrayed by Michael Dalager, is stationed in a strange, far-off barracks. There he befriends the host, Colonel Ricci (Orville Mendoza), brother to the odd, house-bound, invalid Fosca, exquisitely played by Jacqueline Kim. Fosca becomes immediately enamored of Giorgio and her passion for him initially repulses him and drives him away but he gradually sees that he cannot get her out of his mind and ultimately succumbs to her chronic seduction. At first he believes that he is in love with Clara (Linda Igarashi) who is a married mother. She refuses to leave her husband and that inspires Giorgio to see that Fosca’s twisted love for him is the only true passion in his life. From beginning to end, each character undergoes profoundly painful change in realizing the potential for deep passion. The climax of the play is a dramatic duel between Colonel Ricci and Giorgio, over the honor of Fosca.

While Michael Dalager (Giorgio) demonstrates the wonderful emotional resonance of a tortured lover, it is Jacqueline Kim as Fosca who steals the show. She perfects the consumptive’s sickly cough and the awkwardness of a deeply shy and backward woman who finds the strength to become her own woman, through the fierce love she has for Giorgio. Her characterization is inspired and her stage presence magnificently compelling. Orville Mendoza as the Colonel and Michael Hagiwara as Doctor Tambourri are among the minor characters who are not as strong in the ensemble but the main characters are well up to the task of creating magic.

Scott Nagatani does a fine job as Musical Director, not an easy feat with a Sondheim musical. The dark music is slightly discordant which serves to remind us that love does not follow normal paths in life and that there is never one true definition. Overall, the production is very strong musically and the dramatic conflicts well played out. It is well worth checking out this intensely odd and poignant piece.

Passion (1994 Original Broadway Cast)

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