CPH combines the raunchy, romantic, ridiculous in “A Comedy of Tenors”
Even before the start of Cleveland Playhouse’s “A Comedy of Tenors,” it had gotten racy.
On Tuesday, Sept. 15, announcements over the intercom covered the usual information, going over the “no cell phone” rule, some background regarding the theatre company and, finally, the sponsors of the show. Various groups were listed out, but what finally caught the audience’s attention was the last business on the list:
“…and Ambiance, the store for lovers.”
The audience responded with a host of “ooh la la’s,” giggling as the play began.
This sponsor, which helps fund many of CPH’s productions, really sets the tone to this play, which is filled with double entendres. How about when Beppo (Bradley Dean) holds up a beef tongue to the already-sexualized Tatiana Racón (Lisa Brescia), and asks, “Would you like some tongue?” Or when, as Beppo and Tatiana secretly have sex in the neighboring hotel room, Saunders (Ron Orbach) thinks Beppo is getting dressed for the show and urges him to “come soon.”
The play was raunchy without being obscene, and most of the sexual stuff was referenced through jokes or scrambling men in robes.
At least, in this play’s version of France.
The play’s whole plot revolved around mistaken identity: An opera singer thinks he sees his wife cheating on him with a different opera singer. Both singers quit, and the manager is left with just one singer for a show that needs more. They find someone who looks like the leading singer, dress him up, and try to get a show together. In addition to that basic plot, there’s plenty of sex and plenty of jokes.
It was easy to laugh at the many quips which poked fun at Americans, Italians and the French in the light hearted play—one didn’t stop to think about the jokes because they were practically harmless, quick one-liners. However, for me at least, there was always a small voice that lingered on one question, which was why Tito’s Italian accent had to be so over-the-top.
Whenever it comes to ethnic accent humor, the debate never ends. After all, it’s easy to cross the line from “funny” to “too far.”
While I don’t think “A Comedy of Tenors” necessarily crossed that line, there were moments where I feared Tito would take on some Mario and Luigi persona and start talking about spaghetti and meatballs. (Needless to say, that would have been too much.)
But while Tito edged the line, he never crossed it. Soon, though, it all clicked together. Actor Bradley Dean, who portrayed Tito, also portrayed a second character, Beppo. It was the classic identity mix-up plot twist; a hotel bellhop looked so much like the famous singer that everyone believed he was actually him.
For Dean to portray both Tito and Beppo in the same play, it took considerable stamina and voice work. The Italian accent served a purpose that was more than just farcical; it was a form of characterization. There was no harm done, and by the time the two characters traded off time onstage (with just impressively slim seconds between transitions), the accents were hardly noticeable as anything particularly funny. They were a device.
And to be fair, Ken Ludwig, the play’s writer, evened out the European race humor with a couple of Ohio-themed jokes as well, such as Saunders’ humorous take on his childhood home:
“T.S. Eliot wrote ‘The Wasteland’ thinking of Akron, Ohio.”
Past the comedy, there was romance. Mimi (Kristen Martin) and Carlo (Bobby Conte Thornton) were so believable onstage, as Carlo kissed Mimi’s baby bump. Tito and Maria (Antoinette LaVecchia) bickered over the tiniest subjects, but also made up over the tiniest positivities. At the end of the show, when Max called his wife and newborn son, his pride was palpable as he held the phone up to the performing opera singers so the baby could hear music for the first time.
The play had its touching moments, but it ultimately returned to its comedy roots. It even had a “too long, didn’t read” (TL;DR) moment at the end, where the characters quickly re-performed the entire show at 10x the speed.
You could practically see credits rolling at the bottom of the stage as they hurried through the show like lightning. The cast hit each high point of humor, whether it involved an already-speedy marriage ceremony, fainting onto a couch, or an overprotective father strangling his daughter’s lover.
It gave the actors and actresses a chance to show off their acting chops. Sure, they could perform at a normal speed, no big deal. But fast-forward? Wow!
They were showing off. By the end, the cast was sweating, gulping in breaths as they took their final bow; it was impressive to say the least. Everywhere, the audience gasped at how precise these last few minutes were, despite being seemingly crammed in.
As the audience stood, row by row, applauding each actor and actress, the standing ovation was well-deserved.