Between romance and hope there’s “The Light in the Piazza.”
The Tony Award-winning musical opens this weekend as a production of the Illinois State University School of Theatre and Dance. Enrico Spada is an MFA directing candidate in the school and is directing this show as part of his thesis project. It’s the first time he’s directed a musical. Spada said he was drawn to “The Light in the Piazza” for its depiction of love against the odds.
Margaret Johnson, a wealthy southern woman, is visiting Italy in 1953 along with her 26-year-old daughter Clara. While the pair enjoy the sites of Florence, they hold a secret between them.
“Clara meets a boy – Fabrizio, who is a young Italian man, and they fall in love instantly. So, it’s sort like any other romantic comedy, where they ‘meet cute.’ But there is something to Clara, a secret that Margaret has been holding on to that puts a damper on the proceedings.”
At the age of 12, Clara had an accident that left her with a head injury. The doctors revealed that Clara would not develop emotionally and intellectually as a result of the injury.
“What’s interesting to me about this is that the main problem for Margaret is how she comes to terms with what Clara can do and not do, and how much of her seeming limitations are because of the way Margaret raised her or because of the injury she sustained," Spada said.
“I think part of the point of this story, and why Elizabeth Spencer wrote the novel in the 60s, was to demonstrate that we don’t know what people are capable of and that we assume what they can or cannot do. As an artist, I myself try to not put judgements or boundaries on Clara as a character as to what she can or can’t do. I leave that up to the audience to decide for themselves as they watch.”
The play is rooted in realism, with a touch of psychological fantasy, said Spada.
“I think the point the play is trying to make is that it’s not about language, that the connection between Clara and Fabrizio works on a whole other level – a higher plane. Their love transcends words.”
“The Light in the Piazza” has a book by Craig Lucas and music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, who is the grandson of theatre legend Richard Rogers. The show runs March 1-8 at the Illinois State University Center for the Performing Arts in Normal.
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