How can the revival of a 1953 play dramatizing a middle-aged, female tourist's dalliance with infidelity possibly shock or draw emotion from audiences long desensitized by society's flippant treatment of monogamy? Two answers to that overblown question: Cast the glorious Debra Monk in your production and don't underestimate the power of romance, which is, alas, exactly what Lincoln Center does with its revival of The Time of the Cuckoo, running at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre.
This bittersweet comedy by the legendary Arthur Laurents hasn't seen a major production in New York since its Broadway premiere. The story, however, has had an interestingly prolific life, first as the inspiration for the classic Katharine Hepburn film Summertime, then as the basis for the Richard Rodgers/Stephen Sondheim musical Do I Hear a Waltz?
Set in 1950s Venice, the plot revolves around Leona Samish (Debra Monk), an American spinster attempting to solve her mid-life crisis by traveling through Europe. The play opens in the garden courtyard of a lush and beautiful pensione run by the spirited Signora Fioria (Cigden Onat) and her ingénue servant Giovanna (Chiara Mangiameli). Other guests at the exotic hotel include the elderly couple Edith and Lloyd McIlhenny (Polly Holliday & Tom Aldredge) and the seemingly vibrant and loving newlyweds Eddie and June Yaeger (Adam Trese & Ana Reeder).
Leona at first appears to be optimistic, confident, and full of life as a single, 40-something Midwesterner. When the various couples and characters retire or go their own way for the evening, leaving Leona alone to eat her dinner and to listen to the romantic calls of the gondoliers drifting through the Venetian air, the audience, in a moment, sees how repressed and lonely she truly is.
The next afternoon, Leona receives a visit from Renato Di Rossi (Olek Krupa), a shopkeeper who sold her a beautiful goblet the day before. When the elegant, handsome Italian man asks Leona to have coffee with him that evening, she is struck with anxiety, wondering how anyone could pursue someone like herself. Despite her confusion and hesitancy--stemming from her introversion and fear of intimacy--Leona decides to accept. The smile that appears on her face after this encounter is one of the most genuine moments of the whole production.