Rachel de Benedet and Vivian Reed in The Second Tosca
(© Neilson Barnard)
Rachel de Benedet and Vivian Reed in The Second Tosca
(© Neilson Barnard)
There's nothing wrong with Tom Rowan's The Second Tosca that couldn't be cured by cutting about 30 pages of text. Set backstage at Opera California during rehearsals and the opening night performance of Tosca, the play is often entertaining but is overstuffed with dialogue and characters.

There's Gloria Franklin (Vivian Reed), the African-American diva who has been signed to sing Tosca; Lisa Duvall (Rachel de Benedet), the young soprano who's covering the role; her gay brother Stephen (Carrington Vilmont), who acts as her manager; Aaron Steiner (Mark Light-Orr), the opera's conductor and Lisa's fiancé; Nathaniel Colby (Jeremy Beck), a music student obsessed with Lisa; Darcy Green (Melissa Picarello), Gloria's personal assistant and an aspiring singer; Ben (Tug Coker), the opera company's assistant stage manager; and Angelina Rinucci (Eve Gigliotti), the ghost of a legendary soprano from the Golden Age. There's even a dog named Princess Eboli, played adorably by Mickey.

All of these people interact in various ways as love, lust, jealousy, and other opera-level emotions come to the fore. Much of the play is quite entertaining, filled as it is with snappy lines -- e.g., "What's the point of having an obsession unless it damages you?" But the individual scenes don't hang together very well, and there's a lot of superfluous material here. For example: Though Coker is a welcome, hunky presence as Ben, excising the character would only serve to benefit the play; and though Picarello is wonderful in the scene where Aaron tells Darcy that she doesn't have the voice for an opera career, that scene seems like a non sequitur. With all of this and so much more going on, no wonder the production has a running time of two hours and 40 minutes, including intermission.

Happily, director Kevin Newbury keeps things moving along at a nice clip, and he has put together an exceptionally talented cast. The beautiful de Benedet handles the play's central role with aplomb, while Reed is delightful as the sassy, down-to-earth diva Gloria. Beck's nerdy charm and effortless, subtle comic timing are so impressive that TV sitcom casting directors should definitely take note. And here's a big, hearty "brava" for Gigliotti, from whose golden throat comes nearly all of the live operatic singing heard in the show. (She sings a cappella, thank you very much!)

Charlie Corcoran's set is functional and Joanna M. Haas's costumes are fetching, but the show is spottily lit by D.M. Wood. Sound designer Jill BC DuBoff does a fine job of piping in recorded excerpts of Tosca -- I recognized the Leontyne Price/Placido Domingo recording at one point -- but the decision to play contemporary music before and after the performance seems odd.

Over and above the flaws of the script and the production, enjoyment of The Second Tosca is hampered by the play's presentation at the 45th Street Theater, which is in desperate need of a complete renovation. Its lack of comforts and amenities extends to the air conditioning system, so recalcitrant during the performance I attended that many audience members could be seen fanning themselves throughout Act II.

On the title page of the script that was provided to reviewers, there's a note that this version of The Second Tosca is the ninth draft. If Rowan has it in him to take one more pass at the play and to do some major cutting, the end result could well be something very special. But, in its present form, Tosca isn't quite ready for her curtain call.