13 Things About Ed Carpolotti finds Virginia (Penny Fuller) alone in her home for the first time after her husband, Ed (they were childhood sweethearts), passes away. Worse, she discovers that Ed's business has been failing for years. As president of the company now, Virginia finds herself on the hook for almost $2 million, including money borrowed from a loan shark. The vultures surround her, demanding funds immediately, when, most troublingly, a blackmail note arrives from an anonymous villain, demanding an additional $1 million, or else 13 awful things about her husband and his associates will be revealed to the world.
The book by Barry Kleinbort, based on a play by Jeffrey Hatcher, pulls out a plot familiar to any soap opera or primetime TV drama fan. The script adds nothing new to the tale and finishes with a twist more convoluted than anything dreamed up on PBS's Sherlock.
Kleinbort also wrote the ballad-heavy score, which features some charming songs. A highlight of the show is "At the Liberty Theater," a flashback tune sung in 1955 by a teenaged Virginia hoping to convince her parents she was not with that rascal Ed Carpolotti, but rather at a film she had actually still not seen.
In the song, Virginia spells out a fantasized plot to the Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin comedy My Friend Irma Goes West, utilizing all the clichés she remembered from both the original film My Friend Irma that had come out the year previously, as well as all Martin and Lewis comedies. At one point, she turns a catchphrase from each actor from Irma into a musical instrument. Virginia becomes a one-woman orchestra, combining Lewis' nasally "Hey lady" and Martin's crooning "ba-ba-ba-ba."
Fuller ingratiates herself to the audience quickly, allowing them to care for the struggling but still steel magnolia Virginia, but the book and score give her too few moments upon which to play. The character had relied on her husband for everything and now discovers that she's not only all alone, but that even an expert would fall apart under these daunting circumstances. Fuller conveys her fragility and resolve at the same time, making Virginia not only relatable, but also admirable. Her voice shows experience and hammers home Virginia's vulnerability.
As director, Kleinbort doesn't flood the stage with props or sets. He keeps the focus on Fuller where it belongs. Pianist Paul Greenwood also has a rapport with Fuller and the two come together on a well-sung duet.
Clocking in at around 71 minutes, 13 Things About Ed Carpolotti is almost too sparse an evening. But it grants audiences an opportunity to rediscover an accomplished member of theater's golden age. Any production that showcases Penny Fuller's gifts is a present indeed.