The Light in the Piazza shines

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amy1101BY AMY LYONS

The word ‘adorable’ comes to mind when searching for a one-word descriptor for actors Stephanie Wall and Blake Ewing. The two are perfectly paired as starry-eyed young lovers in the current production of the “The Light in The Piazza” at El Portal Forum Theatre. The Tony Award-winning musical takes audiences on a trip to Italy, where young love blooms despite parental prohibitions. Directed by William Ewing, the El Portal/YMTA Productions rendering is sweet, sincere, and, at times, feels a wee bit dated. Still, it’s a romantic romp through Italy and the actors make the trip worthwhile.

The word 'adorable' comes to mind when searching for a one-word descriptor for actors Stephanie Wall and Blake Ewing. Photo: Ed Krieger

The word 'adorable' comes to mind when searching for a one-word descriptor for actors Stephanie Wall and Blake Ewing. Photo: Ed Krieger

It’s 1953 and Margaret Johnson (Mary Donnelly Haskell) is on holiday in Florence and Rome with her daughter, Clara Johnson (Wall). Mom is overbearing and bossy, while daughter is a shy waif who’s easily pushed around. But when Clara meets Fabrizio (Ewing), whose English is as sharp as an old butter knife, her heart strings are tugged and courage stirred. Margaret immediately tries to quash the coupling to no avail. As the romance heats up, we learn that Margaret’s control issues spring from the fact that Clara is mentally deficient. The mother hen doesn’t want her fragile chick trammeled upon, so she seeks to split up the amorous duo.

Eventually, with the help of Fabrizio’s fun-loving, quintessentially Italian father (Jonathan Kruger) Margaret comes around and gives the kids her blessing. But things get complicated from there.

The ensemble is strong, as is Christopher Scott Murillo’s set, Libby Jensen’s lighting, and the costumes of Patricia Jennings. All of this adds up to an authentically Italian evening at the theatre, including some songs written and sung in the pining Fabrizio’s native tongue. Margaret’s conflict gets a bit grating at times and the character takes a bit too long in letting go, singing her way through her doubts and fears one too many times. But the basic premise of young lovers giving it their all against the odds and parents letting go of their babies beyond their better judgment makes for a comfortably familiar tale that pleases. We root for Clara and Fabrizio, even when the outcome feels predictable.

Through July 26 at the El Portal Forum Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd. Call (818)508-4200.

Amy Lyons is a professional freelance journalist and theatre critic, with a degree in Theatre Arts and English from UMass, Boston. She started her journalism career at The Boston Globe. She is a member of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle.Her articles, theatre reviews and photos regularly appear in numerous publications, including the Beverly Press, Valley Life Magazine, the Santa Monica Mirror and www.nohoartsdistrict.com.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

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