Friday, December 19, 2014

Song of the spouse

Paul Greenwood and Penny Fuller in 13 Things About Ed Carpolotti. Photo: Meghan Moore.

I suppose anything that brings the luminous Penny Fuller back to town is some cause for celebration.  Still, I can only give 13 Things About Ed Carpolotti, which closes this weekend at Merrimack Rep, two out of three cheers (and maybe only one and a half).  It's a pleasant way to spend an hour and a half, I suppose; Ms. Fuller warbles sweetly, and her accompanist, Paul Greenwood, tickles the ivories (and even croons) with sophisticated skill.  The design is likewise luxe, and the direction assured.

It's just the material itself that's a bit lacking. Or perhaps the problem is that the songs composer Barry Kleinbort has devised for this chamber musical undermine the tone of the original material from Jeffrey Hatcher's bleakly comic Three Viewings. Fuller's monologue (the third and best of a matched set which the New Rep gave a savage reading of a year ago) traced with morbid aplomb the travails of a rather willfully innocent widow as she woke up to the nefarious past of her deceased husband (the eponymous Ed).

The wicked fun of Hatcher's text largely derives from the perfect pace of poor Mrs. Carpolotti's appalled descent into a milieu of thugs and mobsters - to all of whom dear old Ed seemingly owed cold hard cash. Although never fear -  she's rescued from this den of thieves in a nice, tight twist, which gives the show a needed closing boost.

Which is a good thing, because the songs kill the momentum of the script's chilly satire, and the cocktail-hour mood of the music softens its light sting. Which is too bad, because Kleinbort's tunes (which he composed at Fuller's suggestion) are actually appealing - they just don't advance the action, and aren't designed for black comedy. And Fuller, whose air of baffled innocence seems a close match to Hatcher's intents, perhaps understandably winds up playing the songs more than the original text.  Even the decision to move the action (such as it is) from a funeral home to Mrs. Carpolotti's living room somehow subverts the mood. So the show ends up not only slight, but slightly at odds with itself - which is perhaps why this vehicle sometimes seems to stall.

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