The Absurd To The Sublime

The Absurd To The Sublime

“Living On Love” is like your favorite pair of black high heels: Comfortable, familiar, a drawing room comedy with tried-and-true attributes you immediately recognize. At the same time, it’s also sophisticated, urbane, a period piece that makes itself at home among modern sensibilities.

The comedy, opening March 30 at Arkansas Public Theatre in Rogers, was written in 2014 by Joe DiPietro, also the author of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” and “Over the River and Through the Woods.” It’s based on a 1985 play titled “Peccadillo” by Garson Kanin, best known for writing “Born Yesterday,” which ran for 1,642 performances on Broadway in the late 1940s; directing shows like “Funny Girl”; and co-authoring film comedies like “Adam’s Rib” and “Pat and Mike” with his wife, actress Ruth Gordon.

All that said, it should come as no surprise that “Living On Love” has the ambience of a more innocent — and perhaps elegant — time. It’s set in 1957 in an opulent Manhattan penthouse where Vito de Angelis — “call me Maestro” — is supposed to be penning his autobiography with the help of ghost writer Robert Samson. The show opens with Robert (played by Ben Baldwin, just seen in “The Producers”) listening to a recording of his most recent interview with the Maestro:

Vito: And-a then, after I conduct the most beauty-ful ‘Marriage of-a Figaro,’ I looked at all the peoples loving Maestro and Maestro began to cry.

Robert: Cry?

Vito: Because Maestro was not-a just- a good, Maestro was magnifico!

Robert: Oh c’mon!

Vito: And of-a course, before I-a leave Cleveland, I make-a the love to the entire humming chorus of-a ‘Madama Butterfly.’

Robert: What? Is that even possible?

Vito: I-a know what you-a thinking— is-a that even possible?

Vito could easily be a caricature, a parody of an arrogant conductor completely enamored with his own press. In the APT version, directed by Brenda Nemec, he isn’t, thanks to the talents of actor John Jefferson (“Cabaret,” “Blithe Spirit,” “Sound of Music”).

“You just have to believe in him,” Jefferson says. “I think of actors like Tim Conway and Peter Sellers, whose characters were over the top but so real. If you commit to it, they believe you, even though you’re ridiculously bigger than life.”

As the frazzled, frustrated ghost writer falls apart, Vito’s wife, Raquel, a famous soprano, comes home from a faltering tour to find he’s spent the $50,000 publisher’s advance, and the book is stalled on page 4. Played by Kate Taylor Williams (“Other Desert Cities”), Raquel also finds that Robert has a swooning, stuttering crush on her, and soon she has hired him to write her autobiography: “Call Me Diva.” Enter Iris Peabody (Allison Sehika), a junior assistant editor sent by the publisher to retrieve the money, and you know what comes next: Raquel teases Robert, Vito courts Iris — and in the end, all four of them discover whom they really love. Of course, that requires the help of Tweedledee-and-Tweedledum butlers Bruce (Joseph K. Farmer, APT executive director) and Eric (Travis Mitchell, “South Pacific,” “Oliver”) and La Diva’s little dog, Puccini, portrayed by Minnie, who debuted on the APT stage in “Of Mice and Men.”

“Some of it, we play so straight,” says Nemec with a chuckle. “And some of it, we push the laughs. It’s a balance between the serious and the absurd.”

Nemec directed Di Pietro’s “Over the River and Through the Woods” at APT in 2009 and knew she could trust the playwright “to tell such a great story.”

“Plus I have a cast of seasoned actors committed to creating a great piece of work,” she adds. “We tend to forget that everybody is a volunteer; they come here after work — a physician, a physical therapist, an administrative assistant — to do this. It’s more than just having fun. It takes sacrifice.”



‘Living On Love’

WHEN — 8 p.m. March 30-31; no April 1 show; again April 5-7 at 8 p.m. & 2 p.m. April 8

WHERE — Arkansas Public Theatre at the Victory in downtown Rogers

COST — $18 balcony; $40 for a table for two

INFO — 631-8988

Categories: Cover Story