Romance Language: Theater review by Sandy MacDonald
Can you find it in your heart to empathize with a rich, lonely, empty-nester divorcée? I might, were the character of Kay Morgan, flimsily sketched by playwright Joe Godfrey and simperingly portrayed by Audrey Heffernan Meyer, not so terminally annoying.
To keep her brain cells active (relatively speaking), Kay has signed up for private, in-home Italian lessons conducted by hunky Fiore (Jared Zirilli, who finesses the limited vocab required). The dashing young tutor (chicly Euro-fashioned by Gregory Gale) finds Kay’s inability—after several sessions—to put the "u’" in “buon” inexplicably endearing. It helps that she has a really nice Upper East Side apartment (credibly conveyed in a cramped scale by designer Paul Tate dePoo III) and that, at this rate, she’ll require pricey coaching for years, possibly decades to come.
It was Kay’s daughter, Penny (Mairin Lee, convincing as a smart, young attorney), who suggested this seemingly harmless pastime. Upon meeting Fiore, though, Penny’s immediately suspicious—all the more so once she sniffs romance in the air. It bursts into full flower (note Fiore’s metaphorically laden name) soon after Kay treats him to La Bohème at the Met and, during one climactic passage, impulsively clutches his hand.
Penny’s just jealous, the May-December duo insist, and you could devise a drinking game around their recurrent accusations that she harbors daddy issues. But Penny’s a lawyer: She knows enough to conduct a background check. And of course the Green Card question will inevitably loom over this precipitate and convenient (for both parties) bond.
Zirilli is a good enough actor to exude genuine affection for this would-be-witty ninny (sample bon mot: “This vino is divino!”). Kay laments that, prior to Fiore’s arrival on the scene, she’d lost all interest in the Met (both venues) and MoMA and had resigned herself to “quiet nights at home…watching PBS.” Not only do the signifiers in this script lack imagination, Kay’s generic profile as a lazy, incurious layabout—at least until la lingua italiana relights her fire—is an insult to elders in general.
As the triangular conflict heats up, Meyer, apparently untethered by directorial restraint, strikes a lot of anguished soap-opera poses—but the script doesn’t allow for much else. Kay has made her bed (with Porthault sheets, no doubt), and she may very well have to occupy it alone for the remainder of her aimless, useless life, with only WQXR for company.
Ars Nova (Off Broadway). By Joe Godfrey. Directed by Carl Andress. With Audrey Heffernan Meyer, Jared Zirilli, Mairin Lee. Running time: 1hr 25mins. No intermission.