"Golden Age" – Philadelphia Theatre Company

“Great art is dangerous, that’s why there’s so little of it.”
—Bellini, in Terrence McNally’s Golden Age

Philly theater hacks were spoiled for choice last week when three Philadelphia theater companies opened world premier productions on the same night: InterAct with City of Numbers, PTC with Golden Age, and the Walnut St. with The Eclectic Society.

The Philadelphia Theatre Company found great artistic and commercial success with Terrence McNally’s operatic Master Class, which went on to win a slew of Tony Awards after its Philly run. Expectations were therefore high for his new play, Golden Age, set backstage at the maiden performance of composer Vincenzo Bellini’s masterpiece I Puritani in Paris in 1835. That work was a great success, becoming known as the finest example of bel canto opera and securing Bellini’s fame when he died just eight months later. Golden Age does not glitter in quite the same way.

Jeffrey Carlson does a great melodramatic suffering artist as Bellini and there are moments of humor and beauty in dialogue, but the three-act play seems overlong, poorly edited, and — on opening night — unrehearsed. Opera gets away with having overacting melodrama because its music is so beautiful, Golden Age does not. The set is beautiful, the background music works exquisitely, and there is much to commend in acting by Christopher Michael McFarland and Hoon Lee as half the famed Puritani quartet. The play is let down by its length and by the failure of any of the major characters to form meaningful onstage connections.

One can hope the much-promoted upcoming show featuring Kathleen Turner will be as good as their last one-man, 2009’s Theater Abuse.

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