Category Archive for: ‘Richard Connema’

A Taut Production of Terrence McNally’s “The Lisbon Traviata”.



It has been a long while since I have seen Terrence McNally’s 1987 play “The Lisbon Traviata” the last time being several years ago with Nathan Lane playing the eccentric Mendy and Richard Thomas playing Stephen.  In its time it caused quite a sensation showing the lives of gay men especially the opera queens who had an obsession with the legendary Maria Callis.

For the initiates the gay world at that time in 1987  was divided between those who recognize Callas as the undisputed greatest proponent of the most inspiring art invented  by men and the rest of gay men were barbarians.   This was also true of the Judy Garland fans and is probably true today with fans of Lady Gaga.  “The Lisbon Traviata” seems to be two plays separated by an intermission.  The first play is a campy comedy with Mendy holding forth as worshipping Maria Callis almost as a goddess. It’s has a glittering style about the act.  The second act shows the gritty realism about two lovers and an obvious end to an eight year relationship.

The first act opens in Mendy’s apartment where Stephen has come to listen to some new opera recordings. Stephen’s familiarity with opera is fantastic since after listening to a few bars of a recording he can not only identify not just the opera but the singers, the date and locations of the performance as well the conductor.  Basely the reason Stephen is at the apartment is because his lover of 8 years Mike a doctor has the “hots” for college student Paul and is entertaining this young hunk for the evening. Let’s say this is an open relationship.


Mendy is completely overly fey and considers himself the high priest of the cult of Maria Callis.  This bitchy queen has no lover and you can see why since he must have opera all the time. He is a cultural fascist. The night turns into an exercise that turns into a dizzying contest of who’s heard whom in what. However Stephen mentions of his new recording of Callas’s Lisbon performance in “La Traviata” and this whips Mendy into frenzy and he needs to hear it right now.

The second act is more somber involving the relationship of Stephen and Mike in their Greenwich apartment. Stephen has blinded himself to an obvious end of his eight year life with Mike and he arrives home deliberately early to interrupt him and the student.  Mike realizes this might not be a one night trick but has romantic feelings about the student.  The whole act turns into a real life tragedy of shocking, operatic magnitudes.

Michael Sally as Mendy is worth the price of admission to the Decker Theatre.  He plays the role as Nathan Lane did several years ago. He presides over the first act wonderful envelopment as an opera trivia. He makes this complex character believable as a person whose loneliness, normally well concealed, burst forth in flashes of self-pity.   He almost plays the role as if he is in a production of “La Traviata” or “Tosca”. His take on McNally’s inelastic dialogue is a delight.

Matt Weimer has the more difficult role of the disturbed Stephen. He wonderfully plays off of Sally’s comic talent in the first act and in the second act he allows the wretched anxiety that has been prowling all along in Stephen to heat up slowly and then suddenly boil over.

Philippe Gosselin is excellent as Mike. He has a true theatrical voice and gives a strong performance as the lover of Stephen. Adam Roy gives a first rate performance as the graduate student Paul.

Bravo to Kuo-Hao Lo for two great set designs, He expertly translates opera adoration into three dimensions most visibly the wall the wall shelves of albums in Mendy’s apartment in the first act and the smart apartment of Stephen and Mike in the second act. Dennis Lickteig astute direction brings out the powerful emotions of McNally’s script.

“The Lisbon Traviata” runs through March 24th at the Decker Theatre, New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness off Market Street, San Francisco.  For tickets call  415-861-8972 or on line at   Coming up next  are “The Bus” opening on March 22 and running through April 28th and  “Birds of the Feather” by Marc Acito opening on May 17th.

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