For an older audience, the memory of first love carries with it a soft nostalgia. That sweet lifting of the heart is the leitmotif of a delicate new play, “Raise Me Up,” now having its world premiere at the Santa Monica Playhouse.
Playwright Lisa Phillips Visca has brought to the stage the love story of her mother and father and how those two prevailed over both sets of parents who didn’t want them to marry. The reason: he was Italian and she was Greek.
It’s the early 1950s. He, Louis (Michael Marinaccio, a Gene Kelly look-alike), has come back from the war and is about to marry a girl he suddenly has doubts about. She, Rosita (Serena Dolinsky), is a young aspiring model who, like him, lives on Staten Island. So the Staten Island Ferry is their romantic meeting spot. (What’s more romantic than a sea voyage?)
It was love at first sight. And proceeded in short order to dinner with his parents and then with hers. A disaster in both homes.
His father, a soft-spoken, undershirt-at-the-dinner-table sort of gentleman played by John Del Regno, is completely dominated by his screechy, booming wife, Lenora May, a table-smacking harridan with a dreadfully labored Italian accent.
Her father, the always-marvelous Stuart Pankin, was a once-wealthy lawyer in Greece who isn’t able to practice in America. He is under pressure from a younger lawyer (Joey Shea) who will hire him only if Rosita will go out with him. Rosita’s classy mother (Evelyn Rudie) stands quietly by while Rosita weighs her love for Louis against the well-being of her father, who would have to return to Greece if he can’t secure a job in America. (It is Rudie’s husband, co-Artistic Director Chris DeCarlo, who directs this 10-person ensemble.)
Since you already know that playwright Visca is telling the story of her parents and their lifelong love affair, there isn’t much mystery involved in this simple tale.
But it will surely please those who have been in love for a long, long time.
“Raise Me Up” will continue at the Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through June 23. Call (310) 394-9779 for tickets.
These actors today
Standing on a stage and repeating lines does not make one an actor.
For those of us who were introduced to theater during the heyday of the great Britons — Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, John Gielgud, Alec Guinness — it is a great disappointment to listen to the mushy ramblings of many of today’s “stars.”
The current stage actors’ mantra, “act natural,” apparently means “don’t enunciate, don’t project, and don’t slow down,” which translates to the audience as a “What did he say?” moment. That means that many of my written opinions contain the word “unintelligible” when discussing the delivery of a significant speech by a specific actor. Sometimes one can’t even fathom the gist of the speech, and thus the motivation and actions of the character are forever lost or left to speculation.
The “method” actors supposedly started this mumble trend, but if you revisit their performances you will find that even when they mumbled you could understand their every word.
Enunciating and pacing are not “precious” or “old-fashioned.” They are a courtesy that a good actor owes to his audience. And just because every actor in Los Angeles routinely gets a standing ovation, it doesn’t mean that his performance is worthy of an Ovation Award — or that his speeches are consistently intelligible.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at email@example.com.