Chicago Theater Review: PASSION (Theo Ubique)

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by Lawrence Bommer on March 11, 2014

in Theater-Chicago


Stendhal wrote a story once about a man who also wrote a story as a way to force himself to fall in love. It seems an impossibly pure task. Passion carries that degree of difficultyand overcomes it with precision, power and, well, passion.

Danni Smith in Theo Ubique's production of PASSION.

Stephen Sondheim has been cheaply faulted for hiding his musical fervor under a guise of cynicism (as inferior works, like Assassins, seem to confirm). A 110-minute singspiel–here rather arbitrarily split into two acts–that incarnates its title, Passion puts the lie to that cliché. It offers the last and first word on that troubling phenomenon: unconditional, non-negotiable love. It can’t escape the melodramatic traps of an overwrought plot, but for Sondheim it’s a challenge to equal that excess. Almost more dramatic than musical, this twenty-year-old work is not the melodic Sondheim of earlier works. You’ll leave humming somebody else’s tunes.

Accessible as a heartbeat and open as a wound, James Lapine’s book has many mothers, specifically Ettore Scola’s 1981 rhapsody Passione d’Amore (a film based on Igino Tarchetti’s 1869 novel Fosca). But Passion is also a Beauty and the Beast with the sexes reversed and, like Death in Venice and Truffaut’s The Story of Adele H. (where Victor Hugo’s daughter lost her dignity and mind to pursue a beautiful British soldier), it’s unashamedly rhapsodic.

Danni Smith and Peter Oyloe in Theo Ubique's production of PASSION.

Set in a remote Italian military outpost in 1863, Passion depicts one lover’s unpleasant, one-sided, obsessive adoration, the kind audiences want to reject (and that some gays recognize as their own). It’s the unequal ardor of an ugly, aggressive woman, Fosca (which means “dark”), who is consumed by unrequited longing. The object of her avalanche of desire: a comely officer who loves, quite requitedly, his equally beautiful but married mistress, Clara (“light”).

Sick with neurasthenia and sunk in melancholy, Fosca is a plain recluse who hasn’t learned to love. Knowing she hasn’t long to live, she can long. When Fosca sees the gorgeous Giorgio, an officer in her cousin’s regiment, she wastes no time in a courtship that would, in any case, be forbidden to a Victorian woman. She pursues, no–stalks him with dogged, no–dog-like devotion, begging, clinging, even succumbing to illness to induce him to pretend to love her.

Sean Knight, Anthony Apodaca, Christopher Logan, Ryan Armstrong and Peter Oyloe in Theo Ubique's production of PASSION.

Fosca, who’s already been the victim of a husband-imposter who used his looks to do her dirt, knows that beauty is power, longing is destiny and love too complex to bloom merely “at first sight.” Above all, it’s better to love–not wisely but too well–than to be loved. This marriage to an opportunist only confirmed her contempt for illusions.

Giorgio must learn more–that “beauty is something you pay for, the same as goodness” (a twist on “Handsome is as handsome does”). But his beloved Clara, a wife who refuses to leave her child, is unwilling to pay for the love she complacently assumes comes with her beauty.

No one runs more risks, or abases herself more, than uncompromising Fosca, as if sheer need creates its fulfillment. And, because she forges a self-fulfilling illusion, it does. Because no one is ever loved enough, Giorgio, thanks to Fosca’s unconditional devotion, becomes that rarity who is.

Danni Smith, Peter Oyloe in Theo Ubique's production of PASSION.

At the tragic end we’re left with a myth as potent as the solidarity ethic that links the survivors in Into the Woods.

Warmly staged by Fred Anzevino, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre’s production continues and confirms their sterling reputation for revivals that, happily and often, threaten to improve on their originals.

Admittedly a scaled-down version (regrettably, minus Broadway’s opening nudity), Theo Ubique’s well-named Passion, more perfectly realized in the singing than the acting, has a golden ensemble that respects the rich and restrained score, beautifully shaped by Kory Danielson.

Peter Oyloe and Danni Smith in Theo Ubique's production of PASSION.

Virtually as repellent and sickly as the part suggests, Danni Smith’s neurasthenic Fosca definitely has Giorgio on her mind: Her dark lady is a marvel of monomania, perversely saintly in her all-sacrificing possessiveness, driven to destruction as she dares herself to die happy. Befuddled by an ardor that for once lacks any erotic inspiration, Peter Oyloe’s Giorgio is as noble as good-looking, equally real in both as he joins Smith in the valedictory “No One Has Ever Loved Me (As You Do).” Colette Todd gives hapless Clara the brittleness of an Anna Karenina–without the train spoiling the spell.

Peter Oyloe and Collette Todd in Theo Ubique's production of by Adam Veness

Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
No Exit Café, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave.
scheduled to end on April 27, 2014
for tickets, call 800-595-4849
or visit

for info on this and other Chicago Theater,

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