When Classic Stage Company approached Scottish director John Doyle to do a musical, Doyle didn’t have to think twice about which composer he would choose: Stephen Sondheim. “One could spend one’s working life on that cycle of material.”
Having already directed four Sondheim pieces, including an acclaimed Sweeney Todd and Company, Doyle chose Passion, with book by James Lapine. The story, based on Ettore Scola’s film Passione d’amore, centers on a love triangle between the plain-looking Fosca (played at CSC by Judy Kuhn), the handsome soldier Giorgio (Ryan Silverman) and the beautiful Clara (Melissa Errico), who is married. CSC’s production of Passion, playing Feb. 8–April 7, will be the musical’s first NYC outing since its 1994 Broadway debut. In scaling the musical down, so that it doesn’t overwhelm CSC’s 199-seat space, Doyle is taking a naturalistic approach.
“It’s a psychological look at what the story is, which is no problem because the story is full of passion,” Doyle says. “Because the songs and text are so interwoven, there’s no applause point. It has a beautifully poetic quality to it as a piece.”
The character of Fosca, who harbors an obsessive love for Giorgio, has simultaneously riveted and repulsed audiences from the beginning. And Doyle is not afraid to produce her, and other passionate and flawed characters, within arm’s reach of the audience.
“To actually have them row in a small space, it’s discomforting,” Doyle says. “But there’s nothing wrong with exploring intimacy; that’s how real life is. Theatre should allow you to be unnerved.”
And as for how unattractive he will make Fosca, Doyle won’t be putting spots on Kuhn’s face. For one, “the space doesn’t allow for that,” he says, before continuing. “What’s more interesting to me is the melancholy and sadness. What a woman feels will affect how she looks.”