June 3, 2005
Left to wonder 'If Only ... '
Missed opportunities abound in "If Only ... ," Matthew Goldsby's ambitious but unfortunate musicalization of Balzac's "Le Pere Goriot."
Balzac's 1835 novel dramatized—some say melodramatized—the moral quicksand of a materialist, post-revolutionary France. In Goldsby's streamlined but still overpopulated adaptation, though, we get more plot points than narrative sense.
Wide-eyed young law student Eugene (Dustin Strong) crashes Paris society to chase wealthy married women, with the encouragement of a well-placed cousin (Elisa J. Nixon). He eagerly learns the right social moves, but in the process drains his family's savings and manages to overlook the lovely, virtuous heiress next door, Victorine (Makinna Ridgway).
It takes another of Eugene's fellow boarders, the diabolical dandy Vautrin (Fred Sanders), to point out Victorine's market value. Yet another boarder, the distracted oldster Goriot (Norman Snow), gloms onto Eugene when he finds out the young man is wooing his daughter (Leslie McDonel), who only calls on dad when she's short on cash.
Craig Carlisle's nimble direction gives the material what shape it has, though only the large-cast scenes in the boarding house really come to life. Goldsby's score has moments witty ("Wits With Us," the protestation of a pair of crusty pensioners, well played by Melinda Peterson and Robert W. Goldsby) and pretty ("I Can Tell," a ballad given ringing tones by Ridgway's ripe soprano).
But mostly his neoclassical music and banal lyrics plod along blandly. "Let go and simply flow," Victorine advises Eugene at one point. If it were that simple, there would be no show.
"If Only ... ," Tugboat Productions at the Globe Playhouse, 1107 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 19. $20. (323) 960-7863 or www.plays411.com. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.