Scaffolding Theatre Co. brings ‘Passion’ to Rio Grande
By Zak Hansen
Las Cruces Bulletin
With two wildly successful and critically adored productions under its belt in just its first year, Las Cruces’ Scaffolding Theatre Company is fast becoming a respected force in the local theater community; this weekend, as it mounts its third production, Scaffolding will become an institution.
For three shows throughout the weekend, Friday through Sunday, Aug. 21-23, Scaffolding is teaming for the first time with the Doña Ana Arts Council to stage a production unlike any other in Las Cruces – the Tony Award-winning Sondheim/ Lapine musical “Passion,” based on Ettore Scola’s 1981 film “Passione d’Amore” – itself inspired by the 1869 Italian novel “Fosca” by Iginio Tarchetti – live on the stage of Downtown Las Cruces’ historic Rio Grande Theatre.
Set in 19th century Italy, “Passion” tells the tale of young soldier Giorgio, whose idyllic romance with the married Clara is torn away when he’s assigned to a faraway provincial military outpost. There, alienated from his fellow soldiers, Giorgio becomes friends with the post physician, Dr. Tambourri, and becomes intrigued and deeply challenged by Fosca, the doctor’s ill cousin, who suffers from a nervous disorder.
As Scaffolding Co-Artistic Director and “Passion” director Justin Lucero said, “That this beautiful and poignant work is seldom performed is devastating – yes, it’s difficult to mount and it’s not filled with crowd-pleasing, razzle-dazzle production numbers, but the lyrics and the story are so brilliantly crafted and the themes are so heart-wrenchingly relatable.”
“’Passion’ is a very unconventional musical,” said Scaffolding co-artistic director and cofounder Megan McQueen. “It’s a relentless, even intermission- less, dark love story… that won several prominent Tony Awards in 1994, but is seldom performed because of a lot of technical demands without being a sure-fire hit.”
Challenging productions are nothing new for Scaffolding Theatre Co. – the company made its debut June 2014 with “Nine,” based on Federico Fellini’s iconic “8 ½” and taking place entirely in the mind of its lead character, Guido Contini, beset with dread over his impending 40th birthday, struggling with a creative block and entangled in a web of romantic problems of his own making.
The company’s returned June of this year with a production of “Chicago: The Musical” – the beloved Bob Fosse tale of merry murderesses Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart and their slick-talking lawyer Billy Flynn – that garnered the company national attention, landing Lucero, McQueen and co. in the pages of “Playbill” for their remarkable and unique new framing of a well-known and well-tread production.
Though each of Scaffolding’s productions are challenging, that’s largely where the similarities end. “I love that this is our follow- up to ‘Chicago,’” Lucero said. “This whole project couldn’t be more different! We are going from Fosse to Sondeim, from a musical comedy to a chamber opera – from bringing the community a fresh take on one of the most recognizable Broadway musicals to gifting the community a rarely- produced gem.”
In selecting this largely unseen wonder, McQueen, a self-professed Sondheim stalker – “I took a picture outside his house, but there isn’t a restraining order or anything,” she reassures – said, “As an actress, I’m more enthused about putting on Sondheim shows I haven’t done, but this was really an opportunity to work with other specific talent,” including El Paso native and Los Angeles resident Isaac Quiroga, who stars as Giorgio, and veteran actress and singer Amanda Bradford, as his lover Clara.
The dozen-member cast also includes Mike Cook as the Doctor, James Gier as Colonel Ricci, Mario Raggazone, Cameron Lang, Matthew Esqueda, Karlos Saucedo, Chris Rippel, Aylin White and Lennie Brown, along with a production team of pianist David Cunniff, joined by four skilled instrumentalists, lighting designer Sam Tyson, costume consultant Guenevere McMahon and stage manager Cindy Pitts.
McQueen said this production is of extra import to her, standing as the only role – Fosca – the actress has inhabited twice.
“I’ve never done the same role in a show twice,” she said. “I’ve directed the same show twice; I played Claudia in ‘Nine’ before playing Luisa. I didn’t think it would be that different, but I’ve very much become a feminist in the intervening half of my lifetime, and it really brings a different lens to the script,” which is considered extremely challenging and often leaves audiences starkly divided in response to its themes, especially those concerning women. One line in particular comes to McQueen’s mind: “As long as you’re a man, you’re what the world will make of you, whereas if you’re a woman, you’re only what it sees.”
“Imagine being a smart, ugly, sickly woman in 1863,” McQueen said. “Could a person be more undervalued? What could you do? I guess I won’t know what it’s like doing it for this community until this weekend, but I surely hope people will embrace it.”
Performances of “Passion” are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 21 and 22, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 23. Reserved tickets are $15 to $20 and are available at www.riograndetheatre. com. For more information, including videos about the process of creating the production, visit www.scaffoldingtheatreompany. com or call 523-6403.