The Inquisition was very unkind to those who didn’t conform to the beliefs and rules of the Roman Catholic Church. One of the church’s most famous targets was, perhaps, scientist Galileo.
MetroStage’s production of the “Rapture” focuses its attention on one of the less known victims, Lucrezia Vizzana, a nun in 17th-century Bologna, Italy, with a talent for musical compositions whose structure was in sharp defiance of the church.
The 110-minute play, directed by Diana Denley and written recently by Jeanne Marshall, shows Lucrezia developing her talent with the help of teacher Ottavio Vernizzi, played by Gary Telles, and the price she had to pay for her defiance.
Miss Denley displays the lovely, sometimes sad musical pieces by having other actresses, also portraying nuns, sing the notes while Lucrezia, convincingly played by Michelle Shupe, writes them down on paper as she sits on the marble floor of her room. It’s a nice touch.
The staging, by Shawn Dean, is simple and works well in every convent scene. Marble look-alike steps and benches provide the setting for inside as well as outside scenes. Other constants are the lighted candles beneath a small altar to the left of the stage and the black backdrop fronted by tall candlesticks covered in fake roses the rose garden.
The eight cast members, who play six nuns, a priest and a music teacher, are strong and remarkably skilled at singing Lucrezia’s difficult harmonies. Catherine Flye, who plays Camilla Bombacci, Lucrezia’s aunt, is particularly delightful.
Tension builds between two mean, power-hungry nuns in allegiance with the church and Lucrezia and her three aunts, the Bombaccis. While sometimes providing a witty and biting dialogue, the play has a major flaw that no good or even excellent actor can overcome: There is no clear protagonist.
Naturally, Lucrezia should be the main interest. According to historical records, printed in the playbill, she went mad after being forced to stop composing, but we hear and see little or nothing of her madness.
Instead, Miss Marshall divides her attention between the talented Lucrezia and the meanest nun, Beatrice Bianchi, played convincingly by Laura Giannarelli.
We learn that Beatrice intends to sell out Lucrezia and her aunts to the church because she’s lonely and has always felt isolated and ignored by the others. Miss Giannarelli, dressed like the others in a white cloak and beige veil and wearing colorless makeup that makes her lips blend in with the rest of her face, mostly carries herself like an emotionless, strict schoolteacher. But at the end, Miss Giannarelli’s facial expressions and tears effectively show her character’s piercing sadness.
But while focusing on Beatrice, we don’t see the torment that supposedly engulfed Lucrezia and finally drove her mad.
The cast in “Rapture” does a remarkable job, the direction is diligent, and the set and costumes are sparse but efficient. The topic of religious intolerance also is fascinating and timeless. Unfortunately, the play lacks focus and depth.
WHERE: MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 2
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS