There is something hysterically thrilling about Steven Temperley’s play “Souvenir: A Fantasia on the life of Florence Foster Jenkins.”
It raises so many questions as it entertains. Is it a play about artistic determination, or about freeing oneself from the shackles of criticism to embrace art? Or is it a lost Monty Python sketch?
It is a built to tickle, and it does so in spades, but with the tease comes a twinge of guilt. Should we truly be laughing?
I say yes! Kick any guilt to the curb and embrace the obvious: Schadenfreude can be fun!
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N Pearl St.
WHEN: Through March 22
HOW MUCH: $60-$20
MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.capitalrep.org
Dismissed as a fraud by serious musicians and dubbed by critics as the “Dire Diva of Din” and the “First Lady of the Sliding Scale,” Florence Foster Jenkins (played by Georga Osborne) was one of the worst singers ever to grace the stage.
Born in 1868 to a wealthy New York family, Madame Flo developed a passion for singing and enjoyed a successful concert career — despite her tin ear. Blissfully oblivious to her own lack of talent she, and her accompanist Cosmee McMoon (Jonas Cohen) sailed into packed recital halls brimmed with excited fans, creating the must-see events of her time.
Jenkins’ legacy is a comic one. While Temperley’s play celebrates that humor, it deftly raises thoughtful issues, and does so with warmth.
More than just an amusing musical biography of a genuine eccentric, Temperley poses serious questions amongst the laughs. Can a passion for art replace or equal a talent to create art? And if you start out to create and share one kind of art and inadvertently create another — in a completely different genre — are an artist, a fraud or a failure? Or all three?
Madame Flo did not do it for the bravos and flowers. She did it for the art. And there is something to admire when she stands defiant and states, “I will not let the opinions of others stand in the way of my musical progression.” Go Flo!
It is not easy to sing badly when you actually are able to sing, but Osborne makes it appear easy, and that’s very impressive. Singing flat and dreadful is rarely amusing. Osborne make it hysterical, and the fact that she is able to keep Jenkins sympathetic as well as pathetic, balancing the buffoon with a child-like innocence, is an artistic triumph.
Matching her performance is the appealing Cohen, who captures the torture (and humor) of a true artist caught in a lie, a man who genuinely finds affection for this multi-layered delusional diva.
The tears in your eyes created by side splitting laughter will be joined by a lump in your throat during the final moments of the play when we finally hear what Jenkins actually/probably/hopefully heard when she sang. Like this production, it is performed note perfect.
This warmly theatrical “Souvenir” is something to cherish. Not to be missed by any true lover of art, or music.