Hot Summer Nights | Theatre Raleigh is expanding into the fall! Their current production is the small but charismatic play Souvenir.
Souvenir is a two-actor play narrated by pianist Cosme McMoon, played by Jonas Cohen. He tells of how he became the accompanist for Florence Foster Jenkins, played by Lisa Jolley, an opera singer of dubious renown. Florence Foster Jenkins believes herself to be a rare talent, a true coloratura, a gift to the musical world through her impeccable voice and perfect ear. The only flaw in her understanding is that she is actually a terrible singer. Cosme McMoon is an excellent storyteller as he explains how she gained fame without realizing it was a joke, all the way to her performance at Carnegie Hall. Her fame grows in a similar way that traffic gets backed up for miles after a car accident: everybody wants to see the damage.
Though the cast is small, both actors are phenomenal. Jonas Cohen has mastered these sort of throw-away lines which are the humorous gems of the show, and his ability to tell McMoon’s story is masterful. The premise for his monologue is that he’s playing at a piano bar and the audience is the crowd at that bar. He knows exactly when to play off the audience and can elicit laughter from just a look. Cohen is charming, funny, and ideally suited for the role. Lisa Jolley has the remarkable ability to take the rather silly character of Florence Foster Jenkins seriously, and do her justice without patronizing her. Her Florence is truly committed to the gift she believes she has, and is relentless in pursuing it. Jolley does an amazing job of highlighting all of Florence’s admirable qualities and creates a truly likeable character all while singing in a convincingly awful soprano. Jolley, an actor with Broadway experience, is actually a talented singer, which makes it so remarkable that she’s able to play someone who is such a dedicated and terrible performer. The little things she does, like over pronounce French and Italian words, really make the character particularly quirky and believable. The character does all kinds of crazy things, from making fun of mezzo sopranos to making a record. The way that the team is able to show her journey, and do so in a hilarious way without patronizing or belittling her, is phenomenal. Major credit is due to director Richard Roland, who has created a world where the audience is laughing but doesn’t have to feel guilty about it.
Souvenir is, in some ways, unassuming and small, but in the ways that count, it is big. It has big heart and big laughs. Souvenir runs through October 14. For tickets and more information, visit www.theatreraleigh.com.