For a limited run opening tonight and closing on Saturday, Tribeca’s Off-Off-Broadway haven The Flea is presenting La Bohème (Spoken), which is, as the title suggests, a non-musical version of the oft-produced Puccini opera La Bohème sprinkled with some excerpts from the 1851 Henry Murger novel/short story amalgam La Vie de Bohème on which it was based. Stripped of all music save some ambient soundscapes the production moves swiftly, especially in its first half, when the new couple of Mimi and Rodolfo (Arianna Venturi and Stephen Stout) emerges and old lovers Musetta and Marcello (Vella Lovell and Ben Weber) re-connect. Thereafter this experiments’ results are decidedly mixed.
The larger milieu of the bohemian community in 19th century Paris is intriguing, and stories about artists suffering through abject poverty certainly struck a chord with the audience at last night’s industry preview. But without music the large ensemble and chorus scenes often come off as awkward set pieces—except, notably, one in which the excellent Lovell is lifted across the room on a long bench by nearly the entire cast.
Director Jeremy Bloom makes the most of a sparse set assembled from cardboard props and utilitarian furniture, giving the production (in which, full disclosure, my significant other has a supporting role) an amorphous, free-flowing form that’s echoed in the all-white costumes. When the camaraderie of the lead posse of poor artists becomes secondary to the life of the larger community, La Bohème (Spoken) loses much of its early dynamism. Even at one and a quarter hours it could use some more snipping, though as it stands it serves as a swift, sporadically funny bullet-point version of the Puccini opera.
(photo credit: Antonio Minino)