On the surface of it — and it has gone through several surfaces over the past four years — love would seem to be in short supply in Love, Linda, a one-woman show composer Gary William Friedman arranged for his wife, jazz singer Stevie Holland.
It purports to tell, in 75 minutes and 17 Cole Porter songs, a story that has never been told onstage, let alone sung, before — what the subtitle calls The Story of Mrs. Cole Porter (or how to hang together for 34 years with a great songwriter who's a closeted homosexual).
Love, Linda, scripted by Friedman and Holland, started out a cabaret act, playing The Triad and other such venues, before it evolved into a genuine piece of theatre that is now playing the York Theatre through Jan. 5, 2014. Lyricist Richard Maltby Jr., who has been known to stitch storytelling songs into whole shows (Ring of Fire and the Tony-winning Ain't Misbehavin'), was hired to direct the show into the homestretch.
The challenge, of course, has been to find an authentic love story in this unique set-up. In small clubs where the piece seemed coyly evasive, it loomed like an elephant. Now, as theatre, it has matured and deepened, becoming more frontal and modern.
"The approach in the previous environment — which was more nightclubby than this real legitimate theatre environment — created some of that performance," admitted Holland. In this current reincarnation, her character addresses the issue right off the bat: "If the goal of the curious is just to find what label to put on something, then I'm afraid I must speak," Linda says. "Marriage is not a can of soup, and, just because a love between two people may be difficult to define, that doesn't mean it didn't exist."
Maltby fast-forwarded to the close of the play where that logic is still holding: "The last thing Linda says in the play is: 'But did we ever have to define our love? No, we didn't. It may not have been a picture-perfect postcard, but what a journey it was!'
"We all know from our own lives that there are so many increments of relationships and love affairs. It's because of our paucity of imagination that we keep trying to find terms for these things. We're actually as a country in a crisis of trying to understand what anything is. It isn't what we thought it was, and I think we're sorta ready to receive this story. Even though it's a story that took place in the '20s and '30s and '40s, it doesn't feel like a period piece. I find that completely modern — totally a story for now because the whole universal acceptance of gays has changed in the last few years — and, as it changes, it also opens the door to all the other variations.
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